The practice of yoga nidra is often called "yogic sleep." But while sleep is an unconscious act, yoga nidra involves relaxation with consciousness. Yoga master Swami Rama shares, "Yoga nidra is a revitalizing exercise that gives total rest to the mind, brain, nervous system, senses, and body. Except through meditation and yoga nidra, one cannot give rest to the totality of the mind."
Using yoga nidra only for relaxation stops short of its full potential. If you are able to stay awake, yoga nidra can bring clarity of mind and deep insight—both of which help you live out your deepest desires in waking life.
Given this disclaimer, yoga nidra techniques are quite potent and they can relax us when we need a good night of sleep. Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar wrote, "The experience of repose at night will give us clues to the repose of mind and sense in the meditative state. Good sleep makes consciousness brilliant. Poor sleep leaves it tarnished."
Let’s look at a few yoga nidra techniques that can help ease you into sleep:
1. Cultivate a Safe Space
To relax, you must feel secure and cozy. So, alter your bedroom to feel more private, comfortable and safe. If you are away from home, or can’t alter your bedroom to achieve this state, choose an “inner resource.”
In the iRest style of yoga nidra, Richard Miller describes an "inner resource" as a place, object, or person that helps you feel safe. If you experience discomfort or anxiety during your relaxation practice, bring your inner resource to mind.
2. Find a Relaxed, Supported Posture
Your muscles and joints should make no effort during deep rest and yoga nidra, therefore, support and cushion your body. Lie on your back with your neck and head supported by a pillow. (Note: you can lie on your side if pregnant or sit in a chair if lying down is uncomfortable.)
Blanket your body for warmth and add enough padding beneath your body to feel cushioned. This step takes time, so you may spend several minutes getting your blankets and pillows just right.
3. Return to Your Breath
Your mind can’t focus on your problems when you’re actively focusing on your breath. Feel the temperature of your breath, enjoy the feeling of your body moving from the inside as you breathe. Let thoughts come and go as you follow your breath.
4. Scan Your Body
In yoga nidra, you rotate your awareness through your whole body by focusing on one (or more) body part(s) at a time. For sleep preparation, follow this model. Allow your body to relax step-by-step starting with the top of your head. Become aware of your forehead, eyes, jaw, neck and upper shoulders.
When you bring awareness to your body, you realize where it is holding tension. This realization invites relaxation to happen. When you relax your face, you ease tension throughout your whole body. Continue releasing your muscles down the length of your body and end with your toes and feet. If you have trouble practicing this, you can try doing a guided body scan meditation.
5. Welcome Opposites
We often delay sleep by thinking the same thoughts over and over again. Get your mind out of a rut by imagining that opposites exist at once. Practice feeling your body as cold, then as hot, then as both hot and cold at once. Try this technique with the qualities of soft and hard and/or full and empty.
Rest is the absence of technique. Surrender any efforts to hurry sleep and invite sleep to find you. You've set up your space, relaxed your body, breathed fully, and deconditioned your mental patterns – now see what happens.
May you use these yoga nidra techniques to invite deep rest and easeful sleep. To find deeper awareness and insight, consider a full yoga nidra practice like this one. Namaste!
Image credit: Sanàa Jaman