How often do you slow down when you’re feeling great? No, not when you’re already out for a run but before you even pull on your trainers. Have you ever thought about stopping and taking a break – a proactive recovery day – when you aren’t exhausted?
The movement and meditation experts at Hussle’s yoga partner, Yogaia, explain how regularly switching up a run for a yogic sleep session (yes, you read that correctly) could be the key to making you the best athlete you can be.
Commonly Asked Questions On Proactive Recovery For Runners With Yoga Nidra
What is proactive recovery?
We all know what reactive recovery is, even if we’ve never had a name for it. When you naturally need to chill out after a long session in the gym or a big run, your recovery is reactive to these events. So, how do we be proactive about our recovery in advance?
Some people find it hard to stop and take a break when they feel fresh and ready to keep working out. However, by building in periods of proactive recovery time into your training or running schedule, you won’t constantly be pushing yourself until your crash. In fact, by not prioritising proactive recovery, you could easily face burnout or injury.
It’s also important to remember that it’s not just your body that benefits from making time for proactive recovery but also your mind. We can prepare ourselves mentally for the pressure and stresses of everyday life when we make time to find our balance even when we are feeling relaxed and calm. This is where a regular proactive recovery practice like Yoga Nidra can help with enhancing both your body and mind.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Often when we hear the word yoga, we picture a person bending themselves into all manner of impressive positions. However, yoga is actually an umbrella term covering a whole range of holistic exercises and different styles of practice – from the physical to the meditative.
Yoga Nidra is a simple but effective meditation practice that requires no previous experience because an instructor guides it. Nidra is the Sanskrit word for sleep, and that is where this form of meditation differs from others, as it is practised while laying down (known as a supine position).
If you’re worried about whether you may indeed drift off to sleep while doing this meditation, don’t be. Yoga Nidra aims to stimulate hypnagogia, the transitional state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep. So, unlike transcendental meditation, for example, which is
conducted in an aware awake state, Yoga Nidra transports you into an aware asleep state, also known as hypnagogia.
One of the fascinating things about this initial stage of sleep, when we are still conscious but beginning to drift away, is that we enter what Valdas Noreika, a Cambridge University researcher, calls a “natural fragmentation of consciousness.” In a 2015 study, Noreika developed the hypothesis that when we enter hypnagogia, our brains begin to let go of the mental filters that we use to interpret the world while awake, leading us into a more unconstrained cognitive state.
This is where the powers of Yoga Nidra as a restorative practice for both the mind and body lie. Reaching a stage where we are physiologically asleep yet still maintaining both an internal and external awareness means that we can induce ourselves into a complete state of physical and mental relaxation. We also truly detach from all other stimuli and withdraw from all our senses aside from the audible direction coming from our Yoga Nidra instructor.
Why is Yoga Nidra so helpful for runners and athletes?
There are two elements to a Yoga Nidra practice that are very beneficial for any active person, especially those who enjoy a challenging run.
Firstly, the Sankalpa or intention setting that happens at the start and end of each meditation. This short positive affirmation (such as “I am strong” or “I am calm”) enhances our sense of wellbeing and drives the development of our mental resilience.
Secondly, the full-body scan allows you to check in with how you are feeling physically. It’s a great time to observe how your legs, knees and feet are at that time and if perhaps there are any sensations we have been ignoring. It isn’t a time to hyper-focus on this but to tune in and be more present with ourselves.
Long term, there are several benefits from Yoga Nidra that can help all athletes, including runners. A 2020 study by researchers at Bundeswehr University Munich, Germany, found that even making a short Yoga Nidra practice a part of your everyday life could help lower stress levels and improve sleep quality. This enhanced quality of restorative sleep and recovery impacts an athlete’s performance and a general sense of wellbeing, making their proactive recovery a key asset.
Speaking of stress and anxiety, their physical signs in athletes (such as surging cortisol and depleted dopamine levels) can be regulated through a regular Yoga Nidra practice, improving their capacity for arousal management. For example, a 2018 study by the Federal University of Sergipe, Brazil, found that this specific form of yoga can effectively reduce both cognitive and physiological symptoms of anxiety.
Another vital part of an athlete’s performance is self-regulation –meaning the internal balance of feelings, thoughts, and actions. A 2 018 study by the Pramukhswami Medical College in India
found that a regular Yoga Nidra practice improves feelings of happiness, enthusiasm, and serenity. Participants were also more inspired and alert, with clarity of thought, control over anger, and self-confidence.
The Ten Steps of Yoga Nidra
Rishin, one of Yogaia’s amazing movement coaches, explains the different stages of a Yoga Nidra practice, which an instructor will guide you through.
1. Connect to your heart
Most of us tend to intellectualise or overthink things. We can experience the practice from a more intuitive perspective by connecting to our heart.
2. Set an intention
Once we have connected with our heart, this gives us an opportunity to identify a heartfelt desire. This can be something that we wish to manifest more of in our lives or the world in general. Sometimes this can be summarised as a sentence, but it could also simply be a feeling.
3. Find your inner resource
An inner resource can be a visualisation of a place, people or an experience you have had, which you can draw on whenever you need to provide you with the strength to deal with challenging situations. Finding such a resource gives us the strength to achieve our intention
4-8. Awareness and connection
In yoga philosophy, there is a theory that all humans are made up of layers:
● A physical layer that relates to our body.
● An energetic layer that’s closely related to our nervous system and breath.
● An emotional layer that relates to our feelings.
● A mental layer than relates to our thoughts.
It’s easy to be pulled away from our true self when we are distracted by physical sensations, constant energetic shifts, emotions and thoughts. By scanning our body and noticing our breath, emotions, and thoughts consciously, we train ourselves to be aware of them without getting too attached to them and can experience a state of joy where we can connect with our true self.
So, this is encompassed through the following steps:
4. Scan your body
5. Be aware of your breath
6. Welcome your feelings
7. Examine your thoughts without judging or trying to block them
8. Experience joy
9. Observe your ‘self’
Once we have peeled away all the above layers, we move into a state where we can connect with a state unaffected by external forces. Without the distractions of sensations, emotions and thoughts, this becomes a place where we often experience deep clarity.
10. Reflect on your practise
When exiting the practice, it’s essential to reflect on the practice, especially on the intention that we set. This allows us to reap the benefits of the practice long after we have ended Yoga Nidra.
Tips for practising Yoga Nidra
- Remove as many distractions from your surroundings as possible. Find a quiet space, switch your phone onto Do Not Disturb, and perhaps try wearing a sleep mask to block any light if you find the room too bright to focus.
- As you slow your mind down, your body will also cool down, so you could find it distracting if you begin to get cold. If the room you are doing your session in is a little chilly, make sure you put on a cosy jumper and socks – or even wrap yourself up in a blanket.
- Yoga Nidra is a great way to relax the body and mind before bed, especially if you have trouble falling asleep at night. Try doing a session while lying on your bed (or somewhere else comfortable).
Want more guidance? Try Yogaia for free!
Yogaia is the world’s first live, interactive online yoga studio. Yogaia has been helping thousands of happy members take the smallest possible step to everyday self-care since 2013, offering not only yoga but meditation, workouts and more.
Yogaia offers convenient online cross-training and recovery sessions live and on-demand. Unlimited access to guided mobility and stretching routines, relaxing meditation and mindfulness sessions, and refreshing yoga and pilates designed for runners are all included.
Discover Yogaia for yourself with a free 14-day trial! Create an account now and experience all the features that make it an essential tool for every runner.
Are you looking for gyms near me where you can get access to Yogaia at the same time? Use Hussle’s network of 1000s of gyms and fitness centres to find the perfect gym near me and book online easily. There’s a pass to suit you, with one-off visits, multi-gym access, or full gym membership.