Yogic sleep meditation is a conscious sleep-inducing meditation technique that promotes deep relaxation and offers many benefits. The Sanskrit word for it is Yoga Nidra, which is a semi-conscious sleep state, also known as psychic sleep.
For many years, I was unknowingly practicing yogic sleep. Doing Shavasana (the corpse pose) was a routine practice after performing strenuous yoga exercises.
It usually is the last posture we practice to relax the body. In fact, most yoga teachers emphasize ending a good yoga session with Shavasana.
While others practiced Shavasana for about 2 to 5 minutes, I used to go beyond that time limit. Sometimes, it takes up to 40 to 50 minutes because it feels so good. Believe it or not, it significantly improved my night’s sleep.
Later on, I realized that this is the powerful yogic sleep, also known as the Yoga Nidra practice. It came naturally to me. Yogic sleep is a yoga practice that is extremely beneficial for physical and mental well-being.
Yogic sleep makes you enter into a deep state of awareness as the brainwaves begin to slow down and the mind progressively becomes restful. This experience is quite similar to that of deep meditation, but the process is gradual, and it takes time to get comfortable with it.
It comprises the body, breath, and awareness techniques that transform the thinking (high brainwave) state of mind into the calm (low brainwave) state, which is usually experienced as the state of simply ‘being.’ It is an effortless practice that helps develop inner awareness.
Some of the benefits of Yogic Sleep are as follow:
- It helps in decreasing stress and anxiety.
- It improves the quality of sleep.
- It helps in reducing chronic stress and combats PTSD.
- Helps in chronic pain.
- Increases awareness.
- Improves focus and concentration.
- It helps in getting rid of bad habits, including addictions.
- Calms the mind.
- Improvement in learning ability.
- Develops clarity in thinking.
In a recent study, scientists explored the benefits of yogic sleep on sixty college professors. This study’s duration was three months, and the psychological variables included stress, anxiety, and depression.
The college professors comprising men and women, were divided into three experimental groups: Yogic sleep, seated meditation, and a control group. The results showed that Yoga Nidra had a greater tendency toward reducing stress and anxiety.
Yogic sleep provides us with the restorative benefits of normal sleep in less time. However, don’t attempt to replace your normal sleep with yogic sleep; otherwise, you will fall asleep during practice. Your mind and body need restorative sleep for healthy functioning.
Yogic sleep helps to clear mental blockages in a very subtle manner. When practiced consistently, it reprograms the subconscious mind, and therefore, this ancient technique serves as a powerful mechanism for clearing psychic scars and deep traumas.
What is the difference Between Yogic Sleep, Meditation, and Restorative Sleep?
Meditation practice requires sitting still in traditional yoga postures like the easy pose, sukhasana, or lotus pose. However, most people lack the flexibility to sit in these complicated poses.
When the body is in discomfort, it’s hard to calm down the mind, and as a result, traditional meditation techniques are sometimes not apt for absolute beginners. That is where the yogic sleep technique proves effective.
Yogic sleep is also a meditation practice, but since it requires you to lie down and sleep, it’s much easier than traditional meditation practices.
However, sleep is semi-conscious, i.e., you retain your conscious awareness at all times. This semi-conscious state prevents you from drifting into sleep, but at the same time, it relaxes your senses.
During normal restorative sleep, we close our eyes, and as soon as the mind slows down, we slip into the unconscious without any awareness of what’s happening around us.
However, in yogic sleep, we are in a conscious or semi-conscious state, fully aware of what’s happening inside, and allow the healing messages to seep into the subconscious.
It is a dream-like state, but at the same time, we’re aware of what’s happening around us. We can hear sounds, and yet we’re not disturbed by them at any time. That’s why we call yogic sleep as the conscious sleep.
Yogic sleep is easy to learn because sleeping or relaxing is a natural phenomenon. We don’t have to make an effort to sleep (unless we are suffering from insomnia).
But that said, during the Yoga Nidra sessions, your mind will likely drift into unconscious sleep as it gets more relaxed. This is normal for beginners, so don’t get disheartened.
Whenever you feel you’re falling asleep, bring back your awareness and continue with the Nidra. This is similar to what we do in traditional meditation. Over time, you train your mind to remain conscious during yogic sleep.
In meditation, the practitioner has to start by focusing on the object of meditation, which can be the breath, sound, a physical object (such as a candle), or a mantra that you recite mentally to facilitate the transition from the conscious to the subconscious.
You need not concentrate on the breath or any singular object to facilitate this transition in yogic sleep. The state that is required for Yoga Nidra is somewhere between the conscious and subconscious mind, where the senses are very lightly engaged.
This state is easily achieved within a few minutes of practice, whereas traditional meditation requires some practice before you can access a deep psychological state.
How to Practice Yogic Sleep: Four Easy Steps
Get started by lying down on a mat in Shavasana (the corpse pose). Ensure that the surface is soft and that you’re lying down in a comfortable position. Feel free to place a soft cushion below your knees or lower back if required. Close your eyes and relax.
- Setting the Intention – think about why you’re doing this. There may be a blocked feeling, emotion, or an unfulfilled desire that may be causing unhappiness in your life. Whatever it is, you need to accept it and intend to relax.
- Bring awareness to your breath – the breath, or prana, in yogic terminology, is the life-force energy that sustains the mind-body complex. By bringing our awareness to the breath and increasing the flow of prana, we relax our nervous system. Slowly as time passes, the mind slows down, and the restfulness starts increasing.
- Being aware of the bodily sensations – Notice the sensations arising within the body. We scan the entire body, starting from the feet and finishing at the top of the head. We let go of any tension or stress buildup in any body part. If there is an uncomfortable sensation, we first observe (by bringing awareness) the area of sensation, allow the sensation to play out, and finally, release it.
- Be aware of your thoughts and feelings – once the body is sufficiently relaxed, we start experiencing random thoughts accompanied by some troubling emotions, like anxiety, anger, worry, and restlessness. Watch these emotions play out and let them go. By releasing these afflicting emotions, we clear out the subconscious of negative energy.
Once finished, slowly open your eyes, sit down, and reflect upon your experience. For beginners, ten to fifteen minutes is enough.
Initially, this might be a little hard as the mind is not conditioned, but over time, as your mind becomes calm, you will begin to experience deep relaxation.
My Experience With Yogic Sleep
I thought it would be a good idea to share a little about my experience with yogic sleep and how it helps me refresh my mind, enabling me to maintain focus for hours without getting exhausted.
I meditate both in the morning and evening and perform one to two short Yoga Nidra sessions (ranging between 10 to 15 minutes) in between.
My concentration level, especially after my morning meditation, is quite high, and I use it to my advantage. But by afternoon, I find it difficult to maintain the same level of focus, so that’s when I practice Yoga Nidra.
I know many people like to take afternoon naps. Honestly, I’m not against it. Try yogic sleep instead of the usual nap for a few days, and you’ll notice a great change in your energy and focus.
When you’re new, it is natural to fall asleep while practicing Nidra. But remember not to fight the urge to sleep and allow things to happen effortlessly without force.
If you keep falling asleep every time, your body likely needs more restorative sleep. Check your diet and eat foods that are light on the stomach and easily digestible. Reduce your screen time. Practice light yoga stretching before sleeping. Do whatever possible to get some good night’s sleep.
I have seen so many people pinch their bodies to prevent themselves from falling asleep. I’m afraid that’s wrong. Even if you fall asleep, don’t feel that you have wasted time. With practice, you’ll learn to control your mind.