Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is a guided meditation that puts the body into a state of deep relaxation. The benefits of Yoga Nidra are extensive for both the mind and body.
Beginning lying down in a corpse pose, the teacher will guide the body and mind into a calm state that sits on the border of sleep while remaining conscious. This is a restorative state that allows healing to take place, promoting overall wellness.
There is a science behind yogic sleep. It works to slow brain waves which helps one enter a deeper state of consciousness. According to researchers at The University of Minnesota, over time and with regular practice, Yoga Nidra practitioners learn to achieve "the deepest, non-REM delta wave sleep while maintaining awareness both internally and of one's surroundings."
There are many benefits of Yoga Nidra, and the more it is practiced, the more life improvements will come.
Yoga Nidra can help harness the power of neuroplasticity through Yoga Nidra. When one directs their focus and attention on their sankalpa or their intention, they are changing the activity and physical structure of the brain.
Improved Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
HRV is an important measure of heart health and balance in the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Research from Markil and others (2012) has shown Yoga Nidra itself causes improvement of HRV without the physical practice of postures.
Improved Thought Patterns and Reduced Stress
Not all stress is bad. A certain level of healthy stress can be thought-provoking and motivating. Too much stress, however, will inevitably cloud the mind and cause physical and mental damage. This tends to stem from faulty thought patterns. By this, we mean deeply ingrained thinking that leads you to stressful, worrisome, or troubling conclusions. Faulty thought patterns are often based on irrational assumptions and unchallenged perceptions. They are deeply ingrained by the time we are adults, and therefore, can be challenging to change.
Because these assumptions and perceptions are so deeply and subconsciously held, it makes sense that it takes a subconscious state to access and repair them. Yoga Nidra is the deep state of meditation that allows you to do this. The process enables you to access your thinking patterns from an entirely new angle. Instead of being fully absorbed in your thoughts and identified with your emotions, you can observe them from a distance. This, in turn, makes them much easier to manage.
Through the deep meditative state of Yoga Nidra, you have the opportunity to improve your relationship with your thoughts, thereby reducing your overall stress and embracing more relaxation in your waking state.
Enhanced Cognitive Performance
The enhanced cognitive function promoted by Yoga Nidra has much to do with the space that stress reduction allows for in the brain. When overwhelmed by feelings of stress and anxiety, the mind has little room to perform well at its given tasks. However, the mind is uncontrolled and freer to perform well with less stress.
Regular Yoga Nidra practitioners find that the practice improves their memory, helps prevent cognitive decline, and enhances focused attention. Verbal, attention and self-regulatory performance were allfound to improve with the intervention of Yoga Nidra.
Improved Self-esteem and Confidence
Low self-esteem and confidence are known to improve with regular Yoga Nidra practice. This finding largely derives from arecent study from two universities in Turkey. The research looked at the effects of Yoga Nidra on the self-esteem and body image of burn patients. The results found that
“yoga practice increases self-esteem and improves the body image of burn patients significantly […] after yoga practice, there was a statistically significant increase and improvement in the self-esteem and body image of the experimental group.”
Better Sleep and Refined Physical Health
While practicing Yoga Nidra can be used for stress management, many practitioners also use it for sleep. Regular practice improves sleep routines by making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
Ironically, one of the main challenges of the Yoga Nidra practice is not to fall asleep during a session, although this is a common and ultimately benign occurrence. The true benefit of improved sleep from regular Yoga Nidra sessions lies in the practice’s ability to completely relax and calm the body and mind while on the edge of sleep. By inducing the body's relaxation response, yogic sleep can help treat sleep disorders, including chronic insomnia, by assisting practitioners in obtaining deep sleep in the night.
Additionally, research suggests that a brief thirty to forty-five minute Yoga Nidra session may be equivalent to up to four hours of sleep. This demonstrates that this state of deep relaxation can help you feel well-rested when conducted efficiently.
“15% of the US population has difficulty falling asleep at night […] Combined with early work start times in industrialized nations, [this] can lead to significantly shortened nightly sleep durations. Short sleep durations lead to increased risk of death from coronary heart disease (48%), fatal and non-fatal strokes (15%), and all-cause mortality (12%).”
Improved Waking Mindfulness
Yoga Nidra is known to enhance mindfulness that carries over into waking life. This is primarily due to improving focus, concentration, and becoming aware of the body. Naturally, this means that the benefits of practicing daily mindfulness,scientifically proven time and again, extend to the benefits provided by Yoga Nidra as well.
Overall stress reduction.
Lowered emotional reactivity
Improved working memory.
Enhanced cognitive flexibility.
Supports a Healthy Immune System
Yoga Nidra helps strengthen the immune system by reducing stress and tension in the body. The practice supports the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which controls digestion, respiration, and the cardiovascular system. When the PNS is suppressed, bodies release more cortisol (the body's primary stress hormone), causing the immune system to weaken. Practicing Yoga Nidra helps balance the body's hormones so the immune system can function well.
Treats chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder
Treatment of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the many benefits of Yoga Nidra. Richard Miller, the founder of iRest, developed several modern adaptions to Yoga Nidra practice that help quiet the parts of the brain responsible for negative thoughts and feelings. Using Yoga Nidra to reduce chronic pain symptoms was endorsed by U.S. Army Surgeon General as an intervention in treating chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yogic sleep puts the practitioner into a deep relaxation state, which will leave them feeling well-rested. This calm state slows the nervous system giving the body time to heal. Here, the body can rest, recover, and restore. Additionally, Yoga Nidra reduces inflammation and improves immune system functions to treat chronic pain effectively.
As with any type of exercise, yoga does not come without its own risks. Practicing yoga should be done with care and respect, reducing the risk of injury.
If you are suffering from any medical conditions or are unsure which type of yoga or exercise is best suited for you and your conditions, we advise you to consult a medical professional or your doctor.