What is Yoga Nidra? How Does Sleep Meditation Work?
If you find it easy to fall asleep, you can just slide on by this article and enjoy your sweet dreams. However, if you are like many of us, sometimes sleep is elusive if not downright impossible. Even if you have a great sleep routine, some nights the brain just won’t turn off—or pops back on during the middle of the night, leaving you anxious and worried about dragging through the next day (due to lack of sleep). In comes sleep meditation. But not just any sleep meditation.
Yogic sleep may be the newest way to achieve the ultimate in relaxation. With so many of us in today’s society in a constant flux between feeling stressed, very stressed, and extremely stressed, learning to relax and employing some natural remedies is just plain smart when it comes to better health, peacefulness, and improved sleep.
What Is Yoga Nidra?
Where does yoga nidra fit into the scheme of things when it comes to helping you sleep and reducing the stress in your life? Yoga nidra, also called yogic sleep, is a method of conscious sleep, which allows you to go into a deeply meditative state. Similar in many regards to meditation, yoga nidra differs from meditation and from sleep in that it allows you to enter into a profound state of relaxation, yet with sleep meditation, you remain awake and conscious of your thoughts.
You’re probably familiar with the state of consciousness you enter right before you drift off to sleep—that complex and interesting zone between being awake and being asleep. This is the period when your brainwaves are transitioning from alpha waves (a relaxed but awake state, generally with your eyes closed) to theta waves (when you are asleep and generally unaware). During the production of theta waves, you may experience dreams, lucid dreams, or a twilight state. When you sleep, you naturally transition between these states without conscious effort. However, when you practice yoga nidra sleep meditation, over time, you may become able to move between these conditions purposefully and consciously while remaining deeply relaxed.
History of Yoga Nidra
Popular theory says that yoga nidra was developed by Swami Satyananda of the Bihar School of Yoga. While working as a night guard at a school, Swami would be asleep in the early hours of the morning when the school boys would get ready for the day. During their morning routines, the boys would chant Sanskrit prayers. Although Swami was never consciously awake during these times, he came to realize that he had learned all the chants, even though he’d been asleep. This led him to research subconscious awareness and eventually led him to develop the practice of yoga nidra.
Swami Satyananda says, “The present system of yoga nidra, which I have devised, enables people who are unfamiliar with Sanskrit mantras to gain the full benefits of the traditional nyasa. It can be beneficially practiced by people of any religion or culture.”
Practitioners of sleep meditation have followed Swami’s system and laud its myriad benefits.
What are Some of the Benefits of Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra sleep meditation has been shown to:
- Reduced stress—science demonstrates that yoga has the ability to help lower your levels of stress. By relaxing your mind and your muscles, simultaneously, you create an environment for true relaxation and calmness.
- Lessens anxiety—slowing your pace and allowing your body to rest and relax by focusing on specific things like your breath or a body part can force you to forget about any stressors in your life. When you’re able to let go like this, your anxiety levels plummet, and you can experience a more calm, restful state.
- Allows deep relaxation—when you practice yoga nidra, you become able to transition from the alpha state into the theta state. It is here that your thoughts slow and your mind is able to fully relax. If you are eventually able to enter the delta state, true healing and rejuvenation can take place.
- Promotes restful sleep—get rid of racing thoughts and allow your body and mind to fully relax before you drift off into truly peaceful and restful sleep.
- Releases negative mindsets and habits—refocusing your mind by letting it think of nothing can help you release negative thoughts and break unhelpful thought patterns and mindsets.
- Improves focus—by enhancing the quietness of your mind, you increase your ability to focus with laser-like precision. This can help you zone in on problems and issues you may be having in your life and work through them without distraction.
- Many health benefits—studies show that relaxation techniques have the ability to help reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve your immune system, promote better circulation, and lower blood pressure.
Try Yoga Nidra for Yourself
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? You can see how you may benefit from it. If you’re ready to give it a try, what’s next? While there are many “scripts” you can choose from, just settle on one to get started, and you can branch out from there. If you’re new to yoga, sleep meditation, or relaxation techniques, the following script can help you begin:
- Get set up—properly preparing yourself for yoga nidra is the first step in the process. While in meditation, you are typically in a seated position the entire time, with yoga nidra, you’ll start and remain in a prone (lying down) position. To open up your chest area, you can roll up a towel and place it lengthwise under your shoulder blades and down the middle of your spine. Fold anther towel and place it under your head for a pillow. Minimize distractions and the possibility of interruption and you’re ready.
- Get your breath right—place one hand over your chest and the other over your belly. Feel your breath as you breathe in deeply. Breathe in and out slowly while counting each inhale and exhale. Start at 40 and work your way down to 0.
- Body focus—next, you’ll take a few moments to focus on each area of your body. Mentally take a second to feel your fingertips on your right hand, then move to your palm and up to your elbow and shoulder. Move down your right side, concentrating on your right hip, knee, ankle, foot, and toes. Repeat on the opposite side of the body.
- Notice your thoughts—as you breathe deeply, just notice any thoughts or emotions that crop up. Don’t judge them, simply notice them and allow them to wash away. You can picture the waves of an ocean with the outgoing wave washing away all tension and negativity while the incoming waves bring you joy, peace, and solace.
- Think joy—focus on happy thoughts, maybe some things you are grateful for or focus on all the people in your life that you love. Allow yourself to feel the warmth and happiness that passes through your body as you dwell on these thoughts.
- Reflect—lastly, reflect on your experience and allow yourself to come back to noticing the room around you and any sounds or smells. Open your eyes and stretch, bringing yourself back to full awareness.
Combine Sleep Meditation with Other Sleep-Enhancing Techniques
If you enjoy yoga nidra but still need a bit more to tame your nervous system before dozing off to sleep, you may want to consider a few additional, but very potent, tactics:
- Use Zen-Zzz—adding a high-quality magnesium supplement to your nighttime routine can do wonders for your sleep quality. A powerful stress reliever, magnesium may help promote a healthy response to stress and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) while helping your central nervous system relax and unwind. Also beneficial for bones, heart, and emotional health, a high-quality magnesium supplement like Zen-Zzz may help you better control food choices, irritability, focus, and provide you with deeper and more restful sleep.
- Practice good sleep hygiene—setting yourself up for success is part of getting a good night’s sleep. As much as possible, ensure you sleep in a cool, dark room that is quiet. Use blackout shades if you don’t plan on getting up with the sun. Try to keep outside noises to a minimum and, if necessary, use a “noise machine” or a fan to create a “white noise” which, in turn, can help drown out uncontrollable sounds.
- Have a bedtime ceremony—allowing yourself to unwind before you hit the sack is also helpful. Turn off electronics, and don’t use bright lighting for at least an hour before bed. Some folks will take a hot bath, enjoy candlelight, play soft music, or read by a soft yellow light prior to bedtime (ditch the bright blue lights, which are harsh and can affect your sleep in a negative manner).
- Avoid stimulants and drugs before bed—caffeinated drinks, certain prescription medications, nicotine, and even alcoholic beverages (contrary to popular opinion) can disrupt sleep. Steering clear of these can help you have a more restful night.