Ok that title is a little (or a lot) vague. “One simple practice to improve your life? What part of my life? I think my life is pretty great already! I already do all the things.” Sure that title was meant to grab your attention, but really I couldn’t think of a better way to put it: Yoga Nidra can improve your life no matter what state it is in right now.
If you’re not familiar with Yoga Nidra it’s also known as “Yogic Sleep.” The practice of yoga nidra has been around for several millennia. It’s a form of guided meditation that invites you to tap into your deepest desires. You start by focusing on your breath and begin to turn inward. Then you move through a “rotation of consciousness” where you are guided to focus on each part of your body for a short moment. Next you go on a short journey. And eventually you come back to your deepest desires before coming back to the present. I’ve seen some yoga nidras as short as 6 minutes, and many can last as long as an hour, but you can find yoga nidras in any length of time in between.
Yoga nidra allows both the brain and the body to relax. When we’re relaxed we’re able to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, and reproduce). Many of us are fully aware of the negative effects of stress on our overall well being, yet many of us are not fully aware of how much stress we encounter on a day-to-day basis. It has long been thought that yoga nidra can help us achieve the same brain wave state as deep sleep (delta wave). This is currently being studied (Sharpe, Lacombe, Butler, Hanes & Bradley, 2021), and I can’t wait to see the results! There are countless studies showing that yoga nidra can improve anxiety, depression, insomnia, and pain. As well as many condition specific studies that include using yoga nidra to help with everything from menopause to lupus, diabetes to parkinson’s disease, and cancer to trauma surviors. If yoga nidra can help chronic health conditions it can most certainly help you, even if it’s just helping you experience more joy in your life.
There is no wrong way to do a yoga nidra (if you’re studying to become a yoga teacher keep reading below). Typically, most people are comfortable doing a yoga nidra in a “savasana” position, aka “relaxed on your back.” If you’re pregnant, have extremely high or low blood pressure, or do not feel comfortable on your back you can try doing a yoga nidra on your side or seated in a chair. The important thing is to feel safe, secure, and supported. Put away, or turn off, any distractions. Turn off or dim your lights. Grab a blanket to stay warm, or a pillow to add to your comfort. Then turn on a recorded yoga nidra and relax. Try to stay present. It’s ok if you drift off into thought, but the moment you notice (this is a moment of practicing mindfulness) come back to the voice on the recording. And if you fall asleep, that’s OK too.
A sankulpa is your heart’s deepest desire. There are a lot of ways to create/come up with a sankulpa, but in short the sankulpa should be positive and in the present tense as if you are living it now. If you want to create your own, it’s best to run it by a trusted yoga teacher for a little guidance. Many yoga nidra scripts/recordings will have one put in place if you don’t have one, but you can always insert your own. Here are a few suggestions for sankulas:
“I am living my fullest life and finding joy in each moment”
“I create sanctuary with breath and awareness”
“I am healthy and living pain free”
“I am creating my own path and enjoying each adventure that comes my way.”
(I’m not sure you can use “yoga nidra” as a verb, but I like to 🙂 Personally, I like to grab a blanket, eye pillow, and some sand bags. I typically take a constructive rest position, wrap my legs together with a blanket and let the rest of the blanket drape over my upper body. I place one sandbag on each shoulder to help my posture. Tuck my chin slightly, at first, to lengthen the back of my neck. I place an eye pillow over my eyes, and lastly I set a timer on my watch (in case I fall asleep) and put my phone on “do not disturb.” Then I hit play and let the relaxation happen.
Yes, traditionally you are not supposed to fall asleep during yoga nidra, but if you fall asleep, it’s probably because you needed that sleep. As a yoga therapist I work with many people that have chronic insomnia, and I even encourage them to fall asleep if they can. Allowing yourself the permission to sleep if needed can help you gain the most out of your yoga nidra practice, even if you don’t fall asleep in the end. And sometimes that’s all we need is to give ourselves permission to let go and relax. But yes, if you are studying to become a yoga teacher, if there is a test, you probably shouldn’t say “yoga nidra is for sleeping” (insert winking emoji).
I have a 12-minute and a 25-minute yoga nidra up on YouTube. My other favorite resource is the InsightTimer app. I love listening to Richard Miller (creator of iRest) and Jennifer Piercy. Both of them are my go-tos for my twice a week yoga nidras. I caution all of my clients/students, if you do a recorded yoga nidra (or iRest) that is labeled “for sleep” you might not be “woken” up from your nidra practice. If you choose to do one and have other things to do afterwards, set a timer for a few minutes longer than the guided practice to get you up so you can go about your day.
What is iRest? iRest is the creation of Richard Miller. He’s a psychologist that created the program as a more modern form of yoga nidra. Some of the language is slightly different, but the overall practices are the same.
Try a few yoga nidra recordings. You will not love every yoga nidra recording you hear. If you like one, save it, and continue to use it. If you try one you don’t like, move on and try another. Guided meditations are like jeans: they’re not one-size fits all.
Time of day. Try nidras throughout the day. I know people who yoga nidra to fall asleep (there I go again using it as a verb). And I know people where doing a yoga nidra is like having a shot of espresso. If they nidra after 2pm they can’t sleep that night. There’s no one time of day that works for everyone, or for everyone every day. Take note of what works well for you.
How often? You can yoga nidra as often as you would like. My personal goal is to do two per week. I encourage my chronic headache clients to nidra once per day. Do what works for you.
Give yoga nidra a try. There are no contraindications to yoga nidra, but they only work if you actually do them.
Sharpe, E., Lacombe, A., Butler, M. P., Hanes, D., & Bradley, R. (2021). A Closer Look at Yoga Nidra: Sleep Lab Protocol. International journal of yoga therapy, 31(1), Article_20. https://doi.org/10.17761/2021-D-20-00004