In our fast-paced, stress-filled world, finding moments of tranquility and serenity can seem like an elusive dream. The demands of modern life often leave us feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. Fortunately, there's a powerful practice that can help us attain deep relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote overall well-being. It's called Yoga Nidra, and it's often referred to as "yogic sleep."
Yoga Nidra is a form of meditation that involves a guided relaxation technique. It aims to bring a state of consciousness that lies somewhere between being fully awake and being asleep. This practice, rooted in ancient yoga traditions, has been gaining popularity for its myriad of benefits.
The Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Stress Relief: Yoga Nidra helps to reduce stress levels by calming the nervous system. By guiding practitioners into a deep state of relaxation, it allows them to let go of tension and find a sense of peace.
Better Sleep: Quality sleep is essential for our physical and mental well-being. Practicing Yoga Nidra before bedtime (or at any time of the day!) can significantly improve the quality of sleep and reduce instances of insomnia. The calming and centering effect of this practice sets the stage for a peaceful night's rest.
Healing: Yoga Nidra is a powerful tool for healing, both physically and emotionally. It enables individuals to access their subconscious mind, aiding in overcoming trauma, addiction, and other ailments. By delving deep into the mind, it can facilitate a profound healing process.
Enhancing Creativity and Intuition: The practice of Yoga Nidra has been found to stimulate creativity and intuition. By accessing deeper levels of consciousness and influencing brain wave patterns, it can lead to profound insights and a heightened sense of creativity.
Increased Self-Awareness:Yoga Nidra is a path to self-discovery. It encourages inner peace, stillness, and mindfulness. Through regular practice, individuals can cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness, leading to personal growth and development.
The Stages of Yoga Nidra
The format and steps to follow in Yoga Nidra vary depending on the lineage or the teacher's style, but the basic steps generally include:
1. Preparation: Begin by getting into a comfortable position, usually lying down on a yoga mat or blanket. This is the time to set an intention for the practice, which can be a personal goal or aspiration. This is often referred to as "building your Yoga Nidra nest".
2. Breath Awareness: The session often starts with a focus on the breath. By observing the natural rhythm of your breath or practicing breath techniques, you begin to calm the mind and bring awareness to the present moment.
3. Visualization: The teacher may guide you through a series of visualizations or mental imagery. This can be a serene environment like a forest, a beach, or any place that brings a sense of peace and relaxation.
4. Body Scan: Sometimes called Rotation of Consciousness, this is often the most substantial part of the practice and involves a systematic relaxation of every part of your body, starting from your toes and moving upwards. This process helps to release tension and promote deep relaxation by shifting your brain from a beta wave state to an alpha state which shifts the brain into a restorative and healing mode. If you get very deep into a Nidra you can cycle into theta and delta brain wave states, which are characterized by very slow oscillations. Organs and bodily systems begin to repair themselves in these states.
5. Relax in Silence: Throughout the practice, the teacher will remind you to remain awake and aware. Towards the end, there's a period of silence, usually lasting anywhere from 2 to 12 minutes, allowing for integration and reflection.
6. Intention Setting: This is known as Sankalpa. As the practice begins and as it nears its end, you are encouraged to set an intention or a Sankalpa for your life or your practice. This intention can bring clarity and purpose to your daily activities.
7. Closing: The practice concludes with a slow and gentle awakening, and you are invited to bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Sometimes, a mantra like "Om shanthi, shanthi, shanthi" is chanted to invoke a sense of peace and closure.
My (Niki) personal story with Nidra is one of profound gratitude. I had fallen in love with the practice in classes here in Vancouver and in Bali and other parts of Southeast Asia. I loved how it gave me profoundly relaxing times, and I experienced cool visions when I was profoundly "asleep". But it wasn't until I suffered a severe travel-related illness in 2018 that I began to practice daily, in desperation. It became the only part of my day (beside in the bathtub!) where I felt human and like I was going to get better someday. It gave me the hope and the courage to keep trying to get better. My Sankalpa every day was "I am resilient and in excellent health". I focused on my gut during the practice, placing both hands on my belly to focus the healing there. I went from visits to the emergency room to improved test results to being able to work again and lead a normal social and family life. I still practice five times a week, often with my husband (who doesn't DO yoga, but is just so into Yoga Nidra ;). It is my most important self-care ritual.
We want to hear about your experience with Nidra! Let us know in the comments. Do you find it useful? Delicious? Unatainable?
Our next Yoga Nidra training, facilitated by Tanya Harmon, is coming up on November 17th, 2023 at Burnaby Heights Yoga and Wellness. Contact us for information!