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Yoga Nidra: Discover the healing space between being awake and asleep

Yoga Nidra is booming. It is a form of meditation that puts you in a deep state of relaxation, even call it a trance in which you gain access to your subconscious. That while you are nice and warm under a blanket throughout the lesson. How this works exactly and why it is so beneficial (especially for bad sleepers!) We asked Yoga Nidra teacher Suze Retera.

Interview & Text: Karlijn Visser for Holistik

What is Yoga Nidra?

Suze: 'Yoga Nidra is a form of deep meditation and relaxation in which you lie down and follow a voice that talks you through a structured meditation. The target? A state of deep relaxation and access to the subconscious, so that healing can take place on a deep level. It is therefore not an active practice or technique that you have to learn or practice, everyone can do it! Yoga Nidra literally means 'yoga sleep' or 'sleep of the yogi'. But it's anything but sleeping as you do at night. Through Yoga Nidra, you reach a state of deep relaxation that is in between being awake and sleeping. It takes you into a twilight zone in which your rational brain sleeps, but your subconscious remains active and thus maintains a trace of connection with your surroundings. The deep relaxation creates theta and delta brain waves, you reach a trance state in which experiences and fragments of memories are processed, muscle tension and stress in the body decrease, and blood pressure and heart rate decrease. This has a very healing effect on body and mind.'

What do you do as a teacher while giving Yoga Nidra?

Suze: The teacher first lets you relax, after which, depending on the style of Yoga Nidra, you make contact with your Sankalpa (loosely translated as 'intention' or 'heart's desire'). Then you are guided through a rotation through the body, which ensures that you relax deeply and possibly reach a state of trance. The theme of the Nidra can differ and be chosen based on the needs or complaints of the student. Think of Nidras for stimulating creativity, releasing trauma, insomnia, depression, or deep relaxation. The theme runs like a red thread through the Nidra and after the body rotation is discussed in the breathing, visualizations and the introduction of opposites: such as hot and cold, light and heavy, or dark and light. This further disrupts the rational brain, deepens the trance, and brings together the opposites, which can alter the neurological pathways in the brain. Then the teacher brings you back to your breathing, your Sankalpa, and slowly back to an awake state after which the Yoga Nidra is completed.

Has it been around for a long time or is it a fairly new form of yoga?

Suze: Yoga Nidra - just like yoga - has existed for centuries and has roots in the Upanishads and Vedic texts (first texts: Mahabarate 300 BC – 300 AD). Elements of Yoga Nidra are also reflected in the most famous yoga text, the Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, such as achieving a 'dream state' and the cultivation of opposites, which is part of Yoga Nidra.

Why has Yoga Nidra become so popular?

Suze: 'Yoga Nidra has long been part of the practice of many yoga practitioners, but it is indeed less known in the West than yoga asana and seated meditation. It may be that this is partly due to the focus we in the West have on a physically challenging practice, and the idea that you have to 'work' for insights and enlightenment. Yoga Nidra is also sometimes seen as less advanced or profound than seated meditation. However, research and experience show that this is absolutely not the case. The effects of Yoga Nidra are as powerful and profound as a daily meditation. It may be that it is now becoming more popular as people become more aware of the need for deep relaxation and less 'doing'.'

What is the power of Yoga Nidra for you?

Suze: 'It is very accessible, not dogmatic, and easy to apply in your daily life. You can't go wrong and it invites you to be a little softer on yourself. The relaxation that Yoga Nidra gives is very deep, so it has a strong effect on your sense of well-being but also gives space and clarity for healing and insights. In addition, it is very easy to tailor to you as an individual. For example, in a therapeutic setting, a specific Yoga Nidra can be created based on your needs. It is the powerful effect combined with the softness of the practice that appeals to me.'

Can you also practice it without guided meditation?

Suze: 'Traditionally, during Yoga Nidra, you follow a voice that guides you. It is possible to do 'Self Nidra' with a lot of experience and practice. But being guided is perhaps one of the nicest things about Yoga Nidra. So it is basically a guided meditation where the themes can vary. Be a little careful about listening to random Yoga Nidras you find on the internet, as it is often difficult to judge the quality yourself. Yoga Nidra nevertheless puts you in a state of deep relaxation. This makes you receptive and impressionable to what is said during the practice, which is why some caution is appropriate. For Holistik's Sleep Dossier, I have recorded 3 Yoga Nidras as guided meditation, which brings you into that state of deep relaxation in different ways.'

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