Yoga Nidra or “yogic sleep” is a meditative state that promotes deep relaxation and a strengthening of the mind body connection. Unlike traditional forms of meditation, the guided meditations of Yoga Nidra (called scripts) allow practitioners to alter their state of consciousness by bringing them to the very edge between wakefulness and sleep.
Practiced regularly, Yoga Nidra offers numerous benefits. One of the most important benefits is better sleeping habits and sounder sleep. This includes an improvement in sleep-related issues such as chronic insomnia.
Yoga Nidra for Sleep
For many of today's busiest working professionals, sleep is the enemy.
Not only does it take time away from work (and that ever-expanding to-do list), but it’s also non-negotiable. In other words, while it’s technically possible to maintain a stable state of health while eating a subpar diet and not exercising, everyone must sleep. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent many people from continuing to avoid getting enough sleep.
The second hurdle to good sleep is the fact that getting to sleep and/or staying asleep are inherent hurdles for many people. This is especially true for successful, high-powered individuals who are used to packed schedules and near-constant activity. To put it plainly, the quiet stillness of sleep is a hard state to achieve when your mind is used to running a mile a minute in your waking life.
As a result of these challenges, many C-level executives and other busy professionals struggle with their sleep schedules on a regular basis. Fortunately, Yoga Nidra and simple breathing techniques to relax the mind can help.
Yoga Nidra tackles all major sleep issues, making sleep easier and better overall and enhancing its widespread benefits.
Why Adequate Sleep Is Crucial
Read any list expounding “the ways you can improve your health and well-being,” and "getting adequate sleep" will be there.
But consider how you react when you read this advice.
While everyone knows that sleep is important, most people will skim this section. Basically, you’ll think to yourself: Yeah, yeah, yeah…everyone sleeps! Even if you don't do it well, you do do it at some point. So, isn't that good enough?
As it turns out, no, it isn’t really good enough.
Quality sleep is absolutely essential for every aspect of your health and well-being. And if you think about it, this fact should be fairly obvious for the very same reason that many people actually discount the importance of sleep. That is: You cannot survive without it. Sleep is an absolute requirement of living — on par with water and nourishment and even more vital than shelter or safety.
In fact, did you know that humans will spend approximately one-third of their lives sleeping? Or that forced sleep deprivation has actually been classified as an illegal form of torture in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere?
What we’re attempting to emphasize here is that because sleep is so crucial to your health and wellbeing, it stands to reason that adequate sleep, sound sleep, and consistent sleep should be at the top of your list when it comes to improving your physical and mental health.
Yoga Nidra is a practice that can help with this. We’ll explain how later on.
For now, read over these concrete ways that better sleep can and will improve your life — especially if getting enough quality sleep is something you have consistently struggled with.
The Benefits of Quality Sleep
- Improved Cognitive Performance
While it is not completely understood how and when the brain learns, scientists agree that sleep plays an important role (if not the most important role).
Sleep helps with the three main functions of learning and being able to use what you learn during your awakened state: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. In particular, the quantity and quality of your sleep has a huge impact on whether the learning process is enhanced with the help of sleep.
It’s also worth noting that it’s virtually impossible to focus and pay attention to your daily activities if you are sleep deprived. This is an obvious fact for most people. If you've ever tried to give a presentation after a sleepless night, for example, (even if that sleepless night was a result of furiously preparing for said presentation) you know that sleep deprivation can truly thwart your ability to perform well.
Likewise, if you're chronically tired, your sharpness and vigilance will naturally be lacking. Essentially, sleep deprivation overworks your neurons, and they become useless at coordinating in a functional way without rest.
- Enhanced Memory
While better sleep enhances learning, it also improves memory.
When we acquire information that we want to remember in our waking lives, it is through sleep and that we solidify and retain this information long-term. In particular, slow-wave sleep or SWS has been known to play “a significant role in declarative memory by processing and consolidating newly acquired information.” REM or rapid-eye-movement sleep (the type of sleep that’s occurring when you dream) also plays a crucial role in learned material acquisition.
- Improved Safety
Not having enough sleep can even be dangerous.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths on American roads in 2013. As a footnote to these stats, the NHTSA adds that these numbers may actually be underestimates. It’s possible that as many as 6,000 annual fatal crashes are caused by sleepy drivers every year, and to be sure, drowsy driving is not rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 25 drivers has fallen asleep while driving in the last month.
- Reduced Stress and Anxiety
In this day and age, daily levels of stress and anxiety have skyrocketed — especially among executive level professionals. To-do lists are longer; responsibilities at home are heightened; and never-ending information flows from the smart phones, computers, and other devices that surround us.
While some stress is good, not all of it is. The unfortunate result of an overstressed schedule is that many people attempt to quell the amount of stress they have by not sleeping as much. Sometimes, it’s a matter of being unable to sleep because of stress.
Regardless of why stress leads to less sleep, it remains a constant barrier to good mental and emotional health. As a rule, more sleep — not less — is what can reduce stress by allowing your mind (and body) to rest and relax.
- Better Mood and Higher Frustration Tolerance
Mood and overall contentedness will also be improved with better sleep. This is a fairly obvious benefit that most people are able to witness in their own lives. When you get consistent sleep every night, you are able to “shut down” and rest and relax. This allows you to feel calmer and more in control of your feelings and emotions when you are awake.
Part of this is because better sleep means a higher frustration tolerance.
Your frustration tolerance is the measure of how well you can handle challenges and setbacks in your waking life. When you are able to tolerate higher levels of frustration, you tend to procrastinate less; have fewer problems with depression and anger; and better maintain your social, familial, and work relationships. Naturally, this will also improve your work performance by leaps and bounds.
- Improved Physical Health
The physical benefits of adequate sleep actually deserve their own individual article.
To keep it concise, however, improved cardiovascular health has been positively correlated with more, better sleep. Additionally, several other health markers, such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels, can improve as sleep habits improve.
Finally, sleep deprivation has been negatively correlated with diseases such as type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, and several forms of cancer. In other words, take a look at the habits of individuals who have many of these chronic illnesses, and you’ll see that they also have sleep problems. In the same vein, overweight and obesity — both of which are linked with a long list of physical health problems — have been linked with sleep deprivation.
How Yoga Nidra Can Improve Your Sleep
Nidra actually means “sleep.” Yoga Nidra is a practice that promotes a deep level of relaxation and, in turn, helps you improve your sleep patterns. It is able to do this because, as Kamini Desai puts it in his book Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep:
“[Yoga Nidra] is structured to drop the mind down toward sleep to deliberately enter a state where the mind is naturally silent and still […] Yoga Nidra is a unique meditation practice because it rides on the natural process of sleep, which is already built into our system. Sleep is not something we have to learn. Our body already knows how to do it. Ancient Yogis realized they could follow the same route, descending down into sleep states to consciously release identification with thoughts.”
The “identification with thoughts” Desai references has to do with the ability of the Yoga Nidra practice to facilitate new views on our thinking patterns. That is, Yoga Nidra allows us to “think about our thinking” from a new angle.
In doing so, it allows for the rejection of old, harmful thinking patterns and ignites new, better perspectives on how you think and what you think about. This helps you sleep better in large part because it reduces “rumination thinking” — something that keeps millions of Americans from getting to sleep each night.
Let’s take a look at the prescribed process that a Yoga Nidra session follows. These are called Yoga Nidra scripts.
What Are Yoga Nidra Scripts?
Yoga Nidra scripts are the outlines for how most Yoga Nidra sessions are performed.
Unlike other forms of meditation, Yoga Nidra sessions must be performed with the verbal direction of a live or recorded instructor. The instructor will provide a guided meditation or spoken instructions that must be followed. These instructions come in the form of Yoga Nidra scripts, of which there are an endless number.
There is no predetermined way in which Yoga Nidra scripts must be delivered to practitioners. Instructors often write them according to how they individually wish to perform their Yoga Nidra meditation sessions. Some scripts are long; others are short. Some have a unique focus, such as helping practitioners improve their stress levels; others are more general.
Most all Yoga Nidra scripts begin in a similar way. This first “phase” is formulated to help practitioners descend into the deep state of relaxation between sleep and wakefulness. The goal of the instructor is to keep practitioners awake — but only barely — through their voice and instruction.
To achieve this state, progressive relaxation is often employed. The instructor will instruct practitioners to mentally imagine and focus on each part of their body in succession (head, jaw, shoulders, stomach, hips, etc.). Bringing awareness to the body in this methodical manner helps practitioners feel the full weight of their bodies and sync their mental and emotional state with their physical presence. The result is an intensely deep relaxation.
Once these initial relaxation phases have been passed through, the next phase of deep relaxation will generally be visualization.
Visualizations may be of colours, visions of particularly relaxing settings or environments (waves on a beach, gently falling snow), or actions such as your body floating slightly off the ground or being cleansed by light.
After visualization, practitioners may be instructed to slowly and progressively begin moving their limbs and body to reawaken. Or, the deep relaxation may end up putting them to sleep, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Sample Yoga Nidra Script
Here is an example of a short Yoga Nidra script you might encounter in a session.
Prepare Yourself: Lie on your back on the ground or a mat. Put a cushion beneath your knees and a small rolled up towel beneath the nape of your neck. You may cover yourself in a blanket if you wish. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Close your eyes.
Focus on Breathing: Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath. Take three deep breaths in and out, expanding your belly with each in-breath and deflating your belly with each out-breath. Return to normal breathing — whatever pace feels most comfortable.
Focus on the Body: If you feel your mind racing with stress and worry, let go of these words and labels. Right now, we’re going to put all of our focus on the body.
Where is your body touching the ground and what does this sensation feel like? Feel your heels on the ground and send your awareness to first your left, and then your right heel.
Feel each hip where it grounds itself to the floor. Send your awareness to each of these parts, and equalize them so that you feel equally grounded. Then as you breathe in, send your awareness to your entire body as a whole. Allow gravity to take it. Give yourself over to the force beneath you, and surrender your weight to the earth.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Bring your awareness to the soles of your feet. Now, just the sole of your left foot. Let it instantly release and slacken. Let gravity have more of it. Feel the weight of it, and think “let go.”
[At this point, your instructor will progressively go through each of your body parts from the soles of your feet to the top of your head, following the same pattern of awareness and letting go.]
Visualization: Imagine the colour purple. Purple all around you, soft and light. Now, allow the color to fade away slowly. Replace the purple with the warm, bathing glow of the sun. You are lying on the grass of a beautiful field, lit with sunrays. The warmth bathes you and is the perfect temperature. The light sound of wind through the trees puts you at ease.
Imagine yourself smiling. See the soft waves of a lake lapping against the shore, covering, then exposing the smooth, soft surfaces of hundreds of sparkling stones. Breathe in the serenity of the moment. Give yourself over to it. You are heavy. Your body is one with the soft glow of the sun. You’re being breathed. You’re being reenergized and refuelled. The space embraces and cradles you.
Reawaken: Let’s begin ascending to a waking state. Begin by softly rubbing the pads of your forefingers against your thumbs on either hand. Gently flex your toes back and forth. Very carefully, unleash your knees from their positions and bring each one toward your chest, one at a time.
Continue deep breathing. Open your eyes. Slowly, roll to one side, and brace your hands on the floor. Pushing into the ground with your hands, move your upper body to a seated position and softly wiggle your shoulders and spine. Remove the cushion from beneath your knees. Dip your chin and allow your neck to soften. Feel great relief, gratitude, and receptivity.
Yoga Nidra for Meditation
Meditation dates back thousands of years to the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. At this time, meditation was regularly practiced, and it has been continually practiced in many cultures and religions up until the present day. Currently, many people partake in regular meditation outside of religion, as a health-based practice that can help reduce stress, improve focus, and provide heightened daily relaxation.
Meditation as a traditional practice has a lot of variations, but most forms put the focus on becoming still and narrowing your attention for a prescribed amount of time. It is an active mindfulness practice. The goal is to stay awake, alert, and fully conscious of what’s going on around you, not to let yourself ascend toward sleep, as in Yoga Nidra, which emphasizes a “let it all go” intention.
Additionally, it’s important to point out that Yoga Nidra always requires a guided script. Whether the script is delivered by an instructor or through a video or recording, to attain that deep level of near-sleep relaxation, practitioners must be verbally directed. Traditional meditation, on the other hand, can be practiced alone, anytime, anywhere.
Although many of the benefits of Yoga Nidra and traditional meditation are similar (better stress management, improved focus, etc.), as a result of their core differences, Yoga Nidra tends to be better for those with sleep problems.
Improve Your Sleep With Help From a Trained Anahana Wellness Advisor
Better sleep can transform your life, and Yoga Nidra can help. If you’ve been struggling to attain quality sleep, consider Yoga Nidra a scientifically proven way to improve this aspect of your health and wellness.
At Anahana, our one-on-one Wellness Advisors are here to connect you with an experienced and skilled Yoga Nidra instructor. Instead of having to attend Yoga Nidra classes at predetermined times that don’t fit your busy schedule, our instructors go to you and cater your sessions to your unique needs.
To be connected with the ideal Yoga Nidra instructor for your goals and lifestyle, head here to begin.
Written by Clint Johnson
Clint teaches Yoga, Pilates, breathe, and mediation to students and teachers all over the world. Prior to joining the wellness world, CJ as his friends call him, started his career as a MBS derivative trader and portfolio manager on Wall St. Clint is the founder of Anahana, and holds an MBA from INSEAD.