Updated: Jan 20
What if I told you that you could lie down, awake, and listen to a meditation for 30 minutes, but feel like you had napped for 3 or 4 hours?
Does it sound good to be true?
It's possible, and it's called Yoga Nidra, which translates to 'yogic sleep'.
In this post, I'll explain:
And at the end, I'll give you a link to a FREE Yoga Nidra for PMDD!
What Is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation that is done in a supine position (lying down). The goal of Yoga Nidra is to guide you into states of rest and relaxation that are similar to a deep sleep. Traditionally, one would lie in savasana, or corpse pose, but you're welcome to choose a more comfortable position and use pillows or blankets for support.
Basically, all you need to do is lie down and listen (easiest yoga ever!)
Yoga Nidra can be practiced live and in-person at a yoga studio, live online over video, or pre-recorded and available on-demand. I like to do all three, but personally I find live and in-person to be the most effective and deep experience. Stick around until the end of this post for a link to a free Yoga Nidra for PMDD!
Yoga Nidra is primarily different from other forms of meditation in that you're lying down. Just like in other forms of meditation, your mind may wander and you might get distracted, and that's okay - the act of realizing this has happened and bringing your attention back to the present is part of the process.
However, there is less importance placed on intense focus or concentration. In fact, as you reach deeper states of rest and relaxation, you may feel as though you have fallen asleep (you might actually fall asleep, and that's ok too). As long as your ears are open and listening, your subconscious will still receive the guidance of your teacher. There is literally no wrong way to do Yoga Nidra.
What To Expect While Practicing Yoga Nidra
There are several stages of involved with Yoga Nidra, but there are five core components of every practice. These components correspond with the Pancha Maya Koshas, or the five layers of the self. The idea is that you release stress or tension in each area, moving progressively deeper into the more subtle aspects of the self, while at the same time, moving into deeper states of rest and relaxation.
The beginning of a Yoga Nidra practice generally involves a greeting, guidance on getting comfortable, and a short mini-meditation to bring you into the present moment and turn your senses inwards. Often, you'll be asked to close your eyes or place a sleep mask over them (but if you'd prefer not to, that's okay).
Sankalpa - Intention Setting:
The practice of setting an intention is very important in Yoga Nidra. It anchors your practice to the way you want to feel throughout and after it. We call this practicing sankalpa, which translates to 'a heartfelt desire'. Your teacher might have a theme for the practice in mind and direct you to an intention, you might be given several options to choose what resonates with you, or you might be asked to come up with one yourself. Sankalpa is always short and present-tense, such as "I am resting deeply" or "I am relaxed and refreshed" or "I am enough".
Annamaya Kosha - The Physical Layer:
Your teacher will then ask you to bring your attention to the first 'layer' of your Self; your physical body. You'll be guided to mentally scan through different areas of the body, using your awareness to notice any pain or tension, and to mindfully release this tension if you're able. Simply noticing is enough, however.
Pranamaya Kosha - The Energy Layer:
Next, you'll be directed to bring your attention to the flow of energy in the body. This tends to include bringing awareness to the breath. Without altering the breath, you'll simply notice things like the temperature of the air as it enters and leaves the body, the rise and fall of the chest and belly, and the length of the inhale and exhale. The teacher may also include some breathwork exercises here.
Manomaya Kosha - The Mental/Emotional Layer:
You'll move on into the more subtle aspects of the Self as you are guided to explore concepts or emotions in this next phase. This tends to include an exploration of opposites; warm/cool, soft/dense, tension/release. You might be asked to remember times when you have experienced certain emotions, and what that felt like. You might be invited to find balance between opposing concepts or emotions, and/or to let them go entirely.
Vijnanamaya Kosha - The Wisdom Layer:
This next phase is where you may begin to experience something similar to dreaming; you'll be guided through some visualization exercises. You might be asked to imagine colours, shapes, objects, or places. You can let your imagination and creativity flow here - you might be surprised what you "see"!
Anandamaya Kosha - The Bliss Body:
This is the deepest state of rest in your practice, and is similar to deep, non-dreaming sleep. This is where your teacher will remind you of your sankalpa. The intention is for you to integrate this statement fully (I am resting deeply, I am relaxed and refreshed, I am enough...) There may be some silence in this phase as you bask in the 'bliss' of deep rest.
Your teacher will then guide you back up through the previous layers. This is still a slow and gentle process, but includes less detail and time engaging with each phase. You'll be asked to again connect with your imagination, emotions, energy, and physical body as you come back to your full and whole Self in the present.
Note: Yoga Nidras specficially designed for insomnia may actually end in the previous phase so as to guide you into sleep without reawakening.
Your teacher will direct you back to a seated position and conclude your practice. Notice how you feel at the end of your practice as compared to when you began...you might be surprised at the drastic difference!
What Happens To Your Brain & Body
The reason why Yoga Nidra is such an effective tool for rest and relaxation has to do with your brainwaves.
Gamma, 35Hz (associated with concentration and problem solving)
Beta, 12-35Hz (associated with active thinking)
Alpha, 8-12 Hz (associated with thoughtful reflection and rest)
Theta, 4-8Hz (associated with drowsiness, sleep, and dreaming)
Delta, 0.5-4Hz (associated with deep sleep)
When you are awake, your brain generally operates using gamma or beta brain waves, which are fast and frequent. As you become more relaxed (yet still awake), you use more alpha waves, which are a bit slower. As you fall asleep, you enter into theta brainwaves, which are even slower and less frequent. Theta brainwaves are associated with a dream-like state. And finally, the deepest state of rest includes delta brainwaves.
Typically, when you fall asleep, you move through these brainwaves in a predictable fashion, known as sleep cycles. It generally takes about three hours to complete the first cycle, from alpha to delta and back up again. In Yoga Nidra, you move down through the stages faster and spend more time in the deeper states, all within a shorter period of time. You are also able to stay conscious in these deeper states of rest, and therefore have more potential to notice your experience.
A study showed that the brains of those who regularly practiced Yoga Nidra actually prioritized alpha (calm & rest) brainwaves over beta (thinking & concentration) brainwaves in the everyday waking state while not actively practicing.
Another study of Yoga Nidra practitioners also showed that one session increased levels of dopamine in the brain by 65%, which would explain why we feel so wonderful after having practiced.
Meanwhile, your body is experiencing benefits too. In fact, your body might fall asleep while you are practicing, even though your mind is awake. You might notice that your muscles are twitching or you might even hear yourself snoring!
Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs our unconscious "rest and digest" functions, such as heart rate, breathing, and digestion. Studies show that regular practice of Yoga Nidra can help to reduce blood pressure, resting heart rate, and breath holding capacity compared to those who did not practice.
Why It's Great for Mental Health
As previously mentioned, it's clear that Yoga Nidra can impact our neurochemicals (dopamine, specifically; the impacts on other neurotransmitters has not yet been studied), our brainwave states, and our parasympathetic nervous system.
All off these effects, separately and combined, can have an influence on mood and cognition. A study on Yoga Nidra practitioners vs a control group showed that practitioners had significantly reduced levels of anxiety and experienced an increase in positive self-concept.
This study compared the impact of seated meditation, Yoga Nidra, and placebo on college professors, and found that while both meditation and Yoga Nidra had benefits in terms of stress, Yoga Nidra performed better at reducing anxiety. Another study on college students also showed that Yoga Nidra practice can help to reduce the severity of anxiety symptoms.
It's likely that anxiety is greatly reduced because of Yoga Nidra's activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and the prioritization of alpha brainwaves.
Why It's Great for PMDD
Although there are currently no studies specifically looking at PMDD & Yoga Nidra there are several that look at menstrual irregularities and menstrual disorders in general.
In a study of people with menstrual irregularities, those that practiced Yoga Nidra over six months showed significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved overall wellbeing and general health, compared with a control group. This study found similar results, but took medication into account in both the experimental and the control group.
Another study on those with menstrual disorders found that a six month Yoga Nidra intervention resulted significant improvement in pain symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiovascular symptoms, and urogenital symptoms compared to a control group.
We also know that PMDD causes sleep disturbances and fatigue; it's possible that Yoga Nidra may be a tool to facilitate rest and improve sleep. We also know that PMDD can negatively impact how we feel about ourselves; by exploring the 5 Layers of the Self, we can learn to reconnect with our minds and bodies in a positive way.
So there you have it, Yoga Nidra is a magical tool that requires very little effort!
I'd like to offer you a FREE 35 minute Yoga Nidra for PMDD (if this post hasn't already put you to sleep, lol!) Please enjoy & leave me a comment if you did!