Yoga Nidra means to 'yoke sleep' and it is also knows as yogic sleep due to the effects it has on those who practice it.
But, what exactly is it? It is not the type of yoga that we come across in general gym classes and I personally did not come across it until I was well into my 3 years yoga training (and I had been practising yoga for more than 25 years!). It contrasts with traditional as well as the 'agility' or 'acrobatic' yoga we may come across these days.
How is it practised?
Lying down, on the mat or bed, in the most relaxed, warm and comfortable position that you can find, closing the eyes and be guided by the teacher, who will generally take you through a body scan, breathing practice and guided meditation. No, it is not meant to burn calories. So you may ask - what is it for?
Purpose and Benefits
Research on the benefits of Yoga Nidra has yielded promising results across various domains, including physical health, mental well-being, and cognitive function. Some of the studies conducted during the years showed a number of benefits in regular practitioners.
Several studies have shown that regular practice of Yoga Nidra can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety levels. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy found that participants who practiced Yoga Nidra experienced significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, by reducing cortisol levels, heart rate variability and blood pressure.
Improved Sleep Quality
Research has indicated that Yoga Nidra can help improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia. According to a 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, practitioners of Yoga Nidra experienced improvements in sleep, including sleep efficiency and total sleep time.
Enhanced Psychological Well-being
Yoga Nidra has been associated with improvements in overall psychological well-being. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine found that participants experienced reductions in perceived stress and improvements in emotional well-being.
Some research suggests that Yoga Nidra may be beneficial for managing chronic pain. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy reported that participants experienced reductions in pain intensity and pain interference.
PTSD and Trauma Recovery
There is evidence to suggest that Yoga Nidra may be helpful for individuals dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the practice was associated with reductions in PTSD symptoms and improvements in self-regulation among individuals with PTSD.
Cognitive Function and Performance
Initial research indicates that Yoga Nidra may have a positive impact on cognitive function, including attention, memory, and executive control, potentially enhancing overall cognitive performance.
Quality of Life and Resilience
Practitioners have reported improvements in their perceived quality of life, resilience to stress, and a greater sense of empowerment and self-awareness through regular Yoga Nidra practice.
Types of Yoga Nidra
I trained to teach Yoga Nidra and learnt about the different techniques applied by the different schools, eg Bihar School, iRest or Himalayan Institute. To remain authentic to teh tradition of my training, I teach Yoga Nidra following the Himalyan Institute approach. The most interesting part of the training for me was to learn about the brain, the different stages of sleep and brain waves. We know that good sleep is important to our wellbeing - it gives a chance to the body to rest (read my blog on Sleep). However, Yoga Nidra is not a substitute for a good night sleep.
What happens to the body and mind?
During the practice, we should experience grounding, a sense of safety (keeping a warm blanket over you and an eye mask help!) and being completely present in the moment; focus on the practice allows us to switch off from distractions, from the constant chattering of the mind (the 'whirling of the mind' in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras or sometimes referred to as 'monkey brain') and find that space between being awake and asleep, where we can truly rest the mind. After a Yoga Nidra practice, we may experience a sense of positivity, enthusiasm, clarity, calm and confidence.
In today's fast-paced world, the allure of Yoga Nidra as a method for accessing inner calm and enhancing mental well-being is undeniable. Its simplicity and potential for positive outcomes have positioned it as a trending practice in the realms of wellness and self-care.
Yoga Nidra stands out as a timeless practice with the potential to foster lasting inner calm and promote mental wellness. Whether as a standalone practice or as a complement to existing routines, the restorative effect of Yoga Nidra make it a valuable tool for individuals seeking holistic methods to support their overall well-being.
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