The two most common complaints that my clients come to me for are stress and sleep disorders. Waking up and staring at the ceiling or not being able to fall asleep easily are two of the most frustrating things especially when you’re completely exhausted. Of course stress and sleep are interlinked, our stress hormones contribute to a lack of sleep and in turn our lack of sleep contribute to our stress levels the next day and it’s a perpetual cycle that leaves us feeling irritable and exhausted all of the time. By the time most of my clients come to see me looking for a solution, they’ve been in this cycle for a while, some even years!
The Easiest Solution To Your Stress and Sleep Problems
There is one amazing form of meditation that solves both of these problems at once and it is Yoga Nidra which means ‘yogic sleep’. It is the easiest and most natural tonic for modern life - reducing stress, boosting immunity, helping you fall asleep and improving your sleep are just some of its astounding benefits.
Dispelling all the stereotypes that meditation has to be done sitting, it’s perfect for beginners because yoga nidra is done lying down which anyone can do. You simply listen to the teacher's voice and that's it; instead of doing something 'more' yoga nidra is about stripping everything away. Yoga nidra is about shutting off your senses, first the body using a body scan, then the breath, then the thinking mind until you feel like you’re drifting in and out of awareness. Thoughts may come, images may come but there’s no attachment to them, they simply just drift in and out. Yoga nidra strips away the layers of who we ‘think’ we are, such as the limiting beliefs we have about ourselves and the illusions that we have created around us.
So how does it help with things like stress and sleep?
Our mind is assaulting us with thoughts all day long. We immediately attach to those thoughts… I am hungry, I am tired, I am busy or I am stressed.
Most of our cortisol producing stressors in our life are actually caused by our thoughts, emotions or beliefs about ourselves. For example, perfectionism, worrying about things that have not happened, putting pressure on ourselves to achieve things even if it costs our health and relationships not realising why we are doing these things. Yoga nidra tames the mind. And you begin to ask yourself why? Why are you keeping yourself to such a high standard of perfection? Why are you so stressed or worried (or fill in the blanks)?
Doing a yoga nidra meditation puts us in a ‘hypnagogic state’ which is the state between wakefulness and sleep. During the day, most of us are in waking beta brain-wave state (14-40 Hz), this is when you’re alert, conscious and focussed on doing tasks. Creativity happens when we move to alpha state which is the next state you’ll pass through (9-13 Hz). From there, the yoga nidra meditation drops you deeper into the theta wave state (4-7.5Hz). Here, your thoughts slow down to 4 to 8 thoughts per second. In this state, super-learning is within reach. Finally, if you go deep enough the guided meditation takes you to the delta state, where you have approximately 1 to 4 thoughts per second. Delta is known to be the most restorative state for the mind and body and the state where our organs regenerate and heal, and the stress hormone cortisol is released from your body. When people have brain injuries, they are often put into a coma which is a delta brain-wave state, which gives their bodies a chance to repair any damage.
When you are in these brain wave states with fewer thoughts, our bodies begin to relax. In deep relaxation we activate our parasympathetic nervous system which helps to rebalance our hormones (particularly our fight or flight stress hormones), dampen inflammation, repair damaged cells and quells the amygdala where emotions are processed in our brain which helps us feel less stress and anxiety.
This is why yoga nidra is so great at targeting stress in a easy and non-forceful way!
Likewise, yoga nidra’s powerful effects on sleep have been widely lauded; forty-five minutes is said to be equal to up to 3 hours of sleep, due to the changes in brain-waves that we discussed above.
Science is now proving that sleep is not only a way for us to process our day and store memories but we also process our emotions overnight. So the saying ‘let me sleep on it’ really is true, as we take the high charge of emotions out of our days activities overnight and wake up refreshed the next day. Scientists have found that during REM sleep one of the key stress and anxiety inducing chemicals noradrenaline is completely shut off and it is the only time in our 24 hour days that it’s not active. This means that REM sleep is a safe time for our brain to process potentially stressful events! So if we are not getting enough REM sleep cycles in every night (most adults require 5), we can wake-up still feeling agitated by the previous day’s content rather than waking up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. I’m sure you’ve felt this when you’ve had 3 or 4 hours sleep. Not being able to discharge emotions fully or get over very stressful events could trigger PTSD with sufferers having recurring nightmares and the inability sleep exacerbating the problem.
So as you can see sleep is an important part of managing stress and processing our emotions from our day. Yoga nidra is an excellent tool in helping us do that because we can use the meditation to help us fall asleep, get back to sleep or for a rejuvenating nap during the day.
So how do you do yoga nidra?
The best part it’s so simple you just lie down and listen to your favourite yoga nidra recording. We’ve found that doing a yoga nidra meditation is easiest after a movement class because it gives you the added benefit of releasing some of that stress and tension first through movement. Project HASIKO includes a 20 minutes guided yoga nidra meditation at the end of every HASIKO Flow class so that you feel rested and restored rather than depleted after your movement class.
Remember to do it in a place that you won’t be disturbed!
Here are a few other recordings that I recommend from my favourite teachers that you can access for free on Insight Timer:
Simple Habits also offers thousands of meditations for a yearly subscription fee
And there is mounting clinical evidence about the benefits of yoga nidra in case this all sounds a little too easy:
- 150 females with PMS symptoms showed improvement in symptoms after 6 months of yoga nidra, which proved to be particularly beneficial for hormone regulation.
- 100 women with depression and anxiety linked to menstruation benefited from yoga nidra therapy.
- 30 minutes of yoga nidra for 90 days stabilized blood glucose levels in diabetics.
- Yoga Nidra for training attention for conscious non-REM sleep
Davina Ho is the Co-Founder of HASIKO and a an iRest® level 2 yoga nidra meditation teacher. Contact her if you have any questions.