I wrote this blog on the joys of Yoga Nidra for sleep week on the wonderful Mumday Times – you can read the original version here.
Yoga nidra means yoga sleep. It’s taught at the end of yoga classes during that bit when you lie down, doze off and wake-up worrying that you were the one who was snoring.
Yoga students lie on their mats, supported by bolsters, cushions and blankets to promote full body relaxation–ideally the eyes are covered with a lavender-scented beanbag. The teacher then talks them through a 20 minute or so sensory practice to achieve a wonder state between wakefulness and dreaming. Most people don’t achieve euphoria on their first go, however they do feel damn good afterwards, if only because they took the opportunity to have a quick nap.
And it’s no wonder, as a nation we’re chronically sleep-deprived. Subjected to early morning and endless middle of the night wake-ups, us mums suffer worse than anyone.
Things that we find relaxing like tweeting, having a cup of tea and watching TV, stimulate the brain so that we find it difficult to switch off at bedtime, or wake in the night
with a racing mind.
During my yoga training one of the teachers – who had two small children – told me that a hit of yoga nidra is a substitute for three hours sleep. This guy would get up at sunrise for his daily ashtanga practice but reckoned the time he spent flat out on his back with an eye bag made up for it.
As well as making up for lost sleep, yoga nidra promotes a deeper rest state. Regular practice is also said to improve memory, concentration and focus.
So how does it work? One of the reasons that we’re exhausted is that our sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive because we’re always rushing around being busy: yoga nidra works in opposition by activating the parasympathetic nervous system which subsequently reduces tension, anxiety and stress.
I teach yoga nidra every week and think it’s particularly beneficial during pregnancy. If you can’t find a local class, buy a yoga nidra CD or hunt out a free download on the web. Just make sure you’re warm and resting in a comfy position.
Be aware that ‘comfy’ can vary from person to person. In my research for this piece I consulted the yogi bible Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar. The 93 year-old Indian guru renowned
for being able to bend himself into mind-blowing positions recommends: ‘In this pose the legs are interlaced behind the back of the neck and the hands are clasped behind the back which rests on the ground. The legs form the Yogi’s pillow and the back is his couch.’
Personally I’d rather keep my legs stretched out in front of me and use a cushion for a pillow. Unless you’ve been practicing yoga for 70 odd years I’d probably do the same.
Don’t try this at home unless you are a yogic master or you have been thoroughly filleted.