Sleeping challenges can be pretty common for all of us at various times, including difficulties falling asleep; staying asleep or not feeling fully rested after sleep. Lack of sleep can impact our concentration and sense of focus and overall affect our quality of life and wellbeing. There are a number of useful strategies to help us sleep better, including some useful yoga based interventions such as gentle asana (yoga based movements) and a practice called Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra is a specific form of meditation, which literally means yogic sleep. It consists of a fully guided meditation which can last for anywhere between 15-60 minutes, but typically 30-40minutes. It is a practice which is usually done while lying down and deliberately creating absolute comfort and ease in the body and a state of alertness in the mind. It is like sleeping while awake.
The process includes setting a particular intention- such as getting a good night’s sleep, a rotation of awareness through the body as well as guided visualisations and an awareness of breathing.
The effect of the practice is to produce a state of deep relaxation in the body. Often it is possible for the body to be completely relaxed while the brain is alert. It is also quite common for us to fall asleep during the practice and that is completely OK and may even be welcomed.
The main benefit of the practice is in the way it gives us tools to use the body to control the brain as we learn ways through this practice to turn thoughts off – often one of the reasons we struggle to get to sleep, or return to sleep if we wake in the night.
The other benefit of the practice is the impact of the intentions that we make for ourselves while in this state of deep relaxation. As the state of relaxation is like self-hypnosis, suggesting particular intentions can help us re-program our habits and help us reach our goals. I have written more about how to develop a create an intention here.
Dr Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist who advocates Yoga Nidra for better sleep and to promote alertness during the day. You can use the practice at any time of the day. Yoga Nidra can be used in the afternoon like you might use a micro nap, or it can be used before bed as a way of getting to sleep. He also suggests it can be used on waking if you don’t feel rested as a way to increase a sense of alertness.
I would recommend experimenting with the practice but would encourage trying it at least some of the times during the day to increase the likelihood that the brain will stay alert for the best benefits. There are many guided Yoga Nidra sessions, some which specifically encourage you to use to fall asleep –I regularly use a variety provided on free aps such as insight timer. [editor note: I used this one the other night and found it very relaxing]
I first learnt this practice in my early days as a yoga student in the 1990s and it was one of the things that has continued to draw me back to the practice of yoga. In 2014 I completed training as an Irest Yoga Nidra teacher to be able to share it more effectively with others in my yoga classes.
If you are curious about the practice and wish to try it out, I will be including a long form version of the practice (or about 35 minutes) in the Mindful Yoga class on Tuesday June 15 at 12noon
Counsellor and yoga teacher