Sleep is part of our Self Care practice. Without sleep, we feel tired, our body doesn't heal and we are unable to think clearly. Yoga takes care of our mind body and spirit, consciously. The combination of the two is called Yoga Nidra.
According to the Yoga Alliance, "Yoga means “union.” Nidra means “sleep.” Yoga Nidra is a state between sleep and deep relaxation. "It is a systematic method of inducing deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. a method of Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) that allows you to scan the body and tap into a state of relaxed consciousness as the mind settles in a place between wakefulness and sleep."
Yoga Nidra is a state where you produce Delta brain waves and remain conscious. Research has shown, you only produce Delta waves during deep sleep or REM sleep. With practice, we can go into that state by will and by awareness.
Also known as Yogic sleep, it is a form of meditation and a mind-body therapy. Meditation makes it possible for us to get to the theta state — the state we go through to achieve the delta state, which is the place of the deepest sleep cycle. The delta state is a deep healing state. That’s is our journey through Yoga Nidra. In this state, the body and mind rest, while in conscious state.
It is a systematic form of guided relaxation or meditation. Typically a class can be from is done for 30 to 90 minutes at a time. It is said that a 30-minute yoga nidra practice is equivalent to 2-4 hours of sleep. In yoga nidra, the benefits are immediate, from reduced stress to deep rest. Following a practice, you feel relaxed and rested.
Yoga Nidra is a very special practice because it takes you on a journey of your five layers of being, also known as the Koshas. In a typical Yoga Nidra session, a teacher guides practitioners through several stages. You start by developing an intention for your life and for the practice, also known as Sankalpa. Sankalpa is a short phrase or sentence, clearly and concisely expressed, using the same wording each time, to bring about a positive change in one's life. Your Sankalpa is unique to you, remains private to you and is not something to be shared with another person.
And then, the journey begins. You are then guided to focus your awareness on your breath, bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Throughout, you are encouraged to tap into an underlying sense of peace that is always present and to cultivate “witness consciousness,” observing and welcoming whatever is present without getting caught up in it.
"Let's get to know each of the five koshas and explore how they relate to a yoga nidra practice.
1. THE PHYSICAL LAYER
The first layer, and perhaps the easiest to identify, is the physical layer, or annamayakosha. Literally, the “food body,” the annamaya kosha includes all of your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. You can experience this kosha directly. It’s your body, and you can see and feel it.
In a yoga nidra practice, this layer is attended to with a physical experience like a body scan. You may hear cues like, “Relax your head, your arms, your legs, your upper body, your lower body,” etc. The body is spoken to directly and observed. As you move on to the next layer, the physical body, in a sense, drops away from your direct awareness.
2. THE ENERGY LAYER
The second layer is the pranamaya kosha, the “energy body.” This layer can be perceived, yet is significantly subtler than the annamaya kosha. According to yogic philosophy, our prana, or energy, moves through inner channels called nadis, and it travels on the breath. Though prana is sometimes translated as “breath,” it is not the breath itself. It works with the breath, but it is more subtle than the breath.
We channel the pranamaya kosha in a yoga nidra practice by observing the breath. You may be asked to simply observe your inhalation and your exhalation, or you might do a practice like nadi shodhana (alternate-nostril breathing) without using your fingers. Something like, “Breathe into your right nostril. Pause. Exhale out through your left nostril. Pause. Breathe into your left nostril. Pause. Exhale out through your right nostril,” and so forth. The aim is that as you focus on your breath, some of the energetic restrictions in your body release. Then this layer, just like the physical layer, drops away.
3. THE MENTAL/EMOTIONAL LAYER
The third kosha is the manomaya kosha, the “mind body.” This is one of the most fascinating layers, as this is said to be where our emotions reside. When we feel that we are carried away with anger or fear (or are starstruck, like friend B in the example above), we are living in this kosha. The manomaya kosha relates to our instinctive state of mind in all situations, revealing both voluntary and involuntary communication with ourselves and others. We may try to avoid dealing with this layer by pushing it down and ignoring it, but then our emotions can skyrocket to the surface (and beyond), bringing us to a “breaking” point where we can no longer contain our emotional and/or physical reactions. That’s why this layer is addressed in yoga nidra, where we can experience emotions without being governed by them.
You may be asked to notice general sensations of heaviness or lightness, or to feel into your heart, or to recall a time when you were relaxed (and then a time when you were not). Another cool part of this exercise is that you may be able to feel that the manomaya kosha is indeed a separate layer, and that you are in fact not anxiety or happiness or anger— that those are reactions or emotions that merely occur within you.
Once you’ve addressed this layer, it, too, drops away into the background.
4. THE HIGHER INTELLIGENCE LAYER
This layer is the vijnanamaya kosha, the “wisdom body,” and it is the wiser, more intuitive sibling of manomaya kosha. Sometimes something unexpectedly insightful comes out of your mouth and you ask yourself, “Where did that come from?” That’s your vijnanamaya kosha revealing itself. Another example is your gut reaction. For instance, you don’t know why you didn’t cross the street that you cross everyday, even though you looked both ways and saw nothing. Something inside of you told you not to cross that particular day—and a moment later a car came flying down the street without warning. Choosing a different route may have saved your life! This is vijnanamaya kosha at work.
In yoga nidra, we generally work with vijnanamaya kosha through a visualization or a story. It’s you observing you. Pretty trippy, right? From a higher state of being, where you and I are not different and not separate, you might watch yourself walking through a rainforest—observing dark green leaves, with bright pink flowers that grow larger and larger until their yellow centers beam light throughout your entire body. The listening, watching, and feeling come from a deep inner state. Then this layer too drops into the background.
5. THE BLISS LAYER
The fifth sheath is the anandamaya kosha, or “bliss body,” and it can be described as total absorption into a blissful state. This is the subtlest of the five koshas, with only a sliver of separation between you and what is divine.
In yoga nidra, this layer is present in all of the practices for the other layers, and also in the brief silence after the journey ends and before we are brought out of the meditation. I generally allow one to five minutes of silence there, as there is much to be explored in that space—mainly just feeling one’s self completely embraced in the practice.
Upon awakening from yogic sleep, there is typically a feeling of unity between body, breath, and mind. The feeling is one of wholeness, and frequently a feeling of peace and comfort in complete silence. When these are the outcomes of the practice, it signals that all of your layers have been addressed: The celebrity has met and greeted each to its satisfaction, leaving each in a state of peace and rest."
This is such a beautiful journey, the result is the feeling of wholeness, rested and rejuvinated. Below I share some benefits written by Dr. Robert Kiltz. If you go to his website, you can access the science data sources he provides for some of these benefits he sources at https://www.doctorkiltz.com/yoga-nidra/
Physical Health Benefits:
Reduces blood-glucose levels in diabetic patients. 
This study also indicates that it has the potential to reduce headaches, insomnia, sweating, and heart palpitations
Helps increase heart rate variability (HRV). A low HRV is associated with increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. 
Reduces blood pressure, heart rate, breath rate, body mass index (BMI), and Hamilton anxiety rating scale (HARS). 
Helps to stabilize breathing and reduce thoracic dominance (shallow breathing in the upper chest). 
Alleviates lower back pain. 
Mental and Emotional Benefits:
Positively influences stress-related parameters such as skin conductivity and cortisol level. 
Improves the ability to adjust socially. 
Improves self-esteem by lowering life stress intensity levels. 
Increases theta brain wave activity while maintaining alpha brain wave activity. This means that it is different from sleeping and includes conscious awareness and can improve creativity. 
Increases dopamine release by 65%, which can increase positive mood and motivation. 
Decreases anxiety and depression. 
Reduces rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity, while increasing feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy in people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
Increases emotional intelligence. 
It helps to improve sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and lowering hyper-arousal, which contributes to relaxation. 
It has been shown to help those who suffer from chronic insomnia. 
This Friday, I will be guiding a Yoga Nidra practice. We will experience gentle body movement and then take a restful journey. Pillows, eye pillows and blankets are welcome! To learn more and register click on this link: https://www.pcsam.org/event-details/slow-flow-and-yoga-nidra-with-ana
But before we reach this Friday's offering, come and join me tomorrow for a gentle yoga practice. Join me Wednesday at 1pm for our mid-week reset at the church, on instagram @pcsmchurch and our YouTube Channel. Registration is also encouraged. Sign up here: https://www.pcsam.org/event-details/yoga-with-ana-the-self-care-doula-2022-11-16-13-00
My love and blessings to you.
PCSAM Resident Yogi and Self Care Doula