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I love teaching Yoga Nidra. It looks deceptively simple: lying flat on the floor, relaxing… how could it be doing any real good? Well, that’s the beauty of it. It’s not like doing a headstand. No flexibility is needed and anyone can do it. And while it may look like a glamorous nap, it’s an extremely powerful and subtle practice we all can benefit from. As a Hatha Yoga instructor in the Integral Yoga tradition, Yoga Nidra usually happens at the end of the Asana portion of a class, giving students a chance to decompress and look within.
But I am getting ahead of myself. What exactly is Yoga Nidra? This practice, which is also called Yogic Sleep, resembles the in between place, just before we drift off, but are still fully aware. It’s easy to confuse this state of consciousness with meditation. The difference being, meditation focuses the mind on an intension, breath, or focal point, while Yoga Nidra brings the body to a state of full relaxation.
So, why should you try it? There are profound benefits to Yoga Nidra. When we relax the body in this way, it allows us to combat the body’s Flight or Fright Response, also known as the stress response. In the defensive stress state, our heartbeat quickens, blood pressure accelerates, hormones are produced and inflammation occurs, contributing too many diseases. Yoga Nidra renews us, both internally and externally. It sends a message to the brain that all is well, in turn, healing the body by relaxing the mind.
An enlightening study was performed by the State University Hospital in Copenhagen, which highlighted the effects of Yoga Nidra on the brain; participants were placed in a PET scanner as they listened to a Yoga Nidra CD. The pictures illustrated which areas were active before, during, and after Yoga Nidra, while brain activity was measured by an EEG, (electroencephalograph). Researchers found that activity in the brain was very similar to sleep, throughout the entire Yoga Nidra process. It also showed increased dopamine production and a 65% increase towards improved focus. Which means, even while relaxed, participants where highly aware and had the ability to control their own brain activity.
So, what are you waiting for? Take off your shoes and socks. Put on some comfy clothing and experience Yoga Nidra for yourself!
Follow the steps below to try Yoga Nidra in the comfort of your own home:
1) Lie down in Corpse pose: flat on your back, eyes closed with palms facing up, and legs about six-inches apart.
2) Take a deep breath: inhale through your nose deeply, let air flow into your belly. Slowly release.
3) Draw your awareness to your feet… scrunch up the toes. Experience any tension in your feet and toes, then release. Allow the feet to rest gently and forget about them. One by one, continue tensing and release each part of the body in this way. When you get to the neck, gently roll the head from side to side, relaxing the neck. Afterward, take a deep breath and crunch the facial muscles. Make a kiss with the lips for a few seconds, then let it go.
4) Once the physically body is relaxed, turn your awareness to the mind. Slowly, mentally scan all the parts of the body. And if you sense any remaining bits of tension, see them moving out of you, like a light passing into the air. Once you’re finished, let the thoughts pass in and out of your mind without judgment and rest in this awareness. Breathe into the belly. Resist the urge to fall asleep.
After 5-10 minutes, feel energy return to your fingers and toes. Gently begin to move them. Lightly turn the head from side to side. When you’re ready bring the body back to a seated position. Notice how you feel, any thoughts and sensations, as you return to your natural state. ■