Research has proven that stress is linked with many chronic health conditions and many people are aware of this, but are simply too busy to do anything about it.  The practice of Yoga Nidra, sometimes referred to as “sleep yoga”, would be an amazing addition to the life of anyone dealing with even minor stress, as the full benefits can be achieved by simply lying on the back for 30 minutes! Benefits of this lesser known style of yoga include deeper and more restful sleep, promotion of the bodies natural healing process, increased creativity, reduction of stress, enhanced memory and learning capacity and relief for many people who suffer from anxiety, depression and many other psychological disorders conditions.
How To Practice Yoga Nidra.
The practice of Yoga Nidra is very simple. We begin by lying down on our backs in the yoga pose called “savasana” with our arms and legs spread out in a comfortable position and closing our eyes. This is the only pose required for the practice of Yoga Nidra! There are only three things we have to do after this. First we have to commit to not moving throughout the practice, which usually lasts for around 30 minutes. This sounds easy, but can actually be very difficult. Second we have to focus on not falling asleep. It might be called sleep yoga, but the point is actually to stay awake and fully aware. The last thing we have to do is to follow the instructions of the teacher.
The practice will start out with the teacher instructing the students on how to relax by getting them to release and let go of any tension in their muscles. Next we will be guided through the entire body in what can be called a full body scan. When the teacher names a certain part of our body, the thumb for example, we have to bring all of our attention into our thumb and simultaneously visualize the thumb in our mind. This will last for around 10 minutes as we are guided through every major part of our body, relaxing each part as we go. After our body is relaxed the teacher will ask us to visualize certain objects or symbols in our mind. The point is to stay completely relaxed and aware and follow the instructions of the teacher to the best of our ability.
The Benefits Of Practicing Yoga Nidra.
Provides more rest for the body and mind than normal sleep.
It is a common experience for some people to sleep for eight hours or more, only to wake up feeling tired. This is because the body and mind may not have been in a total state of rest. The person may have been tossing and turning throughout the night or sleeping in a position that could have been putting unequal pressure onto one side of the body. From a mental perspective, the person may have been dreaming about things that actually weren’t very relaxing. In Yoga Nidra the body and mind are fully relaxed throughout the practice leaving us feeling strong and rested afterward.
Activates the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes the body’s natural healing process.
When in the Yoga Nidra state we are cultivating a state of consciousness where we are just in between being awake and asleep. Our body is totally relaxed as if we are sleeping, but our mind is completely aware and still able to listen to the instructions of the teacher. We actually go into this state of consciousness every night before falling asleep, however it typically only lasts for five to 10 minutes as we are not actively trying to stay in this state. The brain is emitting alpha waves during this state of consciousness. Alpha waves are the bridge between normal mental activity experienced throughout the day, and sleep. When we are fully conscious our brain emits Beta brain waves, which means the electrical impulses in the brain are cycling between 13 and 30 times per second. This sounds a little abstract, but the point is that as we relax more deeply these “cycles per second” slow down. When we are dreaming the brain emits what are called Theta waves cycling at around 4 to 7 cycles per second.
When the brain is emitting alpha waves the body is fully relaxed which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls activities in the body such as digestion, the immune system, absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxins. When this system is activated the body is able to heal itself by actively fighting off infections, and effectively expelling waste from the body, just to name a few of the processes which are occurring. The opposite of the parasympathetic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous is in charge of the “fight or flight” response. When the body perceives a stressful signal in the environment, the sympathetic nervous system springs into action. The adrenal glands release cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream causing cells to work harder and giving an energy boost to the body in preparation to either run away from danger, or to deal with a threat. Long term over activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to disease because, among a long list of other reasons, the parasympathetic nervous system is shut off, preventing the body from properly defending itself from bacteria and viruses. A vast number of people in our society today are suffering from an overactive sympathetic nervous system and Yoga Nidra can really help these people. 
Allows us to communicate with our subconscious mind and change behaviors in our life.
Another powerful part about being in the Yoga Nidra state of consciousness, characterized by the emission of alpha waves in the brain, is that it allows us to communicate directly with our subconscious minds. Think of the mind like an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is the conscious mind, the part that is able to look at trees, have conversations, and say things such as, “I love pizza.” The other 90% of the iceberg underneath the water represents the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind holds our deepest core beliefs about the world and about ourselves, which we learned as small children. In a way, everything in our life stems from a belief somewhere in our subconscious mind.
Let’s take the example of a person who is overweight. At a level that this person is not aware of, meaning subconsciously, they are holding onto a belief which is creating the behaviors leading to their obesity. If you ask them, “would you like to lose weight?”, they will probably say yes, but this is their conscious mind talking. Deep within their subconscious they have a belief which says, “I am an overweight person” or “I am not worthy of being healthy”, or something along these lines.
The cool thing about Yoga Nidra is that we can actually go in and change these beliefs. So let’s say that we realize that we have the subconscious belief, “I am overweight and unhealthy”. When in the Yoga Nidra state, there will be a moment after the body is fully relaxed where the instructor will ask us to repeat a “resolve statement”. This is something that we want to create or achieve in our life, and is usually an attempt to change a belief we have about ourselves. The statement needs to be very simple, usually six words or less, and in the form of a positive statement. An overweight person could use a resolve statement such as “I am worthy of being healthy”. Other examples of resolve statements are “I have abundance in my life” or “I am creative” or “I have happiness in my life”. The idea is to repeat this to ourselves as if it were already true, and try to feel in our bodies the sensations associated with this statement being true.
How Communicating With the Subconscious Mind Works.
The subconscious mind operates like a computer. It can’t really think for itself, it just takes on commands similarly to how a computer does when it’s being programmed. This can be seen in small children as they have not yet developed a conscious mind, which means their brains are emitting primarily Theta waves, the same brain waves emitted during dreams, as dreams are a manifestation of the subconscious mind.  It is like small children are hypnotized because their subconscious mind is completely open and ready to receive new information. This is why they are able to learn so quickly. Children easily become fluent in extremely complex languages which adults would take many years of intense practice and study to learn. In this way the child is like a computer with a blank hard drive ready to be programmed. The small child does not question the behaviors of the parents, but simply observes and learns. Around the age of 6 or 7 this changes and children become less receptive to this type of learning as their conscious mind becomes more developed and aware.
In the Yoga Nidra state of consciousness–characterized by alpha brain waves–our brains are in a similar state of consciousness to that of a small child. The difference is that we still have control of our conscious mind, the part of us that is able to listen to the instructions of the teacher and repeat our resolve statement. If a simple command is repeated enough by our conscious mind, the subconscious mind will take on the command and believe it to be true in the same way that if told enough times, a child will believe anything. When a person subconsciously believes, “I am worthy of being healthy”, they will actually start to create behaviors in their life to support this belief. This could manifest as eating healthier food or going to the gym. The point is that the subconscious mind likes to support its beliefs. It likes to be “right”, so it always creates behaviors to support its core beliefs. By changing the beliefs, the behaviors change too.
Personal Experience With Yoga Nidra.
I took my first Yoga Nidra class about a year ago in Los Angeles and have recently begun teaching this amazing technique in Thailand. I primarily learned by listening to free recordings on the internet, and reading the book “Yoga Nidra” written by the creator of Yoga Nidra, Swami Satyananda Saraswati.  I have witnessed amazing benefits by practicing this daily. I feel more relaxed, stress free and tend to be far less reactive to things which may have bothered me in the past. If I’m feeling low on energy I will do Yoga Nidra for 20 to 30 minutes. I usually feel much more rejuvenated than I would from a typical nap. I can’t imagine life without Yoga Nidra!
This list of incredible benefits of practicing Yoga Nidra could go on and on. The great thing about the practice is that it is very easy to incorporate into a busy schedule since it only takes 30 minutes to get the full benefits! We can practice Yoga Nidra in any space where we will not be disturbed. A great time to practice is just before going to sleep and most people report deeper and better quality of sleep when doing this. There are an abundance of free Yoga Nidra recordings available on Youtube so there is no need to find a class or a teacher to begin the practice. With the vast amount of studies coming out today linking stress to chronic health conditions, Yoga Nidra could be a valuable asset to many people who deal with stress on a day to day basis.