- Yoga Sleep -
The National Institute of Health recently released a study demonstrating that the most mellow forms of yoga—restorative yoga and yoga nidra—can help people lose more than twice the subcutaneous fat than the sweatiest vinyasa flow class in town. Wait. What? How?! Cortisol—the stress hormone most associated with abdominal weight gain— is a notorious contributor to excess weight, and yoga, in general, significantly reduces cortisol levels, particularly restorative practices. So, reduce stress = reduce weight. But what exactly is restorative yoga and yoga nidra?
Restorative yoga is the practice of relaxation. I’ve heard it said that if the various forms of yoga were a full course meal, restorative yoga would be dessert. Soothing and nourishing resting poses are held for 5-10 minutes each with any array of blankets and cushions to comfort and support the body. The goal is to get in touch with and learn to activate your body’s relaxation response. Restorative yoga has long been recognized for its profound ability to relieve stress and anxiety, boost immune function, help people heal from illness and trauma, and gently stretch and open muscles and joints.
Yoga Nidra—the other mellowest form of yoga—is a guided meditation that induces full-body relaxation and a deep meditative state of consciousness. It is also practiced lying down, with the aid of blankets and props to comfort and support your body. It is an ancient but lesser known yogic technique described as “the sleep that awakens pure being.” Yoga Nidra guides you to the twilight place between awake and asleep where ultimate relaxation resides with an invitation to deeply connect with your inner world. Clinical research highlights the effectiveness of Yoga Nidra in improving sleep, balancing the nervous system, healing psychological trauma, and managing chronic pain. Yoga Nidra is now used at Walter Reed hospital and other medical centers to treat PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, and chronic pain conditions.
Yoga Nidra and Restorative Yoga, as restful meditation practices, engender a profound sense of joy, peacefulness and well-being. Deceptively simple, their various elements, taken together and practiced regularly, make up a sophisticated set of mind-body tools that generate pure states of awareness, connect us to our highest truths, and strengthen our capacity to navigate the inner and outer storms of life with abiding calm and tenderness.
Although they are known to induce absolute bliss, restorative yoga and yoga nidra can be challenging for beginners. Just because the body rests quietly doesn’t mean the mind will rest quietly too. Be patient, and be prepared for practices where anxiety and discomfort arise. In time and with practice, you will be rewarded with the ability to drop into a place of deep calm and bliss with ease. This is what yoga is all about, after all—honoring our bodies and stilling our minds so that we can arrive in the present moment and experience with great clarity the peace that resides within.