Yoga Nidra: What is Sleep Yoga?

Apr. 13, 2018Quick: If you could change one thing about the way you feel everyday, what would it be?



More energy?

Decreased stress?

Mental clarity?

Better mood?

… More sleep?

As you nod your head ’yes’ to all of those (don’t worry, we’re right there with you), it might surprise you to learn that the first four are directly linked to the last point on that list. In our modern society, we as a whole do not get adequate rest. Stressful jobs, side hustles, and the nature of our busy lives pushes us to push ourselves, often to the detriment of our collective and personal health. And when life gets busy, sleep is usually the first basic need to go, whether you’re burning the midnight oil or tossing and turning as you fret over an AM meeting or big presentation. But our lack of sleep — or lack of restful sleep — isn’t doing us any good.

Why Sleep Matters

Without adequate rest, that is, ideally 8 hours per night (most of us know we’re not getting anywhere near that amount), we put ourselves at risk for a host of issues. Sleep plays a key role in maintaining healthy brain function and mental health, our physical health, and even how we perform our jobs and everyday tasks, like driving. Poor sleep can leave us more susceptible to a variety of diseases, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

“Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke

If that’s not enough to make you rethink an early bedtime, consider this: poor quality sleep, or lack of sleep, could make you more susceptible to diabetes, make you more at risk for hormone imbalance, and could compromise your immune system. Also from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

“Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested. Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.”

Clearly, a good night’s sleep is about more than ridding yourself of those bags under your eyes. But for many of us, getting quality, restorative rest is easier said than done.

Yoga Nidra for Better Rest

Enter yoga nidra. Or sleep meditation. By now, most of us are already familiar with the benefits of meditation, but sleep meditation? While it may sound like the trendy yoga practice of the moment, yoga nidra is an age-old practice that’s experiencing a rebirth in our overworked and overstressed culture. You could say we need yoga nidra now more than we ever have. But what is yoga nidra, exactly?

Often called “yogic sleep,” yoga nidra is meant to put you in a state between sleep and consciousness. It’s said that this dream-like state could assist everything from physical and emotional healing to decreasing stress and achieving better sleep overall. If you’ve ever laid in savasana at the end of a yoga class and almost drifted off to sleep, you already have at least a small idea of what yoga nidra is and what it feels like.

The major difference, of course, is that savasana lasts anywhere from two to five minutes, and yoga nidra lasts the entire length of a class or practice. And no bendy yoga poses here, yoga nidra looks very similar to savasana too, with practitioners laying face-up on their mats, with their palms facing upwards, sometimes with the assistance of blocks or bolsters to aid in comfort. The yoga nidra teacher is there to guide you, but not with poses. Instead an instructor will help guide your practice to direct your awareness to your breath, body and imagery that will help you attain the super relaxed state of being yoga nidra is meant to achieve.

Yoga nidra feels a lot like being almost asleep, or a particularly successful savasana. You know that feeling when your legs are heavy and your mind is clear and restful, though you’re still aware of where you are? Yoga nidra feels similar that. As in, it’s majorly relaxing. In fact, it’s so relaxing that some practitioners believe that one hour of yoga nidra could be equal to several hours of restful sleep.

While you shouldn’t try to replace actual sleep with yoga nidra,the practice is an excellent complement to better rest overall, and could help train you to fall asleep faster and achieve deeper, more restorative sleep,in turn benefitting your entire system. If that’s not reason enough to give it a shot, what is?

What Does a Yoga Nidra Practice Look Like?

So, ready to try your hand at yoga nidra? While more and more yoga studios are offering yoga nidra classes, getting started on your own is simple and only requires enough space to lay down (and a yoga mat and blankets if you’d like to get extra comfy). Once you’re settled, focus on the following steps to achieve ultimate sleep yoga:

 

Set an intention for your practice

What do you want to achieve today? Better rest? More balanced thoughts? A moment or two of calm?

 

Settle in to your practice

Much like savasana, scan your body from the toes up and focus on relaxing every inch. Your toes, your feet, your legs, torso, hands, arms, temples, eyebrows. Let it all get heavy.

 

Focus on your breath

Notice where your breath is going, how you’re breathing. Calm the mind and body.

 

Every yoga nidra practice is different, with different goals, but like meditation, with repetition it gets easier to achieve that full body restoration that yoga nidra is so famous for. And what if you fall asleep during yoga nidra? Totally normal!

Surprisingly, yoga nidra is best practiced at a time when you’re feeling awake and energetic, like mid-day, but that being said, it’s very normal for people to fall asleep during their practice — that’s why it’s called a practice, after all!

 

Do you practice yoga nidra? Have a story to share? Let us know by tagging us with @AvocadoMattress or #AvocadoGreenMagazine

 

Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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