If you’re used to a very active form of asana practice, yoga nidra can come as a big surprise. It may look like you’re just napping at your favorite studio, but I promise—this practice is so much more!
Also called yogic sleep, yoga nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. A form of guided meditation, it brings you to a state of consciousness within the sweet spot between wakefulness and sleep.
So if we can get to this high level of relaxation, can we also use yoga nidra for sleep? The answer is absolutely! Here’s how.
What is Yoga Nidra Meditation?
Per Swami Satyananda Saraswati, yoga nidra is the systematic rotation of consciousness in the body that originated from the tantric practice of nyasa (which means to take the mind to a certain point).
During this yogic sleep, you’re not really sleeping, but rather enjoying what seems like a really long Savasana. You’re guided to experience the deepest possible level of relaxation without actually falling asleep, or rather, without losing consciousness. If you do start falling asleep, don’t worry—this happens quite often, especially when you’re new to the practice.
When you reach this in-between state of wakefulness and sleep, contact between your subconscious and conscious mind is occurring spontaneously. This promotes harmony, healing and resolution on a deep level.
How Can You Use Yoga Nidra for Sleep?
Let's face it. Life is never as relaxed as we would like it to be. We are 'on' more than ever before, and more and more people experience extreme stress and anxiety every day. When we’re stressed and overwhelmed, it’s very difficult to slow down and relax. Consequently, this leads to difficulties with sleep—either in the quantity of hours, or quality of sleep.
One hour of yoga nidra is said to be as restful as four hours of conventional sleep. The power of yoga nidra doesn’t only happen during the actual practice, however. According to the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, it also affects our brain waves, which has long-lasting effects rippling into our busy daily lives.
How Yoga Nidra Meditation Changes Our Brain Waves
One reason we can look to yoga nidra for sleep is that it slows down the brain wave frequencies.
During the day, we’re in the beta brain wave frequency, which means that the mind is very active. We are thinking, planning, sitting in meetings, and going about our lives. This is normal, but if the beta waves are too high, we experience stress. And when beta waves are extremely high, we are in a state of anxiety.
You know the term “monkey mind?” Well, the monkey lives here. Apart from mental and emotional stress and anxiety, high beta waves also have physiological effects. In this state, the body is pumped with adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol, which are very disruptive for relaxation and sleep.
Yoga Nidra and the Alpha and Theta Brain Waves
During yoga nidra practice, our brain wave frequency shifts from beta waves to the alpha waves, which are slower in frequency. We enter a state where we’re calm and relaxed, but still alert. This is a soothing state for the mind, where it’s easy to be in the present moment.
In this state, we can also experience our authentic self, which is unattached to our personality and surroundings. It is the state where healing can happen, as the conscious mind is tuned out.
The alpha state improves the immune system, and is linked to reduced stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Here, we’re able to counterbalance the effects of stress experienced during the day: because of the reduced production of stress hormones. And obviously, the less stressed we are, the more we can relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep!
But it doesn't stop there. Yoga nidra takes us even deeper, into the theta brain wave state. This is a state of light sleep, that can also be described as a light trance or hypnosis, similar to intensive daydreaming.
You’ve probably experienced this light hypnotic state in long Savasana—you feel incredibly relaxed, nothing is bothering you, and you’re not sleeping but not fully on your mat either. During the theta state, our senses are withdrawn from the external world, and the focus is within.
This is the state of vivid imagery, intuition, and deep healing, and we can receive information which is usually outside of our conscious awareness.
Getting Quality Sleep with Yoga Nidra Practice
As mentioned earlier, in yoga nidra meditation, we aim to enter and stay in a state of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. Although yoga nidra practice itself will not replace your need for conventional sleep and a good night’s rest, it is a valuable tool for changing your mental and emotional state: from anxiety and stress to calmness and clarity.
This feel-good and deeply relaxing practice will not only make you feel calmer, it will also help you fall asleep easier, and improve your overall quality of sleep. Who doesn’t want that?