by Julie Eisenburg
Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is a deeply relaxing meditative practice that rejuvenates the body and mind. Yoga Nidra is sometimes called “sleep with awareness” because we go into a place of total relaxation without actually falling asleep. For this reason, Yoga Nidra can be very challenging. However, by using guided imagery or systematically relaxing each part of the body, we can slip into that meditative bliss that Yoga Nidra brings to us without falling into a deep, unconscious sleep.
Millions of people suffer from a severe lack of sleep or disrupted sleep. At one time or another, we all struggle to fall asleep at night, or we wake up at 4 AM and can’t fall asleep again. For many of us, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to find time for the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep, so we stay up too late trying to fit everything into our day. If you’re someone who needs closer to 9 hours of sleep, then the feeling of being rested becomes even more elusive. In fact, it’s estimated that at least one third of Americans get far too little sleep each night.
A chronic lack of sleep can lead to chronic health problems. Too little sleep increases stress hormone levels and blood pressure, potentially leading to heart disease, obesity, and depression, among other things. We need sleep to be awake! Sleep is the time when the body has a chance to repair and heal itself.
This is when we can turn to Yoga Nidra as part of a regular practice of Kundalini Yoga. Yoga Nidra balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, releases physical tension, and by relaxing brainwave activity, it balances the left and right sides of the brain.
To ease into a practice of Yoga Nidra, try starting with simple guided meditations. With a guided meditation, you can begin to train your mind to stay aware and present while you begin to relax the body. Notice how frequently your mind drifts, and as it does, just bring it back to the present. Don’t beat yourself up if your mind wanders and you find that you’ve fallen asleep and have been dreaming; just keep trying to stay present.
Guided relaxation after a yoga practice is another excellent way to develop a Yoga Nidra practice. Play some soothing music; one of my current favorites is Undefended Heart by Hans Christian, or any of the Crimson Collection by Singh Kaur. Relax into the sound current while you begin to breath long and deep and mentally survey your entire body, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. As you identify each body part, take your awareness there, giving it a little mental squeeze. Stay present during this exercise. If you have a meditation partner, you can take turns walking each other through this body scan while the other partner relaxes.
Over time, you can begin to extend the length of your Yoga Nidra practice, ideally to 45 minutes of deep relaxation. Practicing Yoga Nidra may feel like you’re taking a long nap, but the goal is to avoid the stage of sleep when we dream. Instead, we are able to come into that blissful state of a totally quiet mind.
While Yoga Nidra can help replace occasional sleep deficits, it’s still important over the long term to develop healthy sleeping habits. Always try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, and get regular exercise, including a consistent yoga practice. Don’t watch TV or use your computer in your bedroom, and to help fall asleep, play soothing music, or use calming essential oils. Other things that might help are to eat lightly in the evening, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and meditate before bed. Look for balance in your life, and find ways to reduce stress. Most importantly, be kind and gentle with yourself, giving yourself the opportunity to relax deeply and happily.
Check out this guided Yoga Nidra practice - it's a great way to get started and will only take about 15 minutes!