Yoga Nidra….commonly touted as a substitute for sleep, with claims that just 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is the equivalent of 3-4 hours of deep sleep.
I’m equally guilty of making these claims, and my (un)learning happened when I met Indu Arora.
Indu says when we use Yoga Nidra simply to substitute sleep, we are “Using a powerful tool, for something super basic.”
So then what is Yoga Nidra?
Let’s start with the Yoga Sutras:
Yoga Sutra 1.10 abhava pratyayalambana vrttir nidra
“Deep sleep is when the mind is overcome with heaviness and no other activities are present.”
Translated by T.K.V. Desikachar
“The mental modification supported by cognition of nothingness is sleep.”
Translated by Swami Satchidananada
"Swirling of the mind around the cognition of non-being is dreamless sleep."
Translated by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Ok, so that’s sleep, nidra...So what happens when we add Yoga (Union, focus, awareness) to our sleep?
A special brain state of cognition!
But first, let’s back up, and talk about the major states of consciousness, a special space where neuroscience and Yogic philosophy agree, as best expressed by the symbol AUM.
First, in a pretty graphic, and followed by a table, with more information.
Yoga Nidra requires an awareness as we shift between these states of consciousness. A watchfulness as we transition from wakefulness-to-deep sleep. While practicing, one appears to be asleep, but consciousness is actually functioning on a deeper level. This state of vigilance requires intention, “I am practicing Yoga Nidra, I will not fall asleep”and can not necessarily be taught, but rather conditions can be set that may lead students into a place of Yoga Nidra.
Ok, so what IS Yoga Nidra?!
A Systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. It’s a Tantric practice that can lead to the evolution of the mind.
Wait, what? By "sleeping" we can evolve our minds?!
YES! The missing piece is Sankalpa!
When we allow ourselves to go into these deep states of awareness, our minds are fertile planting fields...receptive to suggestion, and seed planting. The state of Yoga Nidra is a place where one can wake up to one’s life, and it happens spontaneously.
Now, let’s ask a scientist, what is Yoga Nidra?
The Yoga Nidra state is an integrated response from the hypothalamus (regulates homeostasis and integrates sensory information), and is close to the amygdala (regulates emotions) and together leads to decreased sympathetic nervous system responses.
Decreased blood pressure in hypertensive patients
Decreased levels of adrenaline + cortisol (less stress response)
Improves memory (increased cortisol can be toxic to the hippocampus over time)
Activates Parasympathetic (organs get deep rest)
The theory is that when full relaxation occurs (parasympathetic nervous system stuff), the receptivity in the mind is greater. These levels of the mind are similar to soil, some are hard, and others soft. Our intellect’s job is to analyze, and it’s really good at it’s job, and doesn’t always accept everything that is presented. Deeper levels of consciousness are more receptive, and not likely to reject new ideas, or ways of being. Full relaxation occurs when muscular, mental, and emotional tensions are released.
Ready to practice?
Here’s some Pro Tips:
Have an intention, affirmation, mantra, or heart’s desire before beginning - speak in the present tense “I am….I have….”
Practice for 40-days with the same intention
Set up a comfortable Yoga Nidra nest (not your bed) (ex. Blanket on floor, support under knees and head, lights dim, phone in airplane mode)
Put your YN practice time on your calendar, or set a reminder on your phone
Take brief movement before taking your supported resting shape, pay attention to your joints and spend time gently rotating each area
Spend 3-5 minutes free-form journaling afterwards
Let’s get to the practice already!