Written by Koren Barwis
My first experience with Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, was while on a yoga safari in Zimbabwe this past August. One of the organizers of the trip, Dianne, is an experienced yoga teacher and she led us through Yoga Nidra one evening.
We met at sunset on the deck of Dianne’s tent overlooking the Zambezi river. After a long day of walking in Victoria Falls, I was not up for a physically challenging practice. A little relaxation was just what I needed.
Before we began, Dianne explained that Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation helps reset the brain’s wiring. It isn’t really sleeping and it isn’t meditation; it is somewhere in between. Yoga Nidra calms the nervous system and is even being used to treat soldiers suffering from PTSD.
Dianne told us to think about our salkalpa or intention based on our heart’s desire. We were supposed to focus on and come back to our salkalpa throughout the practice. I decided on “I will publish my wellness book.”
We did some light stretching and then laid down in savasana. Dianne began by calling our awareness to each body part, one by one. She then had us count down from 100 and I think I got to 95. I was completely relaxed and floated in and out of consciousness, but not falling completely asleep. A few times I felt the sensation of falling, just like when I’m about to fall asleep.
Lastly, Dianne went through a series of words that had no apparent association — nouns like baseball, bathrobe, and beach ball. We were to visualize them briefly and then move on to the next. We closed the practice with silence.
Note, there were two drawbacks of practicing outside in Africa: mosquitoes and hippos. Since it was winter there, I had chosen not to take the malaria preventative medication. But I was still a little paranoid about getting bitten. It didn’t help that one of the gals in our group got roughly 25 bites the night prior. Every time the wind blew my hair or I heard buzzing, I felt the urge (which I resisted) to bat them away. The hippos weren’t very close to us, but their territorial calls carry for miles, so we’d hear them every now and then. It was charming and special, but a tad distracting.
We wrapped up and I felt very zen. Altogether, the entire practice took about an hour, but the sense of calm lasted the rest of the night.
When I returned home, I encouraged my husband and 12-year old daughter to try Yoga Nidra. Neither of them practice yoga, but no experience is required. I looked online and found a lot of local studios, including Flow, offer classes and workshops. I signed us up for one.
My daughter fought going, but fell completely asleep in about five minutes. My husband thoroughly enjoyed it, although laying on his back started to bother him about half way through. For me, the second time was just as relaxing as the first and left me in a state of peace for hours and days to come.
If you want to try Yoga Nidra at home, there are CDs you can buy and videos on YouTube. I haven’t delved into either of those options because I prefer to be surrounded by the energy of the class around me and maybe even an occasional hippo call.