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The Beginners Guide to Yoga Nidra for Sleep and Relaxation

Healthy Sleep | Sleep

Do you ever experience feeling tired and in dire need of rest, even though you’ve been getting more than enough hours of sleep? Or worse, you wake up in the middle of the night and you suddenly have all these thoughts racing through your mind, making it damn near impossible to fall back asleep? 

If these things happen to you on a frequent and consistent basis, it could be an indication of a sleep disorder. However, it could also be a sign that you’re filled with unconscious tension. When this happens, sleep alone is not enough to relax us. The practice of yoga nidra (also known as yogic sleep) removes these tensions within, restores balance, and re-establishes harmony in our mind and body. Here’s how you can use yoga nidra for sleep. 

What is Yoga Nidra?

If you are new to yoga nidra, you are in for a sweet surprise! Unlike other forms of yoga, yoga nidra is not active on the body. In fact, physically, you are just in Savasana the entire time. So how does this systematic method of yoga nidra meditation help you with sleep?

Yoga nidra is a method of deep relaxation that enables us to go deep into the subconscious mind, helping us identify and release any tensions we may be holding on to. 

Tensions in the body and mind are connected; our thoughts affect our body, and vice versa. Case in point: you’ve probably experienced having sweaty palms, or feeling a knot in your stomach, whenever you think of something that makes you anxious or nervous. So if we want to have a good night’s rest, it’s important that we not only relax the body, but also release any emotional stress or mental tension we’re holding on to—consciously or otherwise.

The Benefits of Yoga Nidra for Sleep

The theory of yoga nidra recognizes three different kinds of tension: muscular tension, emotional tension, and mental tension. Muscular tension is within the physical body and the nervous system. Emotional tension results from repressed and unexpressed emotions. Mental tension rises from excessive mental activity, also known as overanalyzing and overthinking. With all these levels of tension, it’s no wonder that many of us have trouble letting go, relaxing, and getting deep, restful sleep.

Yoga nidra guides you through the layers of your being, releasing deep-seated tensions that prevent you from going into deep, restorative sleep. Sources indicate the more relaxed and tension-free you are before going to sleep, the better the quality and quantity of sleep you will get.

The Process and Practice of Yoga Nidra

So what exactly happens in a yoga nidra session, and how do you practice it so you can get that deep, luscious sleep already? Let’s break it down step by step. 

Note: Yoga nidra is a guided meditation, so it is usually done with a teacher who can guide you through the process. If you don’t have access to that, you can also just use guided meditation recordings of yoga nidra for sleep. 

Step 1: Relaxing the Body

You will start by lying comfortably on your mat and allowing your body to become still. You can cover yourself with a blanket to stay comfortable, and cover your eyes to eliminate distractions and facilitate drawing your attention inwards. You will be instructed to stay awake, but if you doze in and out of consciousness, that is perfectly normal. During yoga nidra, the brain is actually completely awake. 

Step 2: Setting an Intention

After the initial relaxation of the body, you will set a positive intention for your practice, also known as a sankalpa. As an example, you can ask yourself, what are you most longing for at this moment? What do you wish to experience in your life? You will repeat this sankalpa a few times in your mind before moving on to the next step. 

Step 3: Rotation of Consciousness

In this step, the teacher will start asking you to pay attention to specific parts of your body. Your job is to follow the mentioned parts of your body with your focused attention. This progressive movement of your awareness along different body parts has a very specific physiological meaning and purpose, as it makes a run through the entire surface of the brain from inside out, stimulating the brain and relaxing the mind. 

This exercise of doing a mental scan of your body, emphasizing one body part after another, actually makes you forget about the physicality of your body, helping to draw your attention within. 

Step 4: Experience of the Opposites

You will then be guided to mentally go through some opposite experiences, such as lightness and heaviness, hot and cold. This helps the conscious mind determine what your body actually feels, instead of always just responding to, and relying on, sensations from the outside world. 

Step 5: Visualization

Visualization is an important part of yoga nidra, as it can bring up what is stored in the unconscious mind. One method used in yoga nidra is a guided imagery using symbols, as symbols is understood as the language of the subconscious. This can be very healing and balancing for the mind, and can help bring hidden thoughts and emotions to the surface.

Step 6: Ending the Practice with Positive Resolution

The yoga nidra practice will come to a close with a positive resolution. At the end of the session, your mind is very receptive to positive thoughts and suggestions, and this openness will strengthen the resolution you make. You will then be slowly guided back to the awakened state of mind.

Yoga nidra offers total relaxation on the physical, mental, and emotional level, promoting a holistic balance within the mind and body. Try practicing yoga nidra for sleep, so you can finally wake up not feeling tired and grumpy, and experience nights of deep, restful sleep.

Did you know?

This article is part of our Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders – A resource that will help you get your quality sleep back. Click here to learn more about sleep disorders, their causes, symptoms and how to overcome them. 

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
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