What Exactly Is Yoga Nidra?
I was first introduced to yoga nidra as a teenager in Mumbai, India, and the stillness it led me into had a profound impact on my practice and my teaching.
Yoga Nidra is a guided auditory meditation technique practiced lying down in savasana. In Sanskrit, nidra means sleep. Yoga nidra is often referred to as the sleepless sleep because it induces a state between being awake and being asleep known as the hypnogogic state in which the mind and body deeply relax. This powerful state on the threshold of being asleep and being awake can be used for many purposes that include deep relaxation, releasing memories locked in the subconscious and unconscious, and creating an expanded state of consciousness.
Yoga Nidra’s roots lie in an ancient tantric technique called nyasa in which practitioners held their awareness on different parts of the body and through concentration and the chanting of mantas were able to bring more consciousness to different parts of the body. We use a variation of nyasa in yoga nidra to move our awareness through the body in a particular order and to create a circuit of energy through the brain that allows us to enter the hypnogogic state.
Yoga nidra is highly adaptable both in length and purpose. It can range from just a few minutes to an hour-long practice depending on the purpose and time available. Most practices are between 15 and 40 minutes.
Why I Love Restorative
The impact restorative yoga has had in releasing stress and tension for me is very personal.
About fourteen years ago I had a bout of serious asthma attacks that were life-changing. I was continually in and out of the hospital and put on high levels of cortisone for an extended period that created extreme anxiety and panic attacks.
I started practicing restorative yoga, which was an integral part of my recovery. Restorative calmed my nervous system, relaxed my body, and released tension from my breath. The effects of this practice released the fear of future attacks.
No amount of trying to talk myself out of the situation helped because my whole system was stuck in a heightened state of tension and anxiety. I needed to learn to bypass my mind and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is exactly what restorative yoga does.
Why Restorative Is So Powerful
Modern life is fast-paced and filled with stressors that contribute to a constant level of low-grade stress that we're often unaware of. This continuous state of sympathetic nervous system arousal has led to many modern-day illnesses such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, and stress disorders.
Restorative yoga provides the prefect antidote to stress because it creates a supported pause. By completely supporting the body and being still for extended periods, the breath, the mind, and the nervous system begin to calm.
Different restorative poses can be used for different purposes, though they all help to calm and quiet the nervous system. There are poses that open the breath and lift our spirits when we're feeling depressed, poses that are supportive and nurturing when we're feeling anxious, and poses that target specific parts of the body where tension accumulates.
Restorative yoga releases tensions on physical, mental, and emotional levels. Since our bodies store all our past experiences, when we let go of the holding in the physical body we often have strong emotional releases. The suppressed emotions and past experiences locked in the body bubble up to the surface and are then released.
One of the advantages of a restorative practice is that it can be applied universally to everyone. People who aren't physically able to practice asana, such as the elderly and physically challenged can reap the benefits of deep relaxation and energetic rebalancing.
Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra
When I started teaching adults I included yoga nidra at the end of every class. Most students didn’t know what it was at the time but they kept coming back for more. One of my fellow teachers advised me not to include yoga nidra in classes in New York City. My colleague said students would get frustrated and leave because New Yorkers couldn’t slow down, but the opposite happened and people came back for more. It’s exactly what we need in NYC but we often don’t know it. I found that adding yoga nidra at the end of the practice was very powerful because the restorative postures led students into a place of deep stillness which when followed by yoga nidra induced an even deeper state of surrender enabling the release of past experiences locked in the subconscious and unconscious.
I’ve now been teaching my restorative/yoga nidra workshops for the past 12 years. I've worked with Alan Finger to develop a nine-step approach to yoga nidra called "Mona Anand's Ishta Yoga Nidra."
I design yoga nidras for different imbalances such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I also design yoga nidra practices for chakra and dosha imbalances, which I teach in restorative/yoga nidra workshops. I am currently writing a book with Alan Finger on yoga nidra and the chakras.
To learn more about Mona, visit monaanandyoga.com.