You rest your physical body each night when you sleep, but our fast-paced, always-on, digital-everything world can make it tough to give your mind and emotions a break. The practice of yoga nidra (“yogic sleep”) was popularized in the mid 20th-century, but it couldn’t be more necessary than it is now.
Here’s what you need to know …
You lie down for the whole class~~and you don’t even need a mat. Yoga nidra is more of a guided meditation instead of a typical asana class, designed around multiple poses. This posture of savasana minimizes touch sensations, and elicits the relaxation response. Who wouldn’t love that?
Many yoga nidra classes start with a resolution, or sankalpa. The sankalpa you decide to make can be as simple as changing a small negative habit, or as profound as transforming your life pattern. The choice is up to you.
Sessions include instructions for different types of experiences. During a yoga nidra class your teacher will systematically draw your attention to different parts of your body, rotating your awareness so you can follow along. Then she might list a variety of universal or specific symbols for you to “follow,” as if watching a movie. Or she may provide pairs of physical sensations to imagine, such as heaviness and lightness. Each type of exercise is based on neuroscience, and brings you deeper into a restful state.
One hour of yoga nidra is said to be as restful as many hours of sleep. Yoga nidra is designed to put you in a place between sleep and wakefulness, without a loss of awareness. Researchers have found that when the body is in a state of complete relaxation, receptivity is greater. But don’t be fooled …
Yoga nidra is not hypnosis. Even though your senses are withdrawn (pratyahara), your brain remains awake during yoga nidra, so it doesn’t depend on suggestion and persuasion. Your instructor serves as a guide through this hypnagogic state, which includes a progressive release of muscular tension … ahhh.
This is the most important instruction: Don’t fall asleep! This can be challenging (you are lying down in a quiet, darkened room, after all), but it’s a critical bit that ensures you stay in that all-important state of detached awareness. Although you don’t need to concentrate, it’s important to keep your auditory channel open and maintain a “witness awareness.”