Since the pandemic we spend more time at home. I have used this time to go deeper into a regular yoga practice again. The crisis has been challenging so far. We had to juggle two full-time jobs and taking care of our one-year-old daughter Juno for almost four months. This demanded a lot of energy from us. Yoga including meditation is, aside from sports and nature, the best way for me to recharge my batteries. In my experience Yoga Nidra is the most effective method to relax completely. The positive effects on me have aroused my interest to learn more about this powerful deep relaxation.
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My experiences with meditation
I have many years of experience with meditation and relaxation techniques. Also I have passed on certain methods to others. Not in a formal context, because I have a different profession, but it has happened from time to time in different contexts. Zen, mindfulness meditation, autogenic training – I have tried a lot, but admittedly I did not practice regularly at all times.
The Guided Meditations of YouTube
Although I know various meditation and relaxation techniques, the idea of sitting quietly on a pillow has often not attracted me. I came across the possibility of practicing with YouTube by chance: I had been looking for Yoga Nidra offers online and came across videos. I noticed that I much prefer to sit or lie down when I am being guided. Practicing all “alone” is sometimes too quiet for me.
How I came across Yoga Nidra
When Juno was about 5 months old, we spent parental leave together on Kauai, a beautiful Hawaiian island. Although the tropical environment couldn’t have been more beautiful, I felt tired and exhausted. I had already finished a postnatal exercise class, but I didn’t feel physically fit after pregnancy. I lacked strength. Carrying the baby was a heavy strain on my shoulder. Above all I was incredibly tired from breastfeeding at night, because I am a person who needs a lot of sleep to feel good. Interrupted sleep has a similar effect like too little sleep. On Kauai, I attended a yoga class every morning on the beach. Yoga helped me to gently rebuild my physical strength. In a conversation after a class, yoga teacher Alexandria recommended that I try Yoga Nidra against exhaustion.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is a yoga technique derived from ancient tantra practices. It is composed of the words Yoga (union) and Nidra (sleep). Sometimes it is also called yogi-sleep. In classical Yoga Nidra, however, it is important not to fall asleep during this technique but to remain fully conscious. However, there are also modern variations that use Yoga Nidra as an aid to fall asleep. Yoga Nidra should not only improve sleep, but also make you more relaxed in your everyday life.
This technique was developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1923 – 2009). For me he was a questionable person, but this does not change the fact that I consider his technique to be the “masterclass of relaxation”. It includes techniques that I already knew, such as Body Scan, which is often used in Yoga. A little bit Yoga Nidra also reminds me of autosuggestion methods or hypnosis meditation. Doing so I feel in a similar trance-like state and the Sankalpa (see chapter “The sequence” below) is a kind of affirmation. The goal is not only relaxation but also inner transformation or growth. Through Yoga Nidra it is possible to reach the state of Samadhi. Samadhi is the highest level of the Eightfold Path path from the Yoga Sutra according to the Yoga philosopher and “Father of Yoga” Patanjali (approx. 2nd – 4th century B.C.). Samadhi is a state in which discursive thinking ceases. One is neither awake, nor dreaming, nor in deep sleep. This is exactly what happens in Yoga Nidra, when one is deeply relaxed but with clear consciousness. And this state of consciousness makes us particularly capable of learning, which is why the Sankalpa, the positive intention, can actually transform the practitioner and his or her life. Yoga Nidra is therefore much more than a relaxation technique. It is about awareness, not about concentration. It is also not the same as meditation: both meditation (Dhyana) and Samadhi are separate stages of the Eightfold Path.
The technique is performed in Shavasana, the dead posture of yoga. In classical Yoga Nidra according to Swami Satyananda, the Sankalpa (Sanskrit = intention) is set at the beginning of the practice. This is a clear and short resolution which is positively worded, such as “I am peaceful and calm”. By repeating it, it can be rooted in the subconscious. You can imagine this like a seed for change is sown by the Sankalpa. The Yoga Nidra state provides the fertile ground for this. The Sankalpa is the basis for a positive change in life. Afterwards a rather quick body scan begins, a journey through the body. Some of you might be familiar with this by having practiced something similar in yoga or Minfdfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes according to John Kabat-Zinn. You should avoid concentrating too intensively on the body parts, as this makes relaxation more difficult. Swami Satyananda explained that this is more about body awareness than concentration. Whenever the teacher (live or via recording) refers to a certain body part, such as the right palm of the hand, the practitioner should briefly repeat the body part in his / her mind and imagine it.
In advanced practice, after the intensive body perception, the technique works with opposing sensations that alternate quickly, such as imagining cold and heat. This is goes along with visualizations, such as the unlimited ocean or a smiling Buddha. The images also change quickly. This can be challenging in the beginning. With increasing practice it becomes easier. The visualization is intended to deepen the ability to relax. At the end of practice the Sankalpa is repeated and the practitioner is led back to the external world of sensory perception.
Why is it so effective?
When you practice Yoga Nidra, you are in a state between sleep and wakefulness. Alpha waves are activated in the brain, which allow body and mind to relax deeply. According to the theory of Swami Satyananda, it is especially easy to learn between waking and sleeping. The subconscious is particularly receptive, which is why the Sankalpa / intention can be well anchored. Other techniques such as hypnotherapy (sleep teching / learning) also make use of this intermediate state of consciousness. Swami Satyananda gave hope to practioners: “Anything fails but not the Sakalpa during Yoga Nidra”
What is the state of science?
After just a few times of practicing, I have found that I sleep much better, especially when I practice in the evening. Meanwhile, I have been practicing daily for almost half a year now and I can say that I also feel more relaxed in general. That is my subjective feeling, but what does science say?
At the end of the 1970s, the Indian yogi Swami Rama was observed by an electroencephalogram during his Yoga Nidra practice. It became clear that relaxing
alpha waves were active in his brain. Danish scientists have also used a PET scanner to take pictures of brain activity during Yoga Nidra. The complete relaxation from the beginning to the end of the Yoga Nidra practice could be proven. It was shown that in contrast to sleep, consciousness was maintained.
There is also research from Germany: a study from the Distance University of Hagen showed that Yoga Nidra has positive effects on stress experience, sleep quality and negative affects. I also find a study conducted at Hammersmith Hospital in London particularly exciting. It was shown that Yoga Nidra also significantly increases the dopamine level. Dopamine is considered a happiness hormone and increases our drive and motivation.
How easily can I learn Yoga Nidra?
To try Yoga Nidra you do not need any previous experience in yoga or meditation, only the following:
a room where you are undisturbed
sufficient time, at least 20 min, for advanced sessions also up to one hour
a yoga mat
a blanket if the room is cold
Your full concentration to stay awake
I don’t recommend bed and sleeping glasses, because you can fall asleep easily. But if Yoga Nidra is supposed to be a sleeping aid, it makes sense. My tip is to develop a routine and make Yoga Nidra a daily habit. In fact, every time of day has its own benefits. In the morning it helps to start the day relaxed. At noon it gives new energy for the rest of the day and in the evening it helps to sleep well. Practice at a time when you can.
Which Video is suitable for beginners?
I can recommend to start with a video by Lizzy Hill. It has the greatest wellness factor for me. This is mainly due to the pleasant music, which sounds a bit mystical to me. Practiced in the evening it has led to a fantastically deep and restful sleep. I have practiced with the video so often that I know the lyrics almost by heart. Then it was time to develop my Yoga Nidra skills further.
Tips to delve deeper into the technique
There are some advanced videos on YouTube. First, I strongly advise you to try Yoga Nidra in its original form. You can do this with the original voice of Swami Satyananda. A longer Version is also suitable to experience it more intensely. Both videos are in English.
I also found the Yoga Nidra advanced video by Tanis Fishman exciting. Practicing Yoga Nidra for almost an hour goes very deep and I had the feeling that I could relax more intensively than before. There are also Yoga Nidra videos that involve the chakras, such as “I AM Yoga Nidra” by the Amrit Yoga Institute.
Also worth mentioning is the approach of Yogi Rama (1925 – 1996) according to the Himalayan tradition. He created a Yoga Nidra without visualizations. Music is rejected by followers of the Himalayan tradition. I personally like good music. Also relaxing with visualization works well for me. Nevertheless I found it interesting to get to know this approach. You can test it with this video. I also recommend you to read the book by Swami Satyananda *, the creator of this technique.*promotional link
For me, Yoga Nidra is the most profound way of relaxation and at the same time much more than pure relaxation. I like to develop myself further: in my ability to relax and as a personality. I have the feeling that I can actively transform my life in this way.
Whether spiritual or more wellness oriented, on YouTube everyone can find the right video to practice Yoga Nidra. Do you have experience with Yoga Nidra or do you prefer other relaxation techniques? I would be happy if you share your experiences with me and my community.
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