How Yoga Nidra works to improve sleep and how to practice it at home while in isolation
Tired people are getting desperate. An epidemic of sleeplessness is now spreading nightly through the bedrooms of London. We’re three months into COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, and anxiety levels have risen so high that it’s becoming hard to sleep at night. What can we do to help us settle down and drop off?
HAVE YOU TRIED YOGA NIDRA?
This is yoga where you don’t move and are skillfully talked into the fringes of sleep. Hovering there, you often drop off. Yes. It’s a real thing. Horizontal yoga under your blanket or duvet. Restful yoga on the sofa or in bed. All you do is rest for around twenty minutes, listening to a Yoga Nidra recording as body and mind restore themselves. You don’t even need to pay any attention, just be there and hear the voice. And rest. Very deeply. It’s the fastest-growing form of yoga in the world, and it can help you sleep.
Yoga Nidra literally means ‘Yoga Sleep’. It’s ‘The Sleep that is Yoga’, or ‘The Yoga of Sleep,’ or even ‘The Sleep of the Yogis’. Whatever way you translate it, Yoga Nidra is all about sleep. It is a meditation upon the experience of falling asleep. What actually happens during the process is a gradual settling of electrical activity in the brain. Practising Yoga Nidra can cycle your brain waves down from the high-stress top levels of Beta, through restful reveries of Alpha waves and down into dreamy states of Theta waves until you may, quite likely, come to rest for a while in Delta waves of deepest sleep, where vital repair and restoration happens.
So it’s no surprise to learn that Yoga Nidra is of proven benefit in helping people to sleep. Any human who has ever, even once in their lives, fallen asleep, can practice Yoga Nidra, because all you need to do is to lie down and listen; and notice what happens, and be with just that. And often what happens, when you meditate upon the act of falling asleep, is that – guess what? – you sometimes fall asleep. Not always, and not every time, but often enough to make it a pretty safe bet. And the more you practice Yoga Nidra, the you can cultivate the capacity to drop off anytime you need, because you have been practising falling asleep.
Paradoxically, many traditional Yoga Nidra teachers will insist that the point of the practice is very definitely NOT to fall asleep. A lot of Yoga Nidra recordings are peppered with very bossy instructions like: ‘No Sleeping,’ or ‘Remain alert: the purpose of the practice is not to sleep.’ Sometimes they tell you to remain ‘awake and aware’ and guilt-trip those who drop off. Often you are instructed to actively resist falling asleep so that you can cultivate a meditative awareness of your state of being. None of this pious nonsense is of any help if you’re sleepless for the fifth night in a row and you just want to SLEEP! Thankfully, there are ways of practising Yoga Nidra that don’t take the meditative high ground and try to prevent you from sleeping. Total Yoga Nidra is a hybrid contemporary form of the practice developed by the founders of the Yoga Nidra Network who see Yoga Nidra as ‘A gift to sleepless humans everywhere’.
HOW TO PRACTICE AT HOME…
It couldn’t be easier. You simply need a space large enough to lie down, and the capacity to hear a recording.
There are three steps to Yoga Nidra at home:
- Build your Nidra Nest
- Choose your recording
- Lie down, listen and rest
First – Build your Nidra Nest
For best results, don’t just crash out higgledy-piggledy. You’ll get deeper quality rest if you take time to make a comfy nest in which to practice Yoga Nidra. The minimal equipment necessary is a mat or rug (or a sofa or bed) to lay down on, a pillow for your head, and enough covers to keep you warm as you rest, because body temperature tends to drop rapidly during practice. And that’s it. Clearly if your intention is to fall asleep, then the very best place to practice is in bed, because then if you drop off you can just continue to sleep.
Second – Choose your recording
Now, this is where you need to get picky. You see, there are innumerable ‘Yoga Nidra’ recordings out there in the insta-web world of wonders and horrors. And a lot of them are just random people reading out scripts they found in a yoga book – sometimes you can hear them turning the pages. Sometimes the people recording the Yoga Nidras sound so incredibly stressed that it’s actually aggravating to listen to them. And when it’s 3am and you are desperate for sleep, this is not good – you really don’t want to waste your precious time and energy listening to a dodgy recording that makes you feel more agitated then you were at the start.
And then – here’s a paradox – even if you have found a recording with a voice you like, and it feels relaxing, a very terrible thing can happen at the end. You see, most Yoga Nidra recordings conclude with the cheerful voice announcing the end of the practice and telling you it’s time to rise and shine. Clearly, this is not what you want in the wee small hours when you have finally dropped off.
If you want Yoga Nidra to help you get to sleep and stay asleep, it’s vital to choose a recording that is not going to wake you up at the end. Thankfully, there are some wise and helpful experts out there who have figured this out, including the ex-insomniac hypnotherapist Nirlipta Tuli, co-founder of the Yoga Nidra Network and CEO of the Sleep Well Project. Nirlipta’s deep bass-baritone voice and leisurely, soporific Nidra style have led him to be known, affectionally, as ‘The Barry White of Yoga Nidra’ and his ‘Yoga Nidra for a Good Night’s Sleep’ is the most popular download on the Yoga Nidra Network site.
Yoga therapist Nirlipta Tuli has been working with Yoga Nidra for the past twenty-five years and has developed a unique and highly effective system of practice for inducing and sustaining restful sleep. He also offers Yoga Nidra that can help you to make friends with your insomnia and transform your relationship with sleep, so that you can get the rest you need. You can access Nirlipta’s recordings and his programme for a Good Night’s Sleep through the Yoga Nidra Network and also you can catch him live online free every Friday night on Facebook @yoganidranetwork with his truly helpful offering ‘Night Night Nidra with Nirlipta’, an initiative he launched on 15 May in response to the wave of pandemic-induced sleeplessness.
I’ve been teaching Yoga Nidra for twenty years, and I can vouch for the efficacy of Nirlipta’s Yoga Nidras for sleep, not just because I am his Co-founder at the Yoga Nidra Network, but also because, as his wife, I have lost track of the hundreds of well-rested people who have told me delightedly over the years that they are ‘Sleeping with my husband every night’ or even that ‘My husband is enjoying sleeping with your husband.’ I used to be shocked, until I figured out that what they mean is that they are listening to Nirlipta’s voice taking them reliably into sleep through one of his many programmes for sleep induction and support. And rest assured, Nirlipta’s specially created recordings for the sleepless do not wake you up at the end, but instead invite you to continue to rest and sleep for as long as you need. That’s what’s needed in an epidemic of insomnia.
Wisely chosen, Yoga Nidra recordings are invaluable, but sometimes a live practice is what’s required. So if you’d like the experience of practising Yoga Nidra live with an expert online, then head over to the @Yoganidranetwork Facebook Page for a Friday night treat: ‘Night Night Nidra with Nirlipta’, which offers free live Yoga Nidra specifically to induce a deep rest in preparation for a good night’s sleep. Snuggle up and listen in your pyjamas. If an afternoon nap is more your style, then join me at 3.30pm over on my Facebook page @umadinsmoretuliphd for a half an hour of co-creative Yoga Nidra for tired humans who need to rest.
Third – Lie down, listen and rest
That’s it. All there is to it. And then, because you’ve chosen your recording or live Yoga Nidra event wisely, you can drift into a good night’s sleep and rise up rested in the morning.
Sweet Dreams, rest well, and give thanks to Total Yoga Nidra, the remedy of choice in an era of sleeplessness.
YOGA NIDRA RESOURCES
- For free yoga nidra downloads in eighteen different languages
- For online courses in Total Yoga Nidra
- For a special half-price offer on Nirlipta Tuli’s comprehensive and effective ‘Sleep Well with Total Yoga Nidra’ course.
- Free Live Online Good Night Nidras on Friday with Nirlipta Tuli
- Daily Free Live Online Community Support Yoga Nidra with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli PhD
Uma Dinsmore-Tuli PhD, CIAYT is a Yoga Therapist and Co-Founder of the Yoga Nidra Network