It might seem a bit of a bold claim, but numerous Yogis say that something called Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 2-4 hours sleep! I'm not one for just blindly following claims, but Yoga Nidra is something I have practiced for many years. So what is it, and do I think it's 2 hours of sleep?
Yoga Nidra is also sometimes called Yogic sleep, and is 20-40 minutes of a 'sleep' with a very gentle awareness. We are not fighting against the mind here, and for that reason it is considered a Tantric practice (and no, Tantra does not mean sex!). I first discovered it one time when I couldn't sleep. I used to put it on at night and within 10 minutes I'd have drifted off. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it's is fine to fall asleep in this practice, or in Savasana for that matter. But that is not Yoga Nidra.
In Yoga we are staying awake, but not. It really is something you need to experience to fully grasp, but I now think it's best described as deep meditation without trying to meditate. Zero effort is required. You just allow the words to wash over you and follow the instructions. In fact Swami Satyananda Saraswati suggests the language isn't even important, as the mind will still be keeping consciousness. 'It is the tone of voice, the person and the personality that are important'. I'm yet to try that, so cannot pass judgement there, but it is one of the numerous claims about Yoga Nidra.
What I do know is what I have experienced; a relaxation like no other, and what scientists call a hypnagogic state. That is a state of neither consciousness or unconsciousness. When returning to consciousness I certainly feel refreshed. As to whether it's 2 hours of sleep I cannot say, but I do know that the more I meditate and perform Yoga Nidra, the less sleep my body seems to need.
Yoga Nidra begins by relaxing the body. It then uses various techniques to activate areas of the brain, which is where the technique differs from hypnosis. In Yoga Nidra the brain is completely awakened. For example, there is a body scan, which stimulates a wide area of the brain (see the cross section pictured). I also find that during the body scan I can really sense the energy in my entire body. This translates as very subtle little tingles, which could be described as Prana or Qi (life energy). There is a section working through opposite sensations to stimulate other areas of the brain. Working with opposites means the sensations can be fully experienced; if we only experienced heaviness in the body, eventually that would feel like normal, so no longer actually felt heavy. The visualisation section is used to help unlock anything that may be stored in the sub-conscience. You may not know what is going to come up here, and you may also not experience anything. This is one area of healing that Yoga Nidra can provide. The goal here is to not judge the experience as good or bad but be the witness. Being a tantric practice means it is non-dualistic, so there is not good or bad, but 'just is'. This can be a difficult notion, but with practice can be achieved. As I say, absolutely nothing may arise, or something in a dualistic perspective is deemed as good could equally arise. I just think it is fair to inform people fully of all possible experiences, and this exact same thing can happen in meditation!
If you are interested in receiving a guided Yoga Nidra, you can sign up to my (bloody wonderful) emails below and you will be taken to a guided practice. If you already receive my emails, you will very soon be receiving a link to the video.
Tips for your Yoga Nidra practice
Be as comfortable as possible, lying down in a Savasana position. So think about having a thicker mat, pillows, bolsters, blankets, eye mask; the full works!
Make sure the room is draught free, warm and in semi-darkness (or use an eye mask).
Don't think about how deep you are going to, or want to go into it. Just lie down and relax.
If you notice any distractions do not worry, but see them as helping you stay awake with an awareness.
If your body is feeling stiff or tense, it can be good to do an Asana practice (what a lot of us know as Yoga) beforehand.
If you want to be able to say 'I'm so Yogic' to all your friends then the follow these additional instructions:
Perform Yoga Nidra at the same time every day. If in the morning, between the hours of 4 and 6, or just before bed.
If you are feeling tired before the practice, take a cold shower.
Practice on an empty stomach. So allow 3 hours after a normal meal, or half an hour after a light snack.
Don't use a pillow, but a folded blanket under the head.
Optional Instagram selfie whilst doing Yoga Nidra to speed up enlightenment process.
Hope that all helps. If you're interested in learning more about Yoga Nidra, there's a great book of the same name by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, including his research using brain scans and lots of claims of what Yoga Nidra does.
Just enjoy a damn good relaxation for now though and let the rest take care of itself. And don't forget to sign up below.