A true lady never reveals her age, but without exposing the current duration of my time on this earth, I can tell you that I've been an insomniac for 17 years — more than half my life. My insomnia has varied in severity over the years, from restless sleep which sees me waking every hour or so, to truly appalling bouts of lying in the dark for hours on end until I finally drift off as the sun rises. Night terrors have been one of the major factors of this infliction, including terrible nightmares which end with me screaming myself awake, as well as waking hallucinations which usually include the complete and utter conviction that there's someone else in the room with me.
I've tried virtually every treatment possible for insomnia: valerian, melatonin, lavender oil, warm baths, cold showers, warm milk, whole-grain dinners, low GI dinners, no dinner, yoga before bedtime, meditation, earplugs, sleep routines… you name it, I’ve tried it. Over-the-counter sleep aids from pharmacies leave me with a terrible hangover. While living in the U.S., I began taking Ativan, the only medication that's ever truly worked for me, but when I returned to Australia, my general practitioner was rather concerned about me becoming reliant on a highly addictive anti-anxiety pill and prescribed me Temazepam instead. I slept for approximately four hours and was then wide awake for the rest of the night.
I had, reluctantly, become resigned to my condition. Short of checking myself into a sleep clinic, an expensive and terrifying concept, I felt that I had exhausted my options.
Recently, I began a Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy program. On the second evening of the first module, our teacher announced that we would be undertaking a session of yoga nidra.
I had no idea what she was talking about. Afraid of sounding like a naïve idiot, I withheld my questions and meekly lay down on my yoga mat as instructed, my knees propped up over two bolsters, a small cushion under my head, and an eye pillow draped over my face. Great, I thought, an hour of lying on my back. Boring!
But then something unexpected happened; my whole body began to lose sensation. I began to relax. The sound of our teacher’s voice became distant and muffled. I melted into the floor and seriously suspect I may have even fallen asleep at one point, because I was barely aware of a whole hour passing. It wasn’t until about five minutes before the end of the meditation that I came back to my senses as the back of my head began to ache from being still on the floor for so long.
When the meditation came to a close, I sat up and noticed an amazing surge of peaceful energy flowing through my entire body. Elated by such a relaxing and enlightening experience, I went home, got straight into bed and slept through the whole night, unaided, for the first time in months.
So what is yoga nidra, and why does it have such a fantastic effect on my sleep-deprived body? Yoga nidra, or "yogi sleep," is a sleep-like state experienced during a lengthy meditation. It is often employed to help reduce tension and anxiety, as well as symptoms of chronic pain, dizziness and heart palpitations. The techniques of yoga nidra are found in the Mandukya Upanishad, which describes three separate levels of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep.
You can, of course, read the Mandukya Upanishad, but the most beneficial way to experience yoga nidra as beginner is to attend a class where a teacher reads the text to you, or find a recording that you can listen to at home. There are many recordings designed for yoga nidra available to purchase online, or if you’re not sure about committing to a recording without trying a few, there are many excerpts available on YouTube.
Find a comfortable, quiet space in your home. Lie down in a position that you can easily maintain for an extended period of time, using cushions, bolsters or an eye mask as necessary. Using a recording of your choice to guide your meditation, allow yourself the indulgence of complete surrender to the practice. Don’t worry if you fall asleep; this is normal for beginners. If, like me, you struggle to sleep, be glad of the extra rest!
Regular sessions of yoga nidra are recommended to truly reap the benefits of the practice. Try to incorporate the meditation into your daily routine at least three times a week as you become comfortable with the practice. You’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time.