Restorative Yoga

Better than Sleep

Need to catch up on sleep? Want to access your inner reservoir of creative energy? Change something or break an addiction? Yoga Nidra, an ancient and profoundly powerful meditation practice can help you get there.

I had never heard of this type of Yoga practice until a new teacher came in after my regular yoga class 15 years ago, and encouraged us all to stay late and try it. We were told to just lay in Sivasana, listen and follow along. I was tired and so laying down for a new experience seemed perfect. I don’t remember much of my first experience except being surprised at how deeply relaxed I felt and that I left feeling different – brighter. I began looking forward to the class that started once a week and ended in Yoga Nidra. Then I craved it more than once a week and started finding online versions to listen to at home. Being a working college student, I found it strengthened and renewed my energy and enthusiasm for life and my spiritual path. I also used the beginning sequence to relax and focus on tough science exams. (NOTE! Beware of the large number of videos and audios that say they are Yoga Nidra when they are NOT! Go to a class or look for the book to be sure that you are getting the real thing! There is a specific sequence that needs to be followed in order to get results).

Since then I have used it regularly on my own and have been teaching it myself for 7 years, in private sessions and at the end of my Restorative class. As a working mom, I have been stretched beyond my limits of tiredness and exhaustion, but have been able to muster up more patience and more energy by laying down for 25 minutes to practice yoga nidra. Ancient yogis claim that one hour of yoga nidra is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep. I find that to be completely true. When I can find a free hour, I do an hour practice.

The Science Behind Yoga Nidra

Ancient yogis practiced yoga nidra to heal from diseases and to achieve a closer state toward enlightenment. Swami Satyananda Saraswati began studying the effects of yoga nidra on the human brain and wrote down the ancient practice in his book Yoga Nidra. He studied neuroscientists’ results of electrode stimulations of the different parts of people’s brains, and found that yoga nidra stimulates many neural pathways.

The state of relaxation produced by Yoga Nidra starts to happen as the meditation walks you through every part of the body, simultaneously moving through the sensory motor cortex of the brain. It works with the process of habituation by using pairs of opposite sensory experiences, to break or strengthen habits. Practitioners also get an opportunity to watch their limbic system, hypothalamus and amygdala as they deepen their practice to work with their emotions.

Swami worked with neuroscientists and conducted studies of subjects during yoga nidra sessions with a BEAM Brain Electrical Mapping instrument. He found that Yoga Nidra truly creates different neural pathways and leads practitioners into what he calls a state of conscious sleep and where true change and transformation emerge.

Swami Satyananda also concluded that you can actually learn more during sleep than waking. He conducted experiments on sleeping subjects as well. When his students were sleeping, he taught them languages and planted illuminating ideas, that were extremely successful. Subjects learned up to 11 languages while sleeping! He believes Yoga Nidra can be used for anything from better health to the evolution of the mind. When we integrate sleep with normal waking consciousness the possibilities have only started to be realized.

Try it

Beyond literally catching up on sleep, the seeds of greater compassion, self-love, imaginative richness, new inspiration, and even deep reassurance get planted during a good Yoga Nidra class or session. Come give it a try :).

Written by Jen Thompson, yoga goddess and body worker. You can experience Jen’s class every Sunday evening at 6 pm at Alma Tranquila Holistic Wellness.