Many of us are familiar with insomnia and all its trappings: restless sleep, trouble falling asleep, wakeful periods in the middle of the night, drowsiness at inappropriate times of the day. Roughly 60 million Americans report experiencing some degree of insomnia each year.
Whether our sleeplessness is caused by anxiety from the hectic nature of our modern lives or some other underlying psychological or physical condition, it can all be boiled down to one culprit: stress.
Yoga nidra is becoming an increasingly popular way to combat stress in all its forms. It can be an amazing tool in helping us heal our bodies and minds from prior stress as well as safeguarding us against future stressors and increasing our ability to bounce back from them.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is a form of guided meditation that is said to be more restful than sleep itself. Because of this, it is often referred to as “yogic sleep,” or “psychic sleep.” It is, essentially, deep relaxation combined with inner awareness.
The goal for a yoga nidra practice is to reach that space between sleep and wakefulness, called the “hypnagogic state.” In a normal sleep cycle, this state lasts between 3-5 minutes, but yoga nidra aims to strengthen our ability to stay in it for extended periods of time. A yoga nidra session usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour, but can be shortened or lengthened based on current needs or time constraints.
Yoga nidra is said to be beneficial both for energizing and preparing for sleep. It can be done right when you wake up in the morning, when you need a boost in the middle of your day, or right before bed to facilitate restful sleep.
To prepare for yoga nidra, you are encouraged to eliminate as many sources of outside stimulation as possible, and to lay in savasana (corpse pose). The goal is to allow your body to fully relax as it naturally does in its hypnagogic state of preparing for sleep, but to encourage your mind to stay awake only enough to be aware of the voice guiding you through the meditation.
The session will usually consist of:
3) Creation of an intention or resolve (sankalpa) for your time
4) Rotation of guided body awareness
5) Awareness of breath
6) Acknowledgement and release of any physical, mental or emotional sensations that arise
7) Image visualization
8) Repetition of your sankalpa from the beginning of the session
9) Bringing awareness back/completion of practice
This process may seem simple enough, but it can have powerful and lasting effects on the mental, physical and energetic body.
Since yoga nidra aims to place us in the state between sleeping and being awake, we are able to cycle through 3 types of consciousness: alpha (nidra/superconscious), beta (awake), and theta (dreaming sleep). During our practice, we avoid the 4th type of consciousness, or delta (deep sleep), but can eventually enhance its effectiveness.
According to many psychologists and advanced practitioners of yoga nidra, regular sleep takes us from the beta state, through theta and right into delta without fully absorbing the benefits of each stage of sleep. In other words, we end up in deep sleep without being fully relaxed first. Yoga nidra allows us to deeply and progressively relax our muscles and external and mental awareness, rather than just turning our switch from on to off.
This process causes energy to flow freely to strengthen and refresh all aspects of our existence as humans: our mental, energetic and physical bodies.
How Can It Help Me?
The pesky thing about stress is that it can be a constant in our lives. The great thing about yoga nidra is, not only does it combat existing stress and symptoms of its manifestation in your body, but it also helps you develop skills to combat future stress. What’s more is that it can actually teach you how to stop being a victim of stress, and to use stress as a way to learn and become stronger.
When we experience chronic stress, our bodies start to exist in “fight or flight” mode: an ancient protective mechanism we had as cave people to keep us safe from predators. Now that we don’t have predators to run from, this response helps us know when stress is becoming too much for our systems to handle. However, when we constantly exist in this “fight or flight” state, we experience adrenal burnout due to constant production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
With respect to stress, yoga nidra does two things for us:
1) Allows the body and mind to fully rest. This way, defense mechanisms can regenerate, adrenal glands can calm down, and cells can fortify against future stress responses.
2) Strengthens the abilities of the witnessing mind. This allows us to be aware of stressors and our responses to them, therefore enhancing our ability to cope with stress, and eventually even use it to our advantage.
Furthermore, in his book Yoga Nidra*, Swami Satyananda Saraswati maintains that yoga nidra reveals the “simultaneous operation of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind. The result is a single, enlightened state of consciousness and a perfectly integrated and relaxed personality.”
In other words, waking and dreaming become alike, and each state is restful and peaceful for the individual. In this way, we can become less emotionally reactive, and therefore less stressed, by the things life throws our way.
Reduction of Symptoms of Stress + Increased Ability to Deal With Stress
The services we offer here at the Stress Management & Prevention Center will help you combat the stress that is affecting your sleep:
1) Yoga nidra, yoga, and meditation are a profound trifecta for building your self-awareness and ability to cope with and respond to stress. Not only do these practices address the mental, emotional and energetic issues that arise with the many manifestations of stress, they are also physically helpful for chronic pain and similar ailments that can hinder restful sleep.
2) Massage has long been used to combat physical and energetic responses to stress. It has been proven to soothe our systems and assist healthy bodily functions such as sleep, digestion, and mental processes.
3) Life Coaching. Sometimes talking through the issues that are keeping you up at night can help to send that energy outside yourself so you don’t have to carry the burden alone. Not only this, but with the help of our trained professionals, you can find solutions to these issues so you can finally let them go.
*Most information on yoga nidra in this article is derived from Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. I highly recommend it for further reading and research on this topic.
Click here for more information on how we can holistically address the tension in your life.
We would love to help reduce and heal your symptoms from stress, and equip you with the tools to stop stress from running your life!