Just this past weekend I was sharing my knowledge and experience of this form of meditation with the students at the yoga teacher training at Ramapo College. As I was driving back home, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog about all the great benefits of this practice, as there are lots of them.
Yoga Nidra translates into “yogic sleep”. It doesn’t mean that you are actually asleep, although that might happen at times as you practice. It is a state of consciousness that is described as “deep sleep while awake”. What that means I can’t put words on. And I can’t tell you how I actually know that I am in that state of consciousness or not. I simply don’t. But what I do know is that it has a profound effect on myself and my students, no matter how it’s described in words.
The practice is very simple. You lie down, well supported and comfortable, while the teacher guides you through all the different parts of your body. You can call it a guided meditation on your physical body. Then it moves into the breath, and then deeper inside you, into stillness. It’s very relaxing, although that is not the goal in itself. But it’s a highly valuable “side effect”. The practice varies in time, anything between 15 to 45 minutes. When I offer it in my studio, I usually have you lie down for a total of 40 minutes. To make everyone comfortable we start off with ten minutes of simple and gentle yoga postures. It’s available to everyone and no experience of other yoga practices is necessary.
But why bother? Well, I want to mention a few of the things that happen in the body when we mindfully take the time to wind down in this way. It stimulates the vagus nerve which regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or what we call the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. This promotes: Lower heart rate and blood pressure. Reduced inflammation in all bodily organs.Increased stomach acid levels and digestive juices which then strengthens digestion.Regulation of hormones and blood sugar levels.Improved general kidney function and urinary retention.Release of bile to break down fat and eliminate toxins.Release of oxytocin, the hormone important for social bonding.Lower levels of both depression and anxiety.Fertility and orgasm in women.Mucus production and colon flow.
And that’s not even the full list! So as you can see, the practice is extremely useful to increase mental, emotional and physical health. And it brings calmness, quietness, and clarity in general while alleviating worry and anxiety.
On a much deeper level, it helps us in letting go of old behavioral patterns, what in yoga is called samskara. These are habits that we have formed over the course of our lives from repeated experiences. The habits are like deep grooves within our being that we easily fall back into. The practice can over time assist us in changing “negative” habits (that don’t serve us) into positive ones. This is called “brain plasticity”, the ability we all have to disengage old neural pathways and reinforce new healthy ones.
I hope this might entice you to try the practice. I offer a few classes through the winter, the first one coming up on Sunday the 16th at 3pm – 4:15pm. I recommend taking a nap before if you happen to be really tired that day and to dress in layers of soft, comfortable clothing. I hope you give it a try, it’s like no other yoga practice I know.