YOGIC SLEEP FOR DEEP RELAXATION
Feeling worn out and in need of rest? Yoga Nidra may be just what you need to feel restored
Often times, difficulty sleeping can be contributed by a variety of reasons, such as too much sugar or caffeine, or overstimulation from electronic gadgets such as the television or smart phone. Yoga Nidra helps by getting the mind acquainted with how to relax, and over time, cultivates its ability to relax itself.
THINK OF YOGA NIDRA AS A SUPERCHARGED “NAP”
Yoga Nidra is an immensely powerful meditation technique that’s accessible to everyone, from children to seniors. While the practitioner rests comfortably in savasana (corpse pose), this systematic meditation takes you through the five koshas (the five layers of self), nurturing a sense of wholeness.
According to Sri Dharma Mittal, who founded Dharma Yoga, an hour’s Yoga Nidra practice is equivalent to three or four hours of conventional sleep.
BUT ARE YOU AWAKE OR ASLEEP?
Yoga Nidra is often described as “yogic sleep”, but “you are actually awake,” explains Pearl Bhasin, who teaches Dharma Yoga and Yoga Nidra at The Yoga School. “Some people do fall asleep, but at the start of the practice, everyone is reminded to try ,as far as possible, to remain alert.”
She adds, “Yoga Nidra suggests sleep because the physical body is in deep rest. With the consciousness hovering between waking and sleeping, the body and mind come to a state of healing.”
“It helps to do some light stretches like seated side bends and twists before you start, but essentially, you’ll be in savasana while practicing Yoga Nidra,” says Pearl. “It usually takes around five to seven minutes to prepare: a thin blanket perhaps to cushion the back of the skull, a bolster to prop the legs up behind the knees, and another blanket to cover yourself if it gets too cold. The key is to get comfortable enough to lie completely still for at least 45 minutes. The idea is to let the body remain still to allow everything to settle.”
“Relaxation is the best antidote for all impurities”
– Sri Dharma Mittra
“I think it was BKS Iyengar who said, ‘Imagine a jar of water with mud and sand, the longer you leave it still, the more everything will settle down to the bottom and the water can become clear’, Pearl continues, “In my classes, I use the analogy of a snow globe.”
“During the practice, you lie completely still and only move if you really have to, or when you feel pain. And if you have to move because of pain, move ever so slightly and slowly until it’s comfortable, and remain still again for as long as you can,” she adds.
“Like what you’d experience during a guided meditation, there is a kind of ‘guided tour’ which leads you to explore the faculties of ‘Memory’ and ‘Imagination’, before arriving at ‘Realisation’.
“As Dharma says, ‘follow instructions with your mind’, so what you do is you mentally focus on the parts of the body as cued. We begin with the left thumb, stay there for a minute or two, then we move on to the index finger, the middle finger, the ring finger, and so on. We stay at each spot for a minute or two, and slowly cover the rest of the body, such as the limbs and the internal organs,” Pearl explains.
SIMILAR TO GUIDED MEDITATION
Each time you practice Yoga Nidra, you’re stilling the waves of the mind through conscious entry into the sleep state. You start with sensing the body and regulating your breath to trigger the relaxation response, which then balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Through this process, your brain shifts from beta (an awakened state with lots of brain activity), to alpha (a more relaxed state).
“While meditation focuses on one point, Yoga Nidra focuses on the entire body. In meditation, you are training the mind to be still, while in Yoga Nidra, you enter a state between sleep and full awareness,” says Pearl thoughtfully. “It’s a deeply restorative state where healing happens.”
When the brain is resting in alpha, the mood-regulating hormone, serotonin, is released, which helps you to feel calmer. Studies have shown that people who spend little time in an alpha brain-wave state have more anxiety than those who spend more time in alpha. Shifting your brain into an alpha state starts its process of “powering down,” or coming into a rest state with slower, restorative brain-wave activity.
EXPERIENCE THE BENEFITS OF YOGA NIDRA FOR YOURSELF
Aside from being relaxing, restorative and restful, the practice of Yoga Nidra also helps with alleviating stress, reducing symptoms of chronic pain, and transforming negative habits, behaviour and ways of thinking. It fosters feelings of peace, calm and clarity.
As a fan of Yoga Nidra, eco activist and wildlife advocate, Nadya Hutagalung, can attest to its benefits. The multi-tasking mum-of-three, who’s also an ambassador of The Yoga School, says she sometimes practices together with her husband during the weekends, or in the evenings.
If you’re keen to try this deeply relaxing and restorative yoga practice, join Pearl at The Yoga School, or check out her upcoming Dharma Yoga workshop on 6 July – the engaging and healing 3-hour session starts with breathing exercises (pranayama), chanting (mantra japa), and a full physical practice (asana), before finally ending with Yoga Nidra. Click here to find out more and reserve a mat!