Yoga Nidra: The All-Natural Sleep Aid

Posted on March 20th, 2014 by in Conscious Living

yoga_nidraSleep. While it seems about as natural as breathing, for 50 to 70 million Americans, it isn’t. Intermittent and chronic sleep problems are rampant and can potentially affect alertness, safety, and health. For some, medications or a medical condition could be interfering with sleep; for others, too much sugar or caffeine could be the culprit.

One of the more common reasons for sleep problems, according to Vandita Kate Marchesiello, Kripalu Yoga teacher and R&R Retreat faculty member, is that our minds are full of thoughts that put the nervous system, respiratory system—really, all of the systems that run our bodies—on high alert. “We’re often worried, fearful, or regretting something,” Vandita says. “And, in the quiet of the night, these thoughts and feelings often creep in.”

But, according to Vandita, when mental chatter is replaced with more calming and soothing thoughts and images, the body responds by relaxing the muscles, slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and generally unwinding.

Her R&R Retreat Rest and Unwind workshop focuses on the practice of yoga nidra, which means “yogic sleep” or “sleep with awareness.” As we do gentle stretches on our mats in preparation for the practice, Vandita encourages us to remain in the moment by returning to the breath and body each time the mind begins to wander. We practice systematic relaxation of the muscles, encouraging both the body and mind to let go.

“During the experience,” Vandita says, “I guide practitioners to [observe] sensations in the body without judging or labeling them. That is compassionate self-awareness.”

She asks us to visualize a favorite place in nature—a place where we were in awe of the beauty surrounding us. “It might be the beach, the mountains, a stream in the woods, or a garden you’ve visited,” she says. She asks us to imagine lying on our backs, looking up at the sky as the clouds float slowly by.

When practiced regularly, yoga nidra offers physiological benefits beyond sleep. “The body comes into what’s known as homeostasis,” Vandita explains. “The heart and respiratory rates lower, which can eventually lower blood pressure.” Deep relaxation can also help people dealing with chronic pain or anxiety.

Needless to say, yoga nidra is far more sleep-inducing than watching the news or staring at a computer screen before bedtime. Vandita says that 15 to 30 minutes of practice set the stage for a more restful night’s sleep.

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About Portland Helmich

Portland is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She's also is the creator, host, and executive producer of What’s the Alternative?, a series of 52 half-hour talk shows about natural and alternative forms of healing the body-mind on Veria Living TV, a natural health channel on DISH, FiOS, and Frontier. For 15 years, Portland’s been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer. She's been an alternative medicine correspondent for Oxygen, a health reporter for The American Consumer on PBS, and was the creator, host, and executive producer of Journeys Into Healing on Wisdom Television. She produced for HealthWeek and Healing Quest on PBS and was a medical producer for WCVB-TV (Boston’s ABC News affiliate). She’s also covered the subject as a freelance writer for Body + Soul, Alternative Medicine, and Spa magazines. Portland currently lives in Boston and produces other natural health programming for Veria Living TV.
  • Wade

    In around 1990, I stayed a while at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. I was then living in the Amherst/Northampton area of that state, and when I told people about this ashram I was about to visit, some of them deliberately mispronounced the name as “Cripple You.” But I refused to hear any criticism of it. But after a few days at Kripalu, I sensed a vague cultish vibe, but I didn’t stay long enough to really be sure.

    This was just a few years before the sex scandal involving founder Yogi Amrit Desai broke in 1994, resulting in the residents forcing Desai to leave for good. You see, the Yogi, who was married, had for years been secretly having multiple extra-marital affairs with female ashram residents. This was going on even as Desai encouraged strict celibacy for his unmarried disciples.
    http://www.thinkbodyelectric.com/2012/02/kripalus-reincarnation-and-anusara.html