In honor of International Yoga Day on June 21, we want to carve out intentional time to treat our minds and nervous systems to some much needed rest and quietude!
Cue yoga nidra (“yogic sleep”), a stress-relieving practice that guides us into a state of consciousness between our waking and sleeping selves. The experience encourages our bodies to sleep via deep relaxation while our minds stay awake and alert… challenging, I know!
The mastermind behind yoga nidra, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, describes the space between waking and sleeping “as a point beyond the personality, where the logical, analytical aspect of the mind is suspended” (as cited in the HuffPost article, “How Yoga Nidra Works”). It’s there in that passive/active state where the barriers to repressed memories and experiences can lift, and the outside world becomes a moot point.
This phenomenon occurs as a result of habituation weaved into the practice of yoga nidra, the process through which an emotional or physiological response diminishes over time through repeated exposure to a specific stimulus. For example, your instructor may guide your attention to sensations felt in your elbow, then to your forearm, wrist, top of hand, bottom of hand, tip of the fingers, and so on. Eventually, you become “habituated” to these bodily sensations and they lose their power or are forgotten completely.
Once the body enters deep relaxation, with eyes closed you begin to stimulate the mind by creating visualizations. It is in this phase that the brain may initiate new neural pathways, rewiring itself to replace maladaptive thinking and habits with healthier and more productive ones. Sign me up!
From a psychodynamic perspective, it’s in this in-between state of mind where we can access unconscious material and rework it. This practice has shown to be helpful in the treatment of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other DSM-5 disorders, as well as in regulating blood pressure, hormone irregularities and heart rate in women.
Should you decide to incorporate this incredible tool into your client treatment plans, it is imperative to recognize that this recovery of repressed experiences can be stress-inducing and painful for clients with histories of trauma. Ensuring competence in the instruction of yoga nidra via certification and continued education, in addition to cultivating a safe, comfortable space conducive to this intervention, are paramount to successful use and implementation.
Interested in getting certified? There are a plethora of schools and platforms to choose from including iRest and Divine Sleep. If you’re looking to approach your practice from a more traditional, Eastern approach, check out the Bihar School of Yoga, a modern school grounded in traditional Indian teachings.
Looking to ramp up your own self-care routine? Download the FREE app Insight Timer on your phone. It has the largest library of guided meditations, including yoga nidra.