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Yoga Nidra: My 7-step guide

When I interviewed yoga teacher Loren Peta for Issue 2 of my monthly newsletter, with the theme of 'Motivation', I wanted to know what kept her motivated when she wasn't 'feeling it'.


Her answer surprised me: 'Rest'. She gave herself permission to just chill; she took it as a sign that her body and mind needed to slow down.


We think of motivation as a way to do more, be more, achieve more. But what if the key to staying motivated really is doing less?


Taking this lesson to heart, I recently began taking time in the afternoons to meditate. This brought me back to an incredibly powerful form of non-physical yoga called Yoga Nidra.


What is Yoga Nidra?


If you've not heard of it, Yoga Nidra means "yogic sleep". You lie still, usually in Savasana, and the voice of the teacher guides you into awareness of the space around you, of your own body, slowly beginning to draw the mind down into a state of deep relaxation. It is essentially a form of 'Pratyahara' (sensory withdrawal), as hearing is the only sense which stays active. Sight, touch etc are all put into a state of wilful suspension.


The aim is not to drop into true sleep (though this is a common side effect, especially for new practitioners), but rather to hover in a state of gentle awareness between waking and sleeping.


Although they share similarities, Yoga Nidra is not the same as classic meditation, which uses a single point of focus. It is also different again from lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer is aware of the dream state, as in Yoga Nidra we are still conscious of our bodies and surroundings to a degree.


The effects of Yoga Nidra


After a week or two of doing more Yoga Nidra than I ever have before, I had an epiphany moment. Like the physical yoga practice, I realised that Yoga Nidra was all about balance: As I lay there in my blissful afternoon practice, I realised I was in such a deep state of relaxation that I was essentially asleep; and yet I was also aware I was in that state, as I could still sense my limbs lying on the bed.


I did not have conscious thought, I was not thinking about my to-do list for that day or worrying about the future, but I was aware that I was suspended somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. It was as though I was standing in a one-legged balance, but I was balancing with my mind rather than my muscles.


I've heard it said that an hour of Yoga Nidra gives the same rest benefits as 3 hours of true sleep. I can't attest to the science behind that claim but I can say that choosing to chill right out is a wonderful way to gain more energy and motivation in the long-term, especially during a period of enforced rest for many of us.


Just beware lapsing into this state too often and for too long. Tempting though it can be, I did find that too much Yoga Nidra in the afternoons could disrupt my natural sleep pattern.


GUIDE TO YOGA NIDRA


1. Get comfortable


Just as with a good physical yoga practice setting the right environment is key. Make yourself comfortable lying down, either on your bed or on a yoga mat, and make sure your body feels at the right temperature.


2. Give yourself time


Give yourself a comfortable amount of time to practice too. The concept of time fades when in the yoga nidra state and I've found it is not unusual to spend at least 30-60 minutes there.


Switch off all distractions and try to ensure that you will not be disturbed.


3. Use a good guide


On your journey into Yoga Nidra, I find that it largely rests on the voice and style of the teacher. Again, much as with regular yoga, I was always drawn to the personality of the teacher above a particular style. Here are some of my favourite and personally used/recommended Yoga Nidra tracks, but a quick search on Spotify or YouTube will yield many more:




4. Set an intention


Setting an intention is a powerful way to add another dimension to your Yoga Nidra. You are travelling deep into the unconscious mind -- to the source of yourself, if you like. This is a place to adjust and help to sort out the causes of what is blocking us in the waking world.


Note: Setting the conscious intention not to 'fall asleep' can be helpful, as true sleep is not the goal of Yoga Nidra.


Some of my favourite intentions include: Healing, Serenity, Strength, Peace, Luck, Success.


5. Release expectations


Yoga Nidra can be a wonderful experience, and as you may have guessed from the above, it can be more than a little trippy sometimes.


But remember that, like sleep, the more we think and analyse it the faster it flutters out of our reach. Release all expectations and just be open. There isn't a 'right' and 'wrong' way to practice Yoga Nidra. Just enjoy the relaxation and accept that whatever happens was right for that day and that practice.


6. Come back with ease


A typical Yoga Nidra session will last about 30-60 minutes, but as mentioned above it can last longer. Even if your chosen track is only a few minutes long, you should embrace the chance to stay in that deliciously restful headspace for longer if your body and mind clearly wish to float there.


You will know when you are ready to come back, but try not to shock the body into full wakefulness. One of the key lessons of Yoga Nidra is being gentle with ourselves, so softly wake the body up with breath, then small movements and take your time as you come back into reality.


Make sure that you also drink plenty of water after as I've found feeling dehydrated is a common side effect.


7. Reflect


Take some time to reflect on the practice and how it affected you. I found that you can be very exposed with Yoga Nidra; there is no asana or fancy poses to hide behind. Essentially, you cannot hide from yourself.


As such, the practice can be very deep and profound, so giving yourself some space in order to reflect on the practice is a great way to feel the benefits.


This can simply be sitting with silence and stillness for a few minutes, or taking some time to journal on the thoughts and experiences of your Yoga Nidra session. I love the latter as it keeps a record which can show how the practice is affecting you over time.


Conclusion


If you've never tried an entirely "non-physical" yoga practice, then I can't recommend Yoga Nidra enough. It really is the most wonderful way to truly take time to be with yourself. In a period of enforced rest, why not take time to actually rest?


Give it a go and let me know how you get on! Any questions leave them below.



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