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A Long Winter's Nap- Yoga Nidra

There are some nights when

Sleep plays coy,

Aloof and disdainful.

And all the wiles

That I employ to win

Its service to my side

are useless as wounded pride,nd much more painful.

-Maya Angelou


In Matthew Walker’s groundbreaking book Why We Sleep, a nation of insomniacs was faced with the sobering statistics on the importance of 7-9 hours sleep per night for health and longevity. From preventing Alzheimer’s to lowering the risk of heart disease, sleep is critical.

Yet for many of us, myself included, sleep is elusive. From the birth of my first child to well into my youngest child’s teens, I tossed and turned at night, highly sensitive to every creak in the floorboards, passing car, crack of light under the door. Some nights, a to-do list assembled itself in my mind. On others, my insomnia was driven not by thoughts, but by a complex mix of hormones-the ever changing patterns of melatonin, estrogen, dopamine, etc.

Even with many years of hatha yoga, regular exercise, melatonin supplementation, breathing and meditation, it was not until I began a regular practice of Yoga Nidra that I began to drift off to sleep naturally.

What is Yoga Nidra and what are the benefits? In the yoga philosophy there are five types of mental patterning; Pramana (right perception), Viparyaya (misperception), Vikalpa (imagination), Nidra (deep sleep) and Smriti (memory). Nidra, or sleep is the state of consciousness which allows us to enter the void in which pure awareness can penetrate. Without this regular clearinghouse, our minds are clouded, and we are more apt to make poor decisions-types of misperceptions or viparyaya.

Yoga Nidra, sleep yoga, is a restorative practice that has been scientifically proven to increase dopamine and brain neuroplasticity. Just 20-30 minutes of yoga nidra equates to 2-3 hours of restful sleep and increases neuroplasticity by over 50%. Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman calls yoga nidra “ a zero cost tool to replenish your dopamine reserves.”

Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down and requires nothing but active listening. It is more akin to hypnosis than an active Western yoga practice. A structured guided meditation and body scan leads the practitioner into a hypnogogic state- a deep resting state with trace awareness.

While scientific studies have proven physiological medical benefits of a nidra practice, yogis take it a little farther. During the practice, practitioners set a sankalpa, or deep intention, and it is believed that we manifest our deepest driving desires in this “not quite sleep” state, priming both body and soul for deep healing. In esoteric yoga practice, stilling the mind is the ultimate destination, and in the quiet void, the seeds of our deepest desires take root. According to yoga teacher Rod Stryker, “the depth of your sense of ease of stillness will determine the power of your intention and its potential for fulfillment”, moving us closer to our soul’s blueprint. Practicing yoga nidra allows our conscious mind to soften and unconscious healing to begin.

In addition to yoga nidra audio meditations on this website, there are many meditation apps with free yoga nidra guided meditations, as well as live group nidras offered at studios wherever you live. Some of my favorites are found on the app Insight Timer, where there are dozens of offerings. You will find that one voice might resonate with you more than others. Explore!

As the days shorten, we need more rest. If you find yourself struggling with sleep or wake up feeling groggy, consider adding a 20-30 minute yoga nidra practice either right before bedtime (you will most likely fall asleep while listening), or if you have the space, a mid-afternoon restorative yoga “nap.” Try this 30 minute healing nidra practice I created. You can download it here .

Whether you are intrigued by science or mystery, a conscious act of surrender is a step forward on the healing path.

Join me April 27-May 4 2024 in Sayulita Mexico


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