Yoga nidra for better sleep
How many hours do you sleep at night? The recommended amount of sleep is around eight hours per night. Unfortunately, the global pandemic, subsequent lockdowns and increased stress rates have caused many of us to experience difficulty sleeping.
During the first UK lockdown, a survey conducted by King’s College London found over half of adults reported their sleep was more disturbed than usual. Understandably, the pandemic has resulted in elevated stress levels, anxiety and fear, all of which are contributing to higher rates of insomnia and sleepless nights.
Financial strain, health concerns and alarming news stories are keeping many of us awake at night, or preventing us from nodding off altogether. In fact, the sleep disturbances caused by the pandemic are now labelled under the umbrella term: Coronasomnia.
This is where yoga nidra can help. Yoga nidra, otherwise known as yogic sleep, is a powerful meditation practice, enabling practitioners to access the deeply restorative aspects of sleep while remaining conscious. Research suggests that yoga nidra is highly effective in overcoming insomnia and other sleep problems. What’s more, because yoga nidra has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress levels, this style of yoga is particularly valuable right now, where rates of stress are particularly high.
The goal in yoga nidra is to stay present and aware as the body enters a deep state of rest. Shifting attention inwardly, the practitioner floats between wake and sleep as the breath becomes balanced. It is during this phase of blissful awareness that the brain emits delta waves, mimicking the process of entering a deep restful sleep. While there are now many different approaches to yoga nidra, they all seek to access the subconscious mind through a particular method of guided relaxation.
Practising yoga nidra
Interestingly, this style of yoga was traditionally intended to be practised in mid-day, affording us an opportunity to recharge and compensate for an energy crash post-lunchtime. It is often said that a short practice of yoga nidra will have the restoring effects of several hours of sleep. While most feel very relaxed as they emerge from a practice of nidra, it is not uncommon to hear stories of people arriving home from their evening practice with a boost of energy. “I was so relaxed after your class, but then I went home and I had so much energy I reorganised my pantry.” In this sense, yoga nidra can offer a restful “top-up” after a poor night’s sleep.
However, yoga nidra is also very effective when practised before going to sleep, to help you drift off. To do so, you should have the specific intention of sinking into sleep.
To practice yoga nidra, you simply find a comfortable resting position, often lying down, and close your eyes. You can do this on your yoga mat or in your bed if you prefer, anywhere that is quiet where you feel safe and comfortable. I recommend adding some support under your head and knees and making sure you are warm enough. Your body temperature will drop as you relax, so it is nice to cover up with a blanket. A yoga nidra practise generally takes between 20 and 40 minutes in which you will enter a state of deep listening, shifting your focus internally.
If you are doing this at home, find a yoga nidra recording that is focused on sleep. There are many recordings or videos available on YouTube. An example of how this may be structured can be found below:
You will be asked to find stillness, allowing the body to release and fully sink into the earth.
You will be asked to create a Sankalpa (a healing intention) for the practice. This is a commitment or resolve that seeks to bring about positive change and fulfil our innermost longing.
The meditation will then lead you through a body scan, inviting you to feel each part of your body without moving. This meditation frequently uses visualisation to cultivate inward awareness and access a deep internal state.
Finally, you will be asked to gently explore your feelings, or visualisations before closing with a reaffirmation of one’s Sankalpa. This ends the practice with a sense of safety, harmony and acceptance.
Yoga nidra is accessible to everyone. Unlike many other styles of yoga, it can be practised regardless of physical injury or ability. If you have back pain or are pregnant you can do this practice laying on your side instead of your back.
This deeply meditative practice brings stillness into the body, creating a feeling of heaviness that lures the body into a profound, restful sleep. In doing so, yoga nidra trains the body to relax and move easily into deeper states of restfulness.
Eva Hamilton is an international yoga teacher and Trainer-Pro with Yoga Alliance Professionals. Passionate about yoga since her youth, Eva has taught yoga professionally for 10 years. Her intention in teaching is to craft supportive and nourishing energy for self-exploration. Feel free to connect with her at www.eva.yoga.
Yoga Alliance Professionals is the leading professional body for yoga teachers and trainers. Working with its members, Yoga Alliance Professionals supports yoga instructors to excel in their career.