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Everyday life can be extremely stressful. Balancing your work, family, and tending to all responsibilities can be too much at times. As a result of that, our sleep can suffer. Stress has shown to affect the quality of our rest, and it is well known how important sleep is for every aspect of our lives. Lack of sleep leads to a series of mental and physical effects, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, lack of focus, impaired learning ability, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and many more. To avoid that, you want to find some way to relieve stress, and doing yoga might be a good option to relax and sleep better. Yoga nidra or yogic sleep is a meditation technique that can be practiced by anyone, and its practitioners are claiming many benefits.
What Is Yogic Sleep?
Yoga nidra or yogic sleep is a state of deep relaxation achieved by its practitioner. Its goal is to enter the unconscious mind by entering a state of mind somewhere between wake and sleep. The experience is quite similar to hypnagogia, a dream-like feeling you experience while you are falling asleep. It is very common, and during this time your thoughts look like they are floating around, and you can have mild auditory or visual hallucinations. You might see or hear a certain shape or noise, or maybe your brain is producing a repetitive pattern of signals that you might find interesting. Unlike regular dreams that are usually coherent and you are an active member of them, these sensations are more passive, and you find yourself as an observer. Because of this, some people believe that hypnagogia enhances creativity, and they actively seek to experience it. For instance, Salvador Dali regularly tried to induce it, as he thought it helped his creative process and inspiration.
Yoga Nidra is just like the hypnagogic state, your mind is relaxed, your thoughts are floating around, and you forget about the everyday stressors. Classic meditation requires active involvement and being the master of your focus, which can sometimes be frustrating if you are not able to do so. In contrast, yoga nidra can be practiced by anyone, from children to seniors, it is much easier to master, and it usually involves auditory guidance, so you have something to focus on at all times.
Yogic Sleep vs. Normal Sleep
Some practitioners are claiming great benefits of yoga nidra, and they say that a 45-minute session can be equivalent to 3 hours sleep. There is no objective evidence to support this claim, so don’t think that anything can replace your nightly rest. Go for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but you can incorporate yogic sleep to help you get rid of stress, as that is a part where it has proven benefits. With the regular practice, it can help you get better quality sleep.
Your body and mind are deeply relaxed during the nightly slumber. You are unconscious and most of the time unaware that you are sleeping. In contrast, while you are awake, you are very well aware of everything that is happening around you, and you are receiving and experiencing external stimuli continuously. The goal of yoga nidra is to access the middle of those states, a stage where you are profoundly calm and relaxed, while still maintaining consciousness and being alert to your surroundings.
Parts of your brain are emitting specific patterns of brain waves that can be picked up by the EEG. Betta waves are a characteristic of a wake state, but as you start to relax, your brain waves change as well and shift to alpha state. These waves are usually found on the transition between wake and sleep, but they can also be achieved when you are most relaxed. As you enter light sleep, your brain waves start to slow down, and theta waves are dominant here. Finally, as you reach deep sleep, your brain is producing delta waves, the slowest of them all. What’s interesting about yoga nidra is that the brain scans of those practicing it showed a mixture of specific brain waves for both sleeping and wake state. And this makes sense considering that they are trying to achieve that state between being conscious and asleep.
Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra is meant to evoke the feeling of calm, relaxation, and peacefulness. Ideally, you should feel more grounded and restored after the session. Like meditation, visualization and other kinds of yoga practice, it is a spiritual experience that should bring some benefits to your life. It is supposed to relieve stress and make you feel like you can get easier control of your life by better controlling your emotions and well-being. Sometimes it is enough to just sit back for some time, and ease your mind from going all over the place. You might feel more alert and focused afterward, or the session might leave you feeling like you are more connected to the people and the world around you.
Numerous studies are looking into the benefits of yoga nidra, and the results are mostly positive. One such study from 2012 looked into the impact that yogic sleep had on female subjects experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms due to menstrual disorder. The group of 150 females was randomly divided into two groups. One group practiced yoga nidra, while the control group didn’t, and they wanted to see the effects. The results are that the mild and moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly improved in the group practicing yogic sleep. However, it didn’t have the same observable effect in individuals who suffered from severe symptoms.
Similar findings were observed in a study done one year earlier. After six months of practicing yoga nidra, women were experiencing fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they generally had a more positive outlook on life and also rated their well-being higher.
A 2014 study, researchers wanted to look into how yogic practice affects blood glucose levels and stress in nursing students. One group has taken yogic exercise for 60 minutes weekly, for 12 weeks. It consisted of two parts; the first part was the active yogic exercise, while the second part was relaxation (yoga nidra). The results after 12 weeks were reduced stress, as well as lower blood sugar levels in medical students with yogic intervention.
A 2016 study looked into the benefits of easing menstrual irregularity symptoms. One hundred women were recruited and divided into two groups, where one practiced yoga nidra for six months, while the other didn’t. The results were consistent with the previous research, the group with the yogic intervention showed improved symptoms of anxiety and depression, women felt more positive about their well-being, and they also had better health and general vitality scores, as well as more balanced hormonal levels. The control group used medications to fight off menstrual symptoms, but they showed no difference at the beginning and after six months of observation. That means that yoga nidra could potentially be used as an alternative to relieving menstrual symptoms, but more valid research is needed to confirm this.
One study looked into effects yogic sleep could have on adolescents. Thirty-six students aged 13-15 had 30-minute sessions three times a week for a month. After that period, participants reported improvement in the feelings of happiness, enthusiasm, being more inspired, alert, active, having more control over negative emotions such as anger, and being more confident.
Keep in mind that all of these studies have certain limitations. They all have small sample sizes, most have undergone some kind of preselection of the participants, and in most of them, all of the subjects were female. Although they do show positive benefits, there needs to be more research done in this area with bigger sample sizes, without the preselection of the candidates, and with the more objective methods of evaluating the results of studies.
How To Practise Yogic Sleep?
If you want to practice yoga nidra by yourself, you can look for the nearby studios or workshops, as it has become quite popular. There is also a ton of videos online if you feel more comfortable doing it at home. You can also try one of the many apps that provide guided meditation including yoga nidra.
This is what a typical yoga nidra session looks like:
- First, you lay down on your back with your arms stretched beside your body. Be free to use blankets, cushions, or blocks to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes.
- The start of relaxation begins through breathing exercises. You can try the alternate nostril breathing technique, or simply inhaling and exhaling more deeply while holding hands on your chest and belly. While focusing on your breath, your mind and body can slow down and become calmer.
- Keep in mind that the goal of yoga nidra is to stay alert while achieving a state of deep relaxation, but don’t worry if you fall asleep.
- Now is to do some recognition of your muscles and body parts. Start from the left side and gradually go to the right. First, move your left pinky toe, then go through your legs, body and all the way to facial muscles. By systematically moving and then relaxing your muscles, you become more grounded, and you allow your body and mind to become calmer. Go through this process as quickly as you can, but don’t force yourself as the goal is to remain calm. You can repeat step 4 as long as you want, and then when you feel relaxed enough, you can proceed to the next stage.
- Visualize a place that you consider beautiful, and let your senses explore it entirely. For some people, this is a beach with waves hitting the rocks, a beautiful garden with the intense smell of flowers, deep forest with lots of birds chirping, or simply a relaxing campfire in the evening with a sky full of stars.
- Embrace the surroundings, set a positive affirmation for yourself, and after feeling optimal, slowly come back to your surroundings.
You can take as much time as you need, but it is usually recommended that your sessions last between 20 and 45 minutes to let your body relax fully. You can do these sessions before the bedtime to help you unwind and fall asleep more easily, or you could do them in the morning or any other part of the day when you feel like you have too much on your plate, and need to calm yourself down.