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What is Yogic Sleep?

By Amelia Willson | 4 Minute Read

Some claim 45 minutes of yogic sleep is the equivalent of 3 hours of normal sleep. In today’s fast-paced world where we’re always trying to cut out sleep to fit in more life, it’s no wonder yogic sleep is gaining popularity!

You shouldn’t view yogic sleep as a way to skimp on getting your 7 nightly hours of shuteye. But you can incorporate it into your daily routine to enjoy less stress and a calmer state of mind. And with regular practice, it may help you fall asleep faster.

What is yogic sleep?

Yogic sleep, also known as yoga nidra, is the practice of accessing the deep unconscious mind. Yoga nidra practitioners enter a state of deep relaxation that’s distinct from normal sleep and wakefulness.

When you fall asleep, you may notice your thoughts become less linear, floating here and there and passing each other in interesting ways. You might feel less emotionally charged by them, as well. According to yogic sleep, this is you unlocking your unconscious mind.

What yoga nidra practitioners are experiencing is quite similar to hypnagogia. Hypnagogia is the name for the dream-like state between sleep and wakefulness, where your thoughts are more fluid. Many people believe it enhances their creativity, which is why they actively seek it out. For instance, both Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali actually regularly induced hypnagogia to help inspire their work.

Yoga nidra vs. normal sleep

Yoga nidra is not the same thing as normal sleep. Rather, it is a yoga practice that helps you enter a state of deep relaxation.

When you are asleep, your body and mind are deeply relaxed. You’re unconscious and unaware of the fact that you are sleeping. Conversely, when you’re awake, you know what’s happening in your mind, body, and around you. Yoga nidra aims to access the middle ground between these two states of being – letting you feel as relaxed as possible while still maintaining a sense of consciousness.

Your brain waves change according to which stage of sleep or wakefulness you’re in. When you’re awake, your brain waves are in a beta state. As you begin to relax, your brain waves shift to an alpha state. Then you start transitioning to the theta waves of light sleep, before moving into the slow waves associated with deep sleep. Yoga nidra helps you get closer to those theta waves while still remaining awake.

Researchers have documented the effects of yoga nidra. The brain scans show that participants are indeed in a resting state similar to sleep, although they remain conscious.

Benefits of yogic sleep

If yoga nidra sounds like meditation to you, you’re not far off. Yoga nidra is designed to evoke a feeling of calm, relaxation, and restorativeness. Ideally, you leave the practice feeling more peaceful and grounded than you started.

Like meditation, visualization, and other forms of yoga, yoga nidra is part of a spiritual practice that many people find brings benefits to their lives. It relieves stress, and brings a sense of tranquility to your daily life. You have more control over your emotions and well-being. Your mind stops racing. You might feel more alert and focused. You connect more deeply with others and the world around you.

By connecting your mind with your body, you’re able to live more in the moment.

Beyond the anecdotal evidence, researchers have found that yoga nidra improves blood pressure, heart rate, and the psychological well-being for women with menstrual disorders. It also helps individuals with diabetes better control their blood glucose levels. These studies focused on yoga nidra specifically, but there is a wealth of research indicating the positive effects of meditation on our overall well-being and health, including the quality of our sleep.

One of the best things about yogic sleep is that it’s accessible to anyone. Anyone can start a yoga nidra practice, no matter their age or experience. You can practice yoga nidra on your own or with others, at home or in a yoga studio.

How to practice yoga nidra

Would you like to try yogic sleep for yourself? Look for yoga nidra workshops at studios near you, or watch video tutorials online to practice on your own at home. There are also plenty of guided meditation apps you can download for your phone, which include yoga nidra.

Here is the basic outline of a yoga nidra practice you can follow on your own:

  1. To start, lie down with your arms stretched down by your sides. Prop yourself up with blankets, bolsters, or blocks. You want to be comfortable but also well-supported. Close your eyes.
  2. First, begin to relax through simple breathing exercises, known as pranayama. You may choose to practice alternate-nostril breathing or simply try taking longer exhales than inhales with your hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Focusing on your breath slows down your mind and your body, giving your brain something to focus on.
  3. Next, commit to staying awake and make an intention to yourself. The goal of yoga nidra is not to fall asleep, but to enter a state of deep relaxation. Your intention should be a positive affirmation, such as “My heart is open and full” or “I welcome relaxation.” Repeat your positive intention to yourself three times.
  4. Now begins the real work. Work from the left side of your body to the right, starting with your left pinky toe, moving across your feet, and then up through your body all the way to your facial muscles. By systematically noticing and then relaxing each body part, you become more grounded – both mentally and physically, as your body relaxes deeper into the mat. Go through this process as quickly but as calmly as possible, becoming aware of each body part and moving along to the next one.
  5. You can then take a moment to take your body in as a whole, and repeat step 4 again. Or, if you feel sufficiently relaxed, move on to step 6.
  6. Visualize a beautiful place. Your body should feel completely relaxed, so allow your senses to explore the visualization before you, whether it’s a pretty garden with twittering birds and drifting flower petals, a tranquil forest with softly bristling trees, or a serene beach scene with gently rolling waves.
  7. Finally, repeat your affirmation to yourself another three times, before slowly returning yourself back to your surroundings.

You can practice yoga nidra for as long as you want, although the recommended time is between 20 to 45 minutes, in order to allow your body to fully relax.

If you don’t mind falling asleep afterwards, you might considering adding yogic sleep to your bedtime routine. Otherwise, you’ll only want to practice at a time when you already feel pretty awake and alert, such as early in the morning.

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