I never knew the importance of sleep until I began to suffer from insomnia. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why women suffer from insomnia more frequently than men. However, it’s believed to be related to our biology including the differences between our hormones and circadian rhythms.
Often women experience insomnia during the stages of menopause as estrogen declines. I had always been a good sleeper until menopause got real for me and I started getting hot flashes and night sweats as my hormones changed. These hormonal changes brought on a period of insomnia as I transition into the next stage of my life. That’s when I started yoga nidra and boy was it a life saver!
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is a term used to describe yogic sleep. It is a kind of meditation that takes you to the place between wakefulness and sleeping in a profound way that transports you to a higher state of restoration. When practiced, it can feel like the wonderful relaxing stage of falling asleep.
Meditation is used to quiet the mind and helps support our own personal growth through self-awareness. And it helps us to move beyond our self-imposed limitations of our mind; giving us the ability to take charge of our mindless thoughts and self-deprecating thinking patterns and personal fears and worries. However, yoga nidra helps us bring whole awareness to ourselves by bringing our consciousness to all five sheaths or metaphorical layers that comprise our body, mind and spirit. These layers are known in yoga as koshas. The five sheaths include Annamaya Kosha (our physical body), Pranamaya Kosha (our energetic field), Manomaya Kosha (our emotion/feeling mind), Vijnanamaya Kosha (our innate wisdom mind) and Anadamaya Kosha (our true spiritual nature).
When practiced, yoga nidra helps us to draw our attention inward by sensing and breathing into the physical body in order to induce the relaxation response. When we engage the relaxation response, our nervous system leans into the parasympathetic nervous system and the right side of the brain which are not engaged with nearly enough by most people in our day to day lives. When this happens, our nervous system becomes more balanced as we connect to all of our kosha layers.
When we engage this response, we are able to move inward more easily and achieve a balanced state where our breath evens, we become quiet and the unconscious and conscious aspects of our mind begin to reveal themselves as we are led into a deep level of awareness. In this awareness, our brain shifts from strongly aware beta brain waves filled with lots of mind activity to more relaxed alpha brain waves.
Yoga Nidra and the Brain
When we are guided through yoga nidra, our brain relaxes and eventually enters into a dream-state associated with a theta brain wave. In theta our brain typically has a greater expansive depth while working on a slower frequency. In this state thoughts slow down and we enter a daydream space where we are capable of greater free flowing, positive states of emotional integration.
As we progress through yoga nidra, we eventually enter into the brainwave state of delta. Delta is our brains most restorative state. When we reach delta state, stress hormone is removed from our body and our cells and organs rest, repair and regenerate. This is one of the benefits and reasons why so many women are adding yoga nidra to their self-care.
Women are more likely to suffer from insomnia than men and fewer than two-thirds of women get between 7 and 9 hours asleep a night; the average amount of sleep we need to rest and repair. Although yoga nidra is not a substitute for a good night’s sleep, it can help to provide you many of the same benefits you are not getting when your sleep is poor. For instance, yoga nidra typically takes between 30 and 45 minutes to practice, but when you are done it feels as though you have gotten several hours of sleep and you feel refreshed.
The Benefits of Yoga Nidra
Research shows us that there are many benefits associated with yoga nidra that include:
- Reduced insomnia
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Decreased stress
- Improved pain tolerance
- Improved menstrual cycles
- Decreased blood pressure and cholesterol
- Improved blood glucose levels
- Increased love and compassion for self & others
- Increased awareness and focus
- Increased relaxation and calmness
What’s the difference between Yoga Nidra and Meditation?
There are many differences between meditation and yoga nidra, but here are the three most basic:
You Get to Lie Down
Instead of a seated position, yoga nidra is practiced lying down. This may feel more relaxing and can be practiced at the end of a yoga practice from Savasana. From a lying down position, you can use props like a bolster, blankets and an eye pillow to support your body further adding to the relaxing practice. Whereas, in a seated position you have to maintain an upright position. Sometimes from a seated position, you can struggle with pins and needles from your feet or legs falling asleep – which can totally be distracting for meditators.
You Get to Let Go of the Anchor
Unlike breath-focused or mantra-based meditations, yoga nidra is a guided practice meaning you don’t have to anchor yourself with a focal point. Instead, in yoga nidra you are guided by a teacher’s voice or a recording through a practice and your own personal layers or koshas.
You Get to Go Deeper in ALL Layers of Self
During meditation, people often experience multiple states of consciousness within a single practice, but most of the time it is in a wakeful state. However, in yoga nidra you move away from a wakeful state of being past the dreaming state of consciousness and into a deep sleep space while still being awake. In this state, your mind is conscious while your body is more relaxed – which is why it is super restorative physically.
Why You Should Practice
Anyone can practice yoga nidra and like meditation, you can’t do it wrong.
- You can practice yoga nidra in 5 minutes or an hour – yogini’s choice based on where you are and how long you want to practice.
It is a simple practice with overwhelming benefits!
- It is a guided practice that takes a lot of the meditative work off your shoulders and it’s proven to be good for your health.
It can be added to your regular self-care routine, especially if you are feeling unrested or are having trouble sleeping.
- It is a practice that can be better than a nap (one of my favourite self-care practices) and can be used when you are having a challenging time getting back to sleep too! And while you are restoring your body, you have the opportunity to have a direct experience with all the layers of your Self – meaning greater awareness and connection with your whole being.