When you think of yoga you think of stretching and twisting, bending and moving into positions more akin to a pretzel than a human being!
It’s true, I know for a guy like me, there are some positions in traditional yoga that if I could ever get myself into, I would probably require a Rescue Squad to get me out of! But, I recently discovered a kind of yoga – called yoga nidra that provides many of the health benefits of the more traditional forms, without the typical body positioning and movements.
Yoga nidra is a deep relaxation technique, more like meditation than traditional yoga – in fact, it has been referred to as “sleeping yoga.” That is because, through a series of deep breathing exercises and meditation, yoga nidra puts your body into a state of total relaxation that has been referred to by practitioners of the art as “sleep with awareness.”
Once in this state – using techniques of guided visualization you can rejuvenate, and some say, even heal your body of emotional, psychological, and even physical stress. Even if you are not ready to accept that last part, like all yoga and other eastern mind-body arts, such as Tai-chi and Qigong, the ability of yoga Nidra to reduce stress is undeniable. Today, even western medicine admits the many health benefits of reducing stress, from reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, even to preventing some forms of cancer.
How To Do “Sleeping Yoga”
Do you know of anyone these days that couldn’t use a little stress reduction? Well, that is the best thing about yoga Nidra. It does not require any special training; any classes or any special equipment, and anyone can do it. Even if you are overweight, or suffering from conditions that have kept you from physical exercise, you can do yoga nidra.
It is usually done while lying down, but you can do yoga nidra sitting or standing too. Yoga nidra is great to do at night, because it helps to quiet your mind down and promote better sleep.
Yoga Nidra asks you to turn your mind’s eye internally. Once you are in the relaxed position, best achieved lying down on your back with your arms somewhat out from your body with your palms up — begin to scan your body. Focus you full attention on one part of your body at a time.
First, allow your attention to move through your head and face, including the top of the head, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, cheekbones, and nostrils.
Breathe in and out through your nose, allowing your torso to expand and gently contract with each breath. Focus on your breathing – feel the sensation of air moving through your nostrils.
Next, move through the rest of your body inside and out. Go through each area of the body from head to toe. Picture every fiber, cell, bone and muscle of your body slowly relaxing.
As you rhythmically breathe, imagine that your breath does not just move through your lungs. Picture it as a living thing, moving into and around your whole body even way out to the tips of your fingers and toes, eventually returning to and out of your mouth.
As you achieve this state of deep relaxation, on the borders between being asleep and awake, focus your energy on something specific, such as a dream, goal or desire. Then just be still and silent. Remain in that deep stillness and silence for at least 10 minutes. As you get better at it, you can extend this time.
As you feel your thought begin to return, slowly reverse the process by guiding your awareness slowly back down your body to the tips of the toes. You may fall asleep while doing yoga nidra – and that is A-OK, but practitioners say that 20 – 30 minutes in the deep relaxed phase can be as beneficial as a full-night’s sleep to your physical and emotional well-being.