Yoga After 50 For Dummies
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Sometimes referred to as Yoga Nidra, Yoga sleep describes a state in which the body completely relaxes, while the mind remains at least somewhat focused. The practice is as old as Yoga itself and is sometimes viewed as a form of meditation.

It is actually quite different, however. During meditation, your mind stays on a conscious level. You certainly attempt to change that conscious state, to allow for more steadiness or focus, but that all happens on a relatively conscious level.

Yoga sleep attempts to bring you gradually to your subconscious mind — the place where all your old torments reside, all the thoughts and feelings that prevent you from sleeping. In simple terms, using Yoga sleep, you try to replace those old torments with newer, more positive resolutions.

You may want to think of Yoga Nidra more as an alternative to sleep, rather than a pathway to it. Using this technique, practitioners often find they derive the same benefits as they do from a good night’s sleep. Other people find that the practice itself actually helps them fall asleep.

Either way, Yoga Nidra can be a powerful tool for dealing with both sleep disorders and stress. Many books have been written on the subject, and Dr. Richard Miller, a dear friend and colleague, has done some pioneering work using Yoga Nidra techniques to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues with returning veterans. (His version is called Integrative Rest, or iRest.)

Note: Richard Miller is a world-renowned yogic teacher, author, scholar, and researcher, as well as a clinical psychologist. In addition to creating iRest, which has offered profound benefits to many, including soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD, Richard is also cofounder, with me, of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Yoga sleep scripts

One of the essential components of a Yoga Nidra session is the guide — the voice of the person leading you into a conscious state of deep relaxation. Practicing at home can be problematic if you expect to have a live person sitting at the foot of your bed, leading your session. But lying back and listening to a recording (to someone whose voice you like and who’s words are soothing) is easy enough.

Yoga Nidra session Relaxing for a Yoga Nidra session.

You can find recordings to purchase that may help you experience a Yoga sleep session at home.

These recordings are also available (some at no charge) on some of the meditation apps, including

  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • Insight Timer

Develop an intention or resolve

Yoga sleep will attempt to bring you into your subconscious mind — to help you get beneath the surface. When you get there, you want to bring with it an intention, or resolve, regarding yourself and your life. Typically, you should select something that doesn’t involve economic gain, though common examples often include finding personal or professional success. Other intentions might focus on personal health or the health of those around you. You may also create a resolve to be a positive presence in someone’s life.

This intention will then be used to supplant certain detrimental thought patterns that have no basis in your present reality, that may in fact be the residue of another time (like childhood), that may be a leading cause of the stress in our life (especially bedtime stress), and that is actually helping to shape the general flow of your life — for the worse.

The new resolve, then, is an essential part of Yoga sleep. That’s why I hope you will give it some thought; the more powerful your resolve or intention, the more effective the Yoga Nidra practice will be.

The following tips may come in handy when creating your own intention

  • Make it succinct and easy to state.
  • Choose wording you can remember and reuse.
  • Identify an intention or resolve that will bring about a positive change in you or in your life.
  • Remember that you are bringing this thought into your subconscious.
So, if coming up with your own resolve actually creates more stress for you, let it go. You don’t have to come up with the perfect intention right from the start. In fact, maybe the process itself — the trips back and forth into your subconscious mind — will reveal some of the sources of your stress and bring to mind a new declaration that will ultimately serve you better. In this case, patience could indeed be a virtue.

Yoga Sleep at Home

I’ve created a home practice for you that can be a good place to start if you’re considering further exploration of Yoga Nidra. In this exercise, you will achieve focus, not by listening to someone else, but rather by directing your mind to perform what is sometimes called a body scan.
  1. Lie flat on your back, with your arms in a comfortable position.

    If needed, place a pillow or folded blanket behind your neck for support and another pillow or folded blanket under your knees for added comfort.

    Yoga Nidra position. Yoga Nidra position.
  2. Let your eyes gently close.
  3. Take some deep breaths, breathing only through the nose (if possible).
  4. Visualize your entire body lying comfortably on the floor(this is called Whole Body Awareness).
  5. Bring to mind a resolve, intention, or course of action.
  6. Starting with the right side of your body, let your mental awareness scan that side of your body (in the following sequence):
    • Right thumb, index, middle, ring, and little fingers
    • Palm of the hand
    • Back of the hand
    • Wrist
    • The right hand as a whole
    • Forearm
    • Elbow
    • Upper arm
    • Shoulder joint
    • Shoulder
    • Neck
    • The face (forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin)
    • Right ear
    • Scalp
    • Throat
    • Chest
    • Side of the rib cage
    • Right shoulder blade
    • Waist
    • Stomach
    • Lower abdomen
    • Genitals
    • Thigh
    • The right knee
    • Shin
    • Calf
    • Ankle
    • Top of the right foot
    • Heel
    • Sole
    • Big toe and remaining toes
  7. Be aware of your body as a whole.
  8. Repeat the scan in Step 6 on the left side of your body, again ending with the whole-body awareness.
  9. Next, visualize the back side of your body
    • How the back of your head touches the floor or neck support
    • Right and left shoulders
    • Upper back
    • Hips
    • Back of your thighs
    • Calves
    • Heels
  10. Again, focus on your intention and finish with overall body awareness again (like in Step 4). You can drift off to sleep now. If you’re getting up, roll to one side and push up; don’t start by lifting your head forward.

You’re not constrained by time in this exercise, so take as much or as little time as you need. The tempo is up to you.

This particular routine does not require you to follow a recording, but instead requires you to focus on the body scan process. And please don’t think you have to memorize or keep coming back to the preceding list. My only intention is to give you a sense of where to start and end and some points you may want to hit along the way. Don’t worry if you leave out body parts or even add parts I don’t have on the list.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Larry Payne, PhD, is the founding president of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and was named one of America’s most respected yoga teachers by the Los Angeles Times. Georg Feuerstein, PhD, was internationally respected for his contribution to Yoga research and the history of consciousness.

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