In a society that values ever more action, and in which every potential quiet moment is met by reaching for the smart-phone and checking emails and social media, there are more people reporting difficulty sleeping and presenting with anxiety and depression. At precisely such a time the yoga world is also seeing a big new trend. No longer is it hot yoga or vinyasa flow that are on the up and up. The biggest new yoga trend is yoga nidra, a meditative practice that is practised lying down and in which you might phase in and out of sleep.
The Sanskrit word nidra means sleep. So this is yoga, or yogic sleep. Then again, the word yoga translatable as "union" or a state of wholeness, so we might say that yoga nidra is the sleep that unifies, or restores us to wholeness. Ironically one of the goals of practising yoga nidra is to actually not sleep. But in a sleep deprived state, sleep is likely to happen and is the best thing t happen. With practice and when the practitioner has made up the sleep deficit, it is possible to stay awake and notice the changing states of consciousness that occur throughout the practice. It has been said that 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 3 hours of decent sleep. In other words, it is a super-charged power nap.
Sleep typically occurs as the habitual response to the body relaxing. The process of yoga nidra brings about a deep full body relaxation. As the body relaxes, the brain interprets this as a signal for sleeping. So it sleeps. But it is possible for the body to sleep while the mind stays fully conscious. Having said that it will not be conscious in a normal everyday awake state, but conscious throughout brain phases that usually occur during deep sleep. This is another way it comes to be called yoga nidra or yogic sleep, the yogi being the one who can be conscious through brain states that normally happen in deep sleep.
Yoga Nidra has its origins in the wisdom teachings of ancient India. We find an early reference to the term in the Upanishads, and practices described in early yoga texts, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and also in the texts of various Tantric lineages.
The modern revival of yoga nidra seems to come from Swami Sivananda and his disciples, especially, but not limited to, Swami Satyanada Saraswati, who wrote a book on the subject.
Since then Dr Richard Miller, after studying the ancient teachings with various traditional teachers, as well as doing a PhD in Psychlogy, further refined the yoga nidra practice, without compromising its authenticity, and as it came to be used by the US military in their medical facilities, it came to be called iRest® Yoga Nidra meditation.
Aside from a wonderful way to catch up on your sleep deficit there are other benefits to doing regular yoga nidra.
Yoga Nidra's original purpose was as a powerful meditative tool in the yogi's integration and restoration to True Nature, a spiritual attainment of awakening. Here is another sleep pun, in which the state in which most of us live and suffer is likened to sleep, whereas the inner recognition of who we truly are is an awakening.
Yoga nidra is now being backed up by evidence based research into its therapeutic benefits, and many of these studies have been conducted using the iRest protocol. And it has been shown to be beneficial in the following, and more:
You can find research papers here at the iRest website.
(Author, Tina Shettigara)