Yoga nidra is often described as “yogic sleep.” But it’s more of a guided relaxation and visualization.
Nidra is not hypnosis, nor is it sleep. At the first full-length nidra I went to, we moved through an evening flow of postures, then zipped up our sweatshirts, put on socks and laid on our backs on mats with pillows under our knees and heads.
For the next 45 minutes, we lay in the dark as the instructor guided us through nidra. I don’t remember much of the guided relaxation. I vaguely remember being asked to bring awareness to each of my fingers, toes and the rest of my body parts.
When it was over, I realized I’d been present for the first 10 or 15 minutes and then, strangely, not present. I’m fairly certain I didn’t fall asleep, but did go into a super-relaxed state of mind between wakefulness and REM. It took a bit to fully wake up, as it did for all the other zombie-like students around me who couldn’t form full sentences other than, “Wow,” “What just happened?” and “I don’t remember anything.”
This is yoga nidra. It can take you someplace else. We typically spend our days in beta brain waves, an active and alert state of mind. Nidra can help lead you to the next level of alpha waves, a relaxed and more passive state, into theta waves, an unconscious, half-asleep state where there are still images and streams of thought, and into the last stage of delta waves. This is a state of deep, dreamless, non-REM sleep where one still has awareness of one’s surroundings.
In meditation, you stay in the waking state of consciousness. In nidra, you aim to leave the waking state, go past the dreaming state and go to deep sleep, yet remain awake.
Of course, entering the delta state mostly happens after consistent nidra practice. Numerous benefits come as soon as an alpha state of mind is reached. It can help with insomnia, stress and anxiety, digestive conditions, chronic pain and cancer. It can help lower blood pressure, boost your immune system, increase blood flow to the heart and balance the autonomic nervous system.
In a typical guided nidra, an instructor will take you into an initial relaxation where you’ll set a sankal-pa, an intention or affirmation. It is positive, short and in the present tense, like “I have everything I need” or “I am relaxed.” There will then be a comprehensive body scan, breath and sense awareness and many times, a guided visualization. Toward the end of that, when you are deep in “yogic sleep,” you will re-affirm your sankalpa, storing it in your subconscious, and slowly be led back to wakefulness.
You can find yoga nidra for download on iTunes. Or you can attend a guided nidra. I’m leading one on Friday night that includes a yoga class.
• Yoga Nidra — all-levels chakra yoga flow class, followed by yoga nidra, with Jennifer Mulson, 6:45-8:45 p.m. Friday, CorePower Yoga, 623 N. Nevada Ave., $30/$25 members; core poweryoga.com or 477-9642.
• Yoga Nidra with Meditation Basics — with Ben Mikolaj, 2-3 p.m. Oct. 29 and Dec. 2, Cambio Yoga, 3326 Austin Bluffs Parkway, $10 suggested donation; cambioyoga.com, 291-1798 or 321-8547.
Contact Jennifer Mulson: 636-0277, Twitter
@jennifermulson, Facebook Jennifer Mulson