Yoga nidra is the yoga of aware sleep. In this lies the secret of self healing. Yoga Nidra is a pratyahara technique in which the distractions of the mind are contained and the mind is relaxed.
– Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Your Brain On Yoga Nidra

In all of the retreats that I teach I incorporate a practice called yoga nidra, or "yoga sleep". Your brain on yoga nidra experiences a journey of deep relaxation and healing, and this has been my own "medicine" for over 10 years now. Since 2012 I have been leading teacher trainings in this meditation modality. I love the post-yoga nidra glow and the amazing restful state that follows this practice. In this post I'd like to share with you what happens with your brain when you practice yoga nidra and how this technique works.

1. Yoga Nidra and Its Effect on Your Brain Waves

The practice of yoga nidra begins as you are prompted to feel your body and your breath in using a specific technique in order to trigger the relaxation response. The relaxation response balances the two aspects of your nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic. This in turn aligns the activity of your right and left brain hemispheres.

In the process, your brain shifts from beta brain waves (an awakened state with lots of brain activity), to alpha brain waves (a more relaxed state which is associated with sitting in a relaxed position with eyes closed and visual channel disconnected). In alpha, the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin gets released, and brings about a feeling of calm. There is a scientifically studied link between anxiety and how much time we spend in a state where beta brain waves prevail. So as you move into alpha-state, you are slowing down the brain activity and beginning to shift into a restorative, restful mode.

From alpha, you continue to transition into a deep alpha and high theta brain-wave state, which is also referred to as "the dream state", or REM ("rapid eye movement" state). In theta, your thoughts slow down even more. This is the state in which we are more likely to experience enhanced learning process (common state among children and creative professionals). This is also a state where we process our emotional states, and release emotions that no longer serve us. This state can also be associated with hearing sounds or seeing imagery - just like you do when you are dreaming.

After theta, you are guided to delta brain wave state, where your thoughts slow down even more. This is the most restorative and restful state, in which your organs regenerate and the body metabolises cortisol - the stress hormone, and flushes it out of your system.

Sadly, under normal circumstances, very few of us get to experience delta-states on a regular basis, which means we are not allowing our bodies and brains to restore completely and to regenerate your vital systems. This is why adding yoga nidra to your menu of self-care practices is so important.

If you are intrigued by these facts, try your first yoga nidra meditation with me right away!

2. The Extra Dimension of Consciousness Accessible Through Yoga Nidra

From delta, your yoga nidra meditation takes you even deeper, into a thoughtless state which according to yogis is only accessible through yoga nidra and is close to impossible to access through conventional sleep. This state is alike the deepest form of sleep, yet you are simultaneously aware and awake. Not everyone who practices yoga nidra gets to experience this state, but with practice, you are going to begin to experience glimpses of it.

Following the thoughtless state, you are gently guided to return into a waking state. Your brain is re-charged, the biochemistry of your body is re-balanced, and you are able to not only see your life differently and infuse it with more calm and tranquility, you are also able to tackle the challenges of your everyday life with more clarity and confidence. You feel a lot more rested and restored, you experience more space in  your mind in-between your thoughts. Your body has been able to let go of tiredness and experienced the healing effect of truly surrendering and letting go. You have given your immune system a boost, which helps prevent illness and slow down premature aging.

Here is one more resource of 15-minute yoga nidra meditations to help you get started!

3. The Health Benefits of Yoga Nidra Meditation

Yoga nidra is not a practice that can substitute healthy sleep, but it can help you learn to sleep better. Scientific research states that 45 minutes of yogic sleep equal 3 hours of regular sleep in its ability to relax the brain.

In addition to that, a study published in in 2013 demonstrated that practicing yoga nidra decreased anxiety, alleviated depression, and overall well-being for women experiencing menstrual disorders and psychological issues. Other studies have proven that yoga nidra can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as improve blood glucose fluctuations and symptoms associated with diabetes. It is widely used in the preventative medicine as well as a complimentary therapy for recovering patients, including children and geriatric patients.

Like most forms of meditation, yoga nidra can help improve the functioning of your nervous system and endocrine (hormonal) system.  Both meditation and yoga nidra help cells regenerate and repair, and both help decrease anxiety and improve your mood.

Lastly, yoga nidra just makes you feel like you just had the best nap of your life, is accessible to everyone regardless of their level of experience and you can't do it wrong. I invite you to give it a try with a live teacher or with a recording, and enjoy the amazing benefits of this life-changing practice!