Yoga nidra has been one of my main offerings both in yoga retreats and studio classes for over a decade. As a teacher and psychologist, I can’t talk enough about the incredible benefits of this technique. In this article, I would like to share with you what’s going on in your brain while you are practicing yoga nidra and why “the best nap of your life” always leaves you feeling so refreshed.
During yoga nidra practice you are prompted to feel your body and your breath using a specific technique that takes you out of “fight-flight-freeze” state and triggers the relaxation response.
The relaxation response is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This shift to restful mode in turn aligns the activity of your right and left brain hemispheres.
In the process, your brain shifts from beta brain waves (state of awakening with lots of brain activity), to alpha brain waves (a more relaxed state which is associated with sitting in a relaxed position with eyes closed and visual channel disconnected.)
In alpha, the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin gets released, and brings about a feeling of calm. There is a scientifically studied link between anxiety and how much time we spend in a state where beta brain waves prevail. So as you move into alpha-state, you are slowing down the brain activity and beginning to shift into a state of rest.
From alpha, you continue to transition into a deep alpha and theta brain-wave state, which is also referred to as “the dream state”, or REM state. Your thoughts slow down even more. Here, you are more likely to experience enhanced learning process (common state for kids and creatives). This is also a state where we process our emotions, and release the ones that no longer serve us. This state is associated with hearing sounds or seeing images – just like you do when you are dreaming.
After theta, you dive into blissful delta brain wave state. Your thoughts continue to slow down. This is the most restorative and restful state, in which your organs regenerate and the body metabolises cortisol – the stress hormone, and moves it out of your system.
Sadly, under normal circumstances, very few of us get enough delta-quality rest on a regular basis, which means we are not allowing our bodies, brains and vital organs to regenerate fully.
This is why adding yoga nidra to your menu of self-care practices is so important.