Welcome back to Sleepless Nights, Stylist’s weekly series designed to help you put your Sunday night anxiety and worries to bed. This week, we’re exploring the practice of yoga nidra – a form of yoga said to help those who practise it achieve a better night’s sleep.
It’s all well and good taking the time to build an effective bedtime routine, putting your phone in a different room and getting enough exercise, but if your mind seems to erupt with anxiety as soon as your head hits the pillow, chances are you’re not going to be falling asleep anytime soon.
With this in mind, having the tools at your disposal to help you switch off and relax – both during the day (to stop stress building up) and before bed – is crucial if you want to improve the duration and quality of your sleep.
But if you’re looking to try something different – something that, according to the experts, could help to release physical, emotional and mental tension – then yoga nidra, or ‘yogic sleep’, could be the approach for you.
Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of yoga nidra and how to try it at home.
What is yoga nidra?
According to Eva Hamilton, a registered senior yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance Professionals, the UK’s leading professional body for yoga teachers, yoga nidra is all about “deep listening”. Indeed, unlike other forms of yoga, it doesn’t involve any movement – instead, it helps you to rest your body and place you in a state where you’re neither awake nor asleep through a series of mental exercises and visualisations.
“Yoga nidra is often referred to as a type of meditation, but it’s more helpful to think of it as a state of consciousness,” Hamilton explains.
“You simply adopt a comfortable position for rest, either laying on your yoga mat (or even on your bed) and press play on a recording of a yoga nidra script of your choice. This practice is an opportunity to mindfully rest the body while offering relaxing suggestions to the mind.
“This will include setting an intention, observing the breath, consciously scanning over the landscape of the body, and perhaps evoking visualisations and deeper explorations of one’s thoughts and feelings.”
How does yoga nidra work?
The mental exercises and visualisations completed during a yoga nidra practice are designed to help you release tension by stimulating different areas of the brain, Hamilton explains.
“As you relax deeper and follow the guidance of the yoga nidra, you will be invited to rotate your conscious mind through different places in the body, which ultimately helps to stimulate different parts of the brain,” Hamilton says.
“You may access a state in which you are not sure if you are awake or asleep, which is exactly where we want to be in this practice. We endeavor to remain awake and yet access the subconscious mind.”
What are the benefits of yoga nidra?
While one of the benefits of yoga nidra is helping the body to relax and unwind, there are a whole host of benefits associated with the practice.
“The benefits of yoga nidra include reducing mental stress, releasing physical tension, enhancing creativity, improving memory and supporting overall health and healing,” Hamilton says.
“It is believed that yoga nidra helps increase the theta and delta brain waves associated with deeper states of daydreaming, creativity, intuition, dreaming and sleeping.”
How to practice yoga nidra for better sleep
If you want to give yoga nidra a go for yourself, the first thing you need to do is find a practice which is aimed at promoting better sleep. Indeed, while yoga nidra has recently been suggested as a way to help people who struggle with their sleep to switch off and unwind, it can offer a whole host of different benefits depending on the type of practise.
In fact, some types of yoga nidra practise can even help you feel more awake and provide you with a boost of energy.
To find a yoga nidra recording that works for you, Hamilton simply recommends having a quick search on YouTube. You can also find a selection of yoga nidra classes on Hamilton’s website which are available for members of her video library.
Once you’ve found the practice you want to try, all you need to do is make sure you’re feeling comfortable and let the magic begin.
“I recommend adding some support under your head and knees and making sure you are warm enough,” Hamilton adds. “Your body temperature will drop as you relax, so it’s nice to cover up with a blanket. A yoga nidra practice generally takes between 20 and 40 minutes.”