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Yoga Nidra: A Journey to Enhanced Well-being Through Restorative Sleep and Cognitive Improvement

Yoga Nidra
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Yoga Nidra: A Journey to Enhanced Well-being Through Restorative Sleep and Cognitive Improvement

Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSPH, Lic.LCCH, Dip.ACH. President: The Complementary Medical Association

Jayney Goddard reports on a recent study on the use of yoga nidra for better sleep and improved cognitive function:

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, the quest for improved sleep and cognitive functions has led many of us to explore various mindfulness practices – myself included. Among these, the ancient practice of yoga nidra stands out as a beacon of tranquillity and mental clarity. A recent study conducted by Karuna Datta of the Armed Forces Medical College in India, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, sheds light on the profound benefits of yoga nidra, especially for novices seeking a path to better sleep and enhanced mental faculties.

On a personal note, yoga nidra was a life-saver (no exaggeration!) when I was looking after my Dad in his final months. There were multiple weekly dashes to A&E at two, three and four in the morning, and sleep became elusive for me. I discovered that the practice of a yoga nidra 20-minute meditation is supposed to be the equivalent of two hours of deep restorative sleep – so of course I had to try it!

I found that when I was able to snatch a quick 20 minutes here and there, I could pop on my headphones and relax incredibly deeply – and this was surprising, given the hustle and bustle of hospital environments. I also noticed that, sleep-deprived as I was, I wasn’t exhibiting any of the usual sleep deprivation symptoms that are known to impact both physical and mental health.

When we get inadequate sleep we will, of course, experience fatigue and daytime sleepiness, making it difficult to stay alert and focused during the day. However, it goes deeper than than, cognitive impairments such as memory issues, decreased concentration, and slowed reaction times are common, as well as mood disturbances including irritability, anxiety, and depression. Physically, sleep deprivation can lead to us having a weakened immune system, increased risk of high blood pressure, and weight gain due to hormonal imbalances affecting appetite – the over production of cortisol (associated with chronic inflammation and visceral fat gain), and the up-regulation of ghrelin. Ghrelin is nick-named “the hunger hormone,” and it is over-produced when we are sleep deprived. Ghrelin plays a key role in weight gain because, in addition to its several other important functions, it can signal to your brain that it’s time to eat. Additionally, poor sleep may exacerbate the risk of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, underscoring the critical role that sufficient sleep plays in our overall well-being.

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra, often described as yogic sleep, is a form of meditation and a mindful relaxation practice that is performed lying down. It is distinct from more active forms of yoga, which focus on physical postures and breath control. Instead, yoga nidra guides individuals into a state of conscious deep relaxation, where they can leave behind the noise of the mind and enter a serene, restful consciousness.

The Historical Roots of Yoga Nidra

The origins of yoga nidra can be traced back to the ancient tantric scriptures, where it was described as a powerful tool for self-discovery and inner transformation. Over the centuries, it has been refined and adapted by various spiritual teachers and now serves as a bridge between physical well-being and spiritual growth. It encapsulates the essence of yoga’s meditative practices, aiming to unify the body, mind, and spirit.

The Study’s Findings

The recent pilot study conducted by Datta and colleagues brings to light the tangible benefits of practicing yoga nidra regularly. Participants in the study engaged in two weeks of 20-minute yoga nidra sessions, using an audio recording to guide them through the process. The results were promising, showing a significant increase in the percentage of delta waves during deep sleep, an indicator of restorative sleep. Moreover, participants demonstrated improvements across all tested cognitive abilities, including memory, decision-making, and abstraction, without any loss in accuracy.

Health Benefits of Yoga Nidra

The implications of these findings are profound, suggesting that yoga nidra can be a valuable tool in enhancing one’s quality of life through:

Improved sleep quality: The increase in delta waves signifies deeper, more restorative sleep, allowing the body and mind to heal and rejuvenate.

Enhanced cognitive functions: Faster and more accurate responses in cognitive tests indicate improved brain function, which can be beneficial in daily activities and long-term mental health.

Increased mindfulness and relaxation: By fostering a state of deep relaxation, yoga nidra can help reduce stress and anxiety, contributing to overall well-being.

Accessible and Cost-Effective Practice

One of the most appealing aspects of yoga nidra is its accessibility and cost-effectiveness. It can be practised anywhere, requiring only a quiet space and a few minutes of one’s day. This makes it an ideal practice for people from all walks of life seeking a simple yet effective method to improve their sleep and cognitive abilities.

Final Thoughts

As we continue to navigate the challenges of contemporary life, the ancient practice of yoga nidra offers a sanctuary of peace and rejuvenation. The recent study by Karuna Datta and colleagues not only validates the anecdotal benefits of yoga nidra, but also highlights its potential as a powerful tool for enhancing sleep quality and cognitive performance. Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or new to the world of mindfulness, yoga nidra might just be the path to better sleep, sharper thinking, and a more harmonious life.

My Gift To You

If you would like to try yoga nidra for yourself, please head over to JayneyGoddard.org, as I have several free downloads there for my site visitors, one of which is my Yoga Nidra Meditation for Deep Restorative Sleep. I really believe that good sleep is one of the most fundamental cornerstones of vibrant health, and this recording seems to be very popular. In fact, many of the people who have listened to it tell me that they love it but have “absolutely no idea how it ends“, which to me is the best possible testimonial. Please also feel free to share this recording with your friends, colleagues, and loved ones.

Reference

Datta K, Bhutambare A, Mamatha VL, Narawa Y, Srinath R, Kanitkar M (2023) Improved sleep, cognitive processing and enhanced learning and memory task accuracy with Yoga nidra practice in novices. PLoS ONE 18(12): e0294678. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0294678

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