Yoga nidra is the original Eastern version of the Western concept of lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming occurs when you are dreaming, and inside of your dream you are aware that you are dreaming. There's a pretty cool movie called Waking Life about this concept. Have you ever been dreaming and then realized you were dreaming? Personally, I have, but I typically wake up shortly after this discovery. Practicing yoga nidra will help you control your dreams, heighten your sense of relaxation, increase your meditation skills, decrease episodes of insomnia and will leave you feeling rejuvenated and re-energized. Research also suggests can reduce depression, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. Imagine being able to take a conscious unconscious journey to whichever destination you would like, with whomever you like, and doing whatever you want to do. Sounds like heaven, right?
Yoga nidra is a state of yogic sleep. It's like savasana … on steroids. Instead of a quick 10 minute savasana in which your concentration and meditation is broken due to the chatter of yogis anxiously awaiting their next class, the entire yoga nidra class, usually 45 minutes - 1 hour, is in savasana. Once you surpass the thirty minute mark in corpse pose, you begin to reap all psychological and physiological benefits of the pose. I like to call yoga nidra "nap class". Best nap ever! You will want to use props to enhance effectiveness of meditation/yoga for a lengthy, durative period. Call the studio ahead of time to find out what they have and do not have as far as props. Luckily, my yoga studio has everything I need (listed below) except the eye pillow and neck pillow. Here's my favorite take on savasana, and what I do every time I attend a yoga nidra class; these tips will help you stay comfy for an entire hour or more.
- Double up on yoga mats, or make sure yours is extra thick.
- If you can't, fold a mexican blanket in half and place over your mat.
- Prepare an eye pillow in the following way a few hours (at least two) before class: spritz with lavender essential oil (if you are feeling rajasic [energetic] and need some grounding) or diluted peppermint essential oil (if you are feeling a bit tamasic [tired; sloth] and need rejuvenation). Then, place the pillow in a ziplock bag and place in the freezer. Make sure you leave it in the freezer for at least two hours. If you want a deep freeze, spritz the pillow with of water so that it is wet and will actually freeze -- make sure not to submerge in water or it will be too cold to tolerate. The eye pillow is also useful because the slight added weight will keep eyes shut! In Savasana, I have a bad habit of forgetting to keep my eyes closed.
- Place a large yoga bolster under the knees, perpendicular to the mat. You will be amazed at how much this will improve Corpse Pose. It is a more natural position than your entire body stretched out flat. If you take only one of my suggestions from this list, take this one.
- Support and comfort your head AND neck with a yoga neck pillow. These babies are stuffed with buckwheat hulls, so they are soft (not firm), organic, and luxuriously silky smooth. You won't need to MacGyver any sort of pillow together when you use a buckwheat neck pillow.
- Lastly, maintain appropriate body temperature with a mexican blanket. You will fundamentally be sleeping, and what bed is not complete without a blanket? I like the Extra Heavy Recycled Yoga Blanket.
Once you are settled in and comfortable, be prepared for what is in store during a typical class. According to the ancient hindu text Mandukya Upanishads, In Yoga Nidra, you "leave the Waking state, go through the Dreaming state, and into the Deep Sleep state, yet remain fully awake." The goal the painless and powerful full realization of self. According to this text, there are four stages of yoga nidra, or yoga sleep:
- Deep Sleep
Going by this theory, you can surpass the deepest state of sleep with a state of full consciousness. You will learn how to meditate by practicing yoga nidra regularly. After my first yoga nidra class, the first thing that stood out and surprised me was that the class felt like it was only 5-10 minutes long although it was actually a full hour. There is an element of hypnosis. Guided meditation is used, as well as a body scan, in which you bring awareness to every muscle, bone, and part of your body. Your instructor will walk you through mindful breathing, visualizations and environmental awareness as well. Yoga nidra is very mysterious to me. It's hard to describe and articulate what actually happens in a nidra class because I do not fully understand how or why it works, but it does. You just have to try it for yourself!