Let’s talk about yoga nidra!
Did you know there’s a yogic technique in which you don’t actually DO anything? Although it’s referred to as “yogic sleep” or “conscious sleep,” in yoga nidra you’re neither purposely asleep nor efforting to stay awake. People often find this meditative practice to be profoundly restful and healing.
Laurie: What is it that makes nidra stand out for you among all of the possible yogic tools?
Uma: Especially for yoga therapy, I usually say that it’s at the top of the ingredients list. I tend, with clients and with groups, to do yoga nidra first, before anything else. The reason for that is because I feel that a large number of the issues and problems that arise—or that come to my notice, anyway—are all exacerbated by exhaustion. That actually, whatever the trouble is, most people are just tired. I mean, that’s simplifying it. But if you think of yoga nidra as a rest, then everybody benefits from that. They’ll actually feel different. That’s why I use it before we start anything else. I usually begin with yoga nidra. Not end with it, but begin with it.
It’s such a powerful medicine. I think that what’s unusual about it is the effortless nature of it, you know? Unlike most other kinds of yoga, with the exception of Restorative Yoga, I think, and some people include Yin Yoga in this, there’s nothing you have to do. They’re my favorite yoga nidra instructions: “You have arrived. There isn’t anything else that you need to do. You’re here. Just being here is enough. There’s nothing to do.”
It’s in that “not doing” and “undoing” that I think yoga nidra is most healing. It’s a kind of antidote. It just gives people a chance to kind of get off the hook, the many hooks.
Laurie: How do you let people know that it really is OK to not do anything and to not strive?
Uma: That’s the difficult thing. People are so trained to keep going. But I usually don’t have to explain it, to be honest. I just give people permission. I think if you give permission and in that permission-giving, one is permissive…That means being very informed about the possibilities of triggering trauma and all those kind of things. You need to let the safe space be there for people. Once I create that, I get very little resistance to the idea that it might be a good idea to lie down. People usually laugh when they come into the room. I say, “Would you like to lie down?” They’re like, “I would actually. Yeah, I would. I would like to lie down.”
Then when people experience how it feels, they usually don’t want to argue about it. They just enjoy it. I think the thing is that it’s permission, and that people who think they have to keep doing something, if you told them just to take a nap, they might feel guilty, but if you said, “This is an advanced yoga practice,” then they’re interested. The more props you give them, the more advanced the practice becomes. “Have another bolster. Would you like an extra blanket? Would you like another 5 minutes?” I often give people permission not to get up at the end. I say, “You’re perfectly at liberty to just lie there,” and people do. They don’t get up. Once they’ve got there, they realize how nourishing it is.
Laurie: I’ve found in my own yoga therapy work that yoga nidra is a great way to show people an immediate effect of yogic practices. What are some of the specific ways in which the practices ameliorate the conditions that we find ourselves in, and how can we make the practices do more of that?
Uma: I think that the main thing that happens is that in giving people permission to rest, one also opens the opportunity that people can meet the fact of the wisdom of their own bodies. It’s a sense that the answers actually do lie within and that if they just listen to the body, they’ll be able to hear what’s being called for. Then actually, with repeated practice, people can really benefit from their own intuitive guidance. I think it gives people the real, embodied experience of returning to cyclical nature. That’s one of the things that we’ve been encouraged to leave behind in Western capitalism. I mean, you know, it got hold of our sleep cycles and changed patterns of sleep because of the demand to be at work at a certain times…
Nidra helps us reconnect to all those aspects of health that are cyclical, which is pretty much everything when you think about it. It helps people settle into a cyclical, rhythmic breath. It helps them reconnect to their sleep cycles. Their menstrual cycles tune back into what would be a natural rhythm, digestive rhythms, all of these things, and also things like the creative cycle.
All of those things are actually damaged by the obsessive drive to keep on being productive all the time. That whole 9-to-5, constant-productivity thing is actually not very human. It’s not human at all—it’s inhuman. Yoga nidra gives people the chance to find out what it’s like to be human again, because they rest. Then they sleep better at night. I think fundamentally, what it’s doing is encouraging a reconnection to cyclical wisdom, which you can’t take away from people. You can just screw it up really badly by making them work too hard at ridiculous hours.
There’s kind of a war on sleep. In North America, I noticed it. As a European, I came over and I was like, “What time do your kids have to be in school? That’s inhuman!” That’s by the by, but nidra does reconnect us with our capacity to be with our healthy cycles again, whatever those cycles are. That helps support health and well-being, doesn’t it? And the intuition, that’s kind of part of the cycle, isn’t it?
In addition to yoga nidra, Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, PhD, C-IAYT, is known for her writing, including books like Yoni Shakti. In Fall 2019, she will be offering a 5-day training in Well Woman Yoga Therapy in Chicago and a 2-day Total Yoga Nidra Immersion Experience in California.
Yoga nidra is one of many techniques a well-trained yoga therapist can offer clients for healing and insight. Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here, and learn more below.
This article offers background on the practice of yoga nidra and discusses its physiological effects:
The iRest style of yoga nidra, one of several commonly practiced today, has been studied in a number of situations, including with stress, depression, and trauma:
Pence P, et al. Delivering Integrative Restoration-Yoga Nidra Meditation (iRest®) to women with sexual trauma at a veteran’s medical center: A pilot study. International Journal of Yoga Therapy 2014;24(1):53–62.