Yoga Nidra and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Yoga nidra translates as yogic sleep and it’s a practice that guides participants into that realm between wakefulness and sleep. It’s much like hypnosis, however the nidra practitioner is encouraged to stay awake and alert.

I experienced this deep relaxation at a recent training event, and found it to be phenomenal. Being a yoga practitioner and regular meditator, I thought I understood what relaxation felt like in my body, but yoga nidra took it to a whole new level. Incredibly relaxed yet still lucid, I was guided through different layers of my being – the body, the breath, sensory perceptions like hot and cold, and imagery – all while I felt, aware, safe and protected.
 
This deeply relaxed state is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) in full force. The PNS is the relaxation response and it’s crucial for healing. The body can’t begin to repair and restore itself, to heal, until we move out of the stress response, which is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and into the parasympathetic nervous system. I’ve touched on this in two previous posts, A Relaxation Revolution and Meditation and the Relaxation Response.
 
The way we live today, so technically connected and with our schedules so packed, we hang out in the stress response. We’re attuned to it. It’s the norm for us to constantly be concerned with what’s next or how can I fill this moment? What else do I need to do or how can I entertain myself now? We stay ‘on guard’ and thus are chronically activating the stress response. It’s part of our goal-achieving mentality and it has served us well . . . up to a point. And that point is when we can’t turn it off.
 
I recommend that you know what gets you into the relaxation response (PNS) – a hot bath, a walk in the woods, a massage, a love-fest with your pet – and use these often. It’s for your health! If you’d like to try yoga nidra, here’s a sample you can follow along with at home.
 
Interested in trying yoga nidra in a studio? Join me for a session on December 22 in Philadelphia. Click here to learn more.
 
Adapted from a 2016 blog written by Michelle Stortz, Unite for HER Yoga Advisor
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