By Lauren Maher:
Yoga nidra, often referred to as “yogic sleep,” is a step-by-step guided meditation that is designed to release stress from the body. It is an age-old meditative technique that does not involve acrobatic poses or complicated breathing—all it requires is for one to lie on the floor or sit in a chair quietly. Yoga nidra is particularly valuable because it is open to all and accessible to those with limited mobility, chronic pain, or chronic illnesses.
How does it work?
Typically led by a yoga teacher or other trained professional, a yoga nidra practitioner begins the practice by becoming aware of their body and the various sensations within it. This is followed by a body scan, when one rotates their awareness through each part of the body. Once a deeper awareness, or “witness mind,” is created, the practitioner focuses on their breath, often slowing it down to create a deeper sense of calm and relaxation in the body.
From here, one experiments with creating different sensations or emotional states in the body. For example, one may work to create a sense of heat in the body followed by a sense of cold; or perhaps one creates a state of joy followed by a state of pain. As the process continues, one is led through various visualizations that are often geared toward creating a state of self-healing.
At the beginning and end of practice, one sets a sankalpa, or intention, for their practice. It is believed that by setting intentions during a deep state of relaxation, one is planting the seed for change in the future.
Why practice yoga nidra?
This practice, while simple, can have profound results. A body scan and focused awareness on the different states of the body builds mindful awareness, while changing breath patterns can influence heart rate variability, which can reduce stress and increase resiliency. While one’s brain is typically in alpha waves just before sleep, yoga nidra is shown to extend the brain’s alpha wave state. During this state, progressive relaxation can occur. Remaining in the borderline between wakefulness and deep sleep can feel deeply restful, which provides a natural antidote to heightened anxiety and stress.
Additionally, when one focuses on creating different emotional states or visualizes various scenarios, they may be able to develop a greater sense of agency and emotional mastery. Setting positive intentions can help reframe negative thought patterns, as we train the mind to choose relaxation and look for what is beautiful and whole. While the exact reason for change is not known, several studies have indicated that mindfulness meditation can help a variety of psychiatric, psychosomatic, and stress-related conditions. It is possible that yoga nidra helps us heal on a deep, psychic level.
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Lauren Maher is a certified yoga therapist and associate marriage and family therapist who is passionate about helping people heal, transform, and thrive.
To find out more about her practice, please visit these websites:
Co-Founder, Volare Retreats: www.volareretreats.com