The powerful practice of yoga nidra and its profound effect on our ability to rest and reset
When we began this New Year there was so much excitement around 2020, a new decade-- a new vision, and an opportunity to reinvent our lives. But with this excitement, also came some extra performance anxiety and what we were actually feeling was a call to find more calm. Life moves fast and rather than simply keeping up, we wanted to give you some tools for getting ahead of it.
So we called in a conversation around sleep and relaxation-- our friends at Morning Brew called it a Rest-olution, which we like the sounds of. So we reached out to our top sleep enforcer on the app, Hilary Jackendoff, AKA "The Meditation Chick" to bring you her top tips for finding calm. So without further ado, here's her journey followed by some practical tips for achieving deep rest through the ancient practice of yoga nidra.
As a child and as a young adult, I always struggled with insomnia and anxiety - and later in my early 20s with chronic pain. But insomnia exacerbated everything else - when I was in an 'insomnia cycle,' my anxiety and the pain in my body felt unmanageable.
I ended up at a yoga ashram in New Zealand shortly after I graduated college, and that was sort of where it all began. I practiced Yoga Nidra there for the first time, and although had been meditating for about a year, I had never really been able to let go and experience what meditation really had to offer. But the first time I did Nidra, my mind shut off, my body felt like it was melting onto the floor - I felt no tension, no anxiety, and no pain - and had no thoughts - but I was right there the whole time. Usually when you meditate, the second you're like 'ohhh my god!! I stopped thinking!! I got this!' - your thoughts come flooding back. Not with Nidra - it was like my mind dissolved. It was incredible.
"Usually when you meditate, the second you're like 'ohhh my god!! I stopped thinking!! I got this!' - your thoughts come flooding back. Not with Nidra - it was like my mind dissolved."
I grew up around a lot of drug and alcohol abuse - not in my immediate family, but among my peer group. Not casual drug use - mostly heroin and opioids. I realized that so many people turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate pain, anxiety and overwhelm... everyone is just looking to feel better. I felt like I had found the key to help people relieve their suffering without drugs or alcohol. Yoga Nidra is so, so easy, and so powerful. From the very beginning, I knew I had to share this practice with the world.
The next year, I went on a retreat to India and dove deeper into the Tantric Yogic tradition. The following year, I decided to do a Teacher Training in this lineage (Bihar School of Yoga). That took me to an ashram in Australia where I lived for 2 years, while enrolled in a 2 year Yoga and Meditation Teacher Training. I learned about all things yoga, Yoga Nidra and meditation as well as anatomy, philosophy, psychology, history, and beyond. It was incredibly comprehensive. I learned to teach a variety of meditation practices, including Yoga Nidra.
In my life's journey with Yoga Nidra, it has helped me learn how to down-regulate my highly sensitive nervous system. It has helped me learn how to let go - physically, mentally, energetically and emotionally. It has helped me become more connected to my body and has had an incredibly balancing effect on my nervous system. It has helped me learn how to access deeper sleep. I still occasionally will struggle with insomnia... usually a couple times a year for 3 days or so. During those periods, Yoga Nidra helps me feel rested, even if I only slept a few hours.
For me, my journey with Yoga Nidra began with my challenges around sleep - but Yoga Nidra is so, so much more than a sleep meditation. In fact, it was never intended as a sleep aid at all. Traditionally, there is a HUGE focus on remaining awake and aware during the practice. The translation of 'Yoga Nidra' is 'yogic sleep,' - or 'sleep with awareness.' So that state I experienced the first time I practiced - where I had no thoughts, I felt like I had no body - but I was aware of my experience - that state of consciousness is Yoga Nidra. In yogic scriptures, this state of consciousness is known as 'turiya' - the fourth state of consciousness. It is the state beyond waking, dreaming and deep sleep - the state of full awareness in deep sleep.
Yoga Nidra is an incredibly powerful practice for self-transformation, for spiritual growth and for emotional healing. It is absolutely life-changing. Kamini Desai, a teacher I admire, says 'Using Yoga Nidra for sleep or like a power nap is like using a jet plane to drive to the grocery store. You can do it, but that's not what it's for.'
"Using Yoga Nidra for sleep or like a power nap is like using a jet plane to drive to the grocery store. You can do it, but that's not what it's for." -Kamini Desai
But considering most people are under slept, or have difficulties around sleep, we need to start our journey towards mind-body wellness where we are. So there's nothing wrong with occasionally using Yoga Nidra to help you fall asleep or fall back asleep during the night. When you practice during the day, it might feel like you slept for 2-4 hours - this is because you're moving quickly through at least one full sleep cycle... to translate - you're likely accessing theta and delta brain waves at least once in a period of under 30 minutes.
On days when you're feeling well-rested, explore practicing Yoga Nidra at other times of the day - in the morning, after work, midday - and see what unfolds for you!!
Hilary's Tips for Nidra
Make sure you're absurdly comfortable and that your phone is on do not disturb.
You might like a blanket, a thin pillow under the head, a pillow or rolled blanket under the knees, even a light eye pillow or scarf over your eyes.
Ideally practice in savasana "corpse" pose, but adapt the practice to suit your body and your comfort.
Give yourself permission to let go - to be totally at ease... to trust in the natural unfolding of the practice.
Hilary Jackendoff is a Los Angeles-based Tantric meditation teacher, and an instructor for Yoga Wake Up. Find her on the app with two tantric offerings Breath & Mantra and Inner Silence, and two yoga nidra practices, Yoga Nidra: Sweet Dreams and Yoga Nidra: Effortless Reset. More on Hilary when you follow her on Instagram.