An average human being spends roughly a third of their life sleeping. Sleep is an important part of the rest and recovery needed to live a quality life. Everyone loves the days when you wake up completely refreshed. Your body feels great and you feel confident in tackling the day ahead. Yoga Nidra will help you feel like that every day. Yoga Nidra is completely non invasive and has been used in clinical trials for a variety of disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and chronic insomnia. See the full clinical trials here.
Yoga Nidra consists of focused relaxation of all your muscles, and intentional release of mental and emotional tension using breath flows and visualizations. You target your muscles one by one, and the aim is to relax them completely, followed by some breathing exercises and a short round of meditation.
So many of us suffer from sleep deprivation without knowing it. Even if you get the full 8 hours, which is rare enough, you still may not be getting the proper quality of sleep required for complete rejuvenation. The emotional worries need to be shelved for another day, the mind needs to be prepared for a new beginning in the morning. The daily stress which builds up in muscles needs to be released to feel total relaxation.
At the beginning, you may want to focus your awareness on muscle groups rather than small muscles. As you fine tune your awareness you can adjust accordingly. Many of us have poor posture even while lying down and you may have to adjust a lot in the beginning as you learn the true resting pose and weight for each muscle. Just a few sessions in though, that will become automatic. When you start out, you may have to flex the muscles to kick start your awareness of any stress points. That is fine, but eventually you want to get to awareness without flexing.
How To Start Yoga Nidra
- Lay down in the Corpse pose, just flat on your back on the mat with hands at your sides and feet apart as wide as the mat. Feel your body get heavy. Let it sink into the mat.
- You can choose to start at the head or feet, we chose feet. You want to flex each muscle just enough to feel it, hold for a few seconds, and then completely relax suddenly. Inhale on the flex, hold breath on the hold muscle, and exhale on the release. Allow a few calming breaths between muscles to stay relaxed. Don’t take overly long or deep breaths. There should be no strain.
- Wiggle each toe, then the ankle, then the knee, so on so forth. Feel each muscle tighten and release.
- You are only moving your joints so your mind can feel the muscles! Do slow controlled movements focusing on the release of tension. Visualize each movement as you make it. This will serve the dual purpose of narrowing focus and keeping distracting thoughts in control.
- Do one leg at a time up to the hip.
- When you get up to the waist, focus on the lower back and abs. Tighten and release your core.
- If at any point, you think that you don’t feel anything, its okay. Awareness of the subtle muscles comes slowly, but if you do have any muscles that are stressed, it won’t be hard to feel those.
- Work your way up to your chest, which is a tricky muscle to engage in any case. Let your chest and rib-cage collapse inward and take out any effort in keeping them up.
- Start at the wrists and work your way up the arm to the shoulder. Flexing the wrists and rotating the arm will tense or release the whole arm.
- Easiest way to tense the neck is to press your head down toward the floor, and then release. You can also move your neck to the side to identify any stress points. (it’s a common area for stress)
- Smiling your widest and pressing lips together will both work out the different face muscles.
- Squeeze eyelids tightly together, and then release.
- Put a deep frown on the forehead to tense and raise your eyebrows completely for the release.
- Raise your arms above your head and do a gentle stretch from head to toe.
Pranayama and Yoga Nidra
You will find that you hold stress at certain points of the body. The most common places to hold stress are the face, neck, shoulders, lower back and hips area. After your body is relaxed muscle-wise, we are going to start with the mind and emotions. Doing some deep breathing exercises will promote melatonin production and will induce sleep , especially if you are already relaxed. You may do diaphragmatic breathing with the abdomen slowly. Inhale through your nose, but inhale into the abdomen area, not the chest. Your stomach should rise and fall with each breath. Exhale through your nose slowly. Don’t count your breaths or any such thing. Relaxation is key here, just fill your lungs till comfortable and then release.
If at any time you fall asleep, don’t feel guilty. The sleep you experience will be very healthy and rejuvenating.
Do the breathing exercises as long as you want. During it you may just want to visualize the breath moving through your body, or you may visualize a calming image or color. Either one will work. Remember, you are teaching your mind and body to relax on command, and furthermore, to completely relax. You may have to consciously stop thoughts or emotions. Do so assertively. Tell your mind to not think or react to thoughts. If any feelings or emotions rise up, as they most likely will, calmly acknowledge them and move on. Just keep going back to calm breaths and calming visualizations.
Fun Fact – The military method of sleep as set out by the US Navy to put its pilots to sleep in high stress environments in minutes is as follows
- Relax your whole face
- Drop and relax your shoulders and arms
- Exhale and relax the body from chest down to the legs
- Clear your mind for 10 seconds before imagining a calming scene.
Sound familiar at all ?? It should. It’s a basic synopsis of the first part of Yoga Nidra.
True Yoga Nidra
There is a lot more to Yoga Nidra other than being a sleep aid. Yoga Nidra is one of the best ways to contemplate your subconscious. Your body has a subsystem that controls things like digestion and heartbeats and other such involuntary actions without your knowledge. Think of the subconscious as a subsystem for your mind. It holds a lot of data but only puts forward the stuff you actually need to see.
The moments when you are in the dream state are the moments when your awareness is floating between the conscious and the subconscious. Powerful transformations in attitude and personal image are possible if proper affirmations are recited mentally at this time. This is one of the most beneficial things about Yoga Nidra. Your body and mind learn what you teach it. The mind physically attaches importance to thoughts that generate a strong emotional reaction. The mind doesn’t care if those emotions are positive or negative, they just have to be strong enough to cause a hormone release which causes changes in brain chemistry and triggers an emotion. So if you think thoughts that cause strong positive emotions, you are essentially telling your brain to consider these thoughts important and forget the bad stuff. Mastery of this technique will result in a happier and worry free life.
True Yoga Nidra takes the consciousness willfully thorough the 5 kosas of the human form. Yoga teaches that the human form has 5 different layers or sheaths enveloping the Atman or the true self. Those layers are the kosas. You can think of them as filters for your consciousness.
The kosas are as follows starting from innermost to outermost..
- Anandmaya Kosa or the Blissful self (where the consciousness is most free and happy)
- Vijnanamaya Kosa or the Intellectual self (objective consciousness like good/bad, right/wrong)
- Manomaya Kosa or the Egotistic self (subjective consciousness like preferences or dislikes)
- Pranamaya Kosa or the Energetic self (the vitality of the consciousness)
- Annamaya Kosa or the Physical Self (the physical form of the consciousness)
The method outlined earlier in the article will take your consciousness first through the physical and energetic selves with the focused awareness on muscles stress and breathing. The calming visualizations and the affirmations will cycle your consciousness through the other kosas. You may even shift your visualizations to the chakras for added benefits. Keep your thoughts positive and believe in your affirmations and you can experience the full benefits of Yoga Nidra!
Yoga Nidra is highly effective as a sleep aid and has been known to put chronic insomniacs to sleep and enjoy quality sleep. However, some people carry a lot of tension and stress in their muscles. To that end we are recommending a few poses that will help you stretch and help in getting a more restful sleep. Do these poses before you start your session.
Seated Forward Bend – For a more intense stretch point all your toes back towards your head. Incline your head downward to stretch the neck muscles.
Balasana – Keep the hands by your sides for a relaxed version. Let your body get heavy. This pose will work to relax your whole body.
Camel Pose – Let your head and shoulders hang. This will stretch the throat muscles as well. Only go as far back as you feel comfortable. You just want to feel the stretch.
With a totally relaxed body, you cannot feel anxious. Yoga Nidra has been shown to have effects in just a few sessions. The methods outlined in this article will definitely enrich the quality of your sleep.
Let us know in the comments how it worked for you!