Recharge like Google's CEO!
“I can relax by listening to podcasts. I found these podcasts which are non-sleep deep rest or NSDR. So while I find it difficult to meditate, I can go to YouTube and find an NSDR video. They’re available in 10, 20 or 30 minutes.”
- Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google
Dr. Andrew Huberman coined the acronym NSDR (non-sleep deep rest) to describe a relaxation technique that guides you into a restful state between being awake and asleep. He chose the acronym NSDR because he’s a professor of neurobiology, and academics love acronyms. And he chose NSDR because he thought that people may resist practicing NSDR by its real name…
Choose the term you prefer, and let's explore what NSDR/yoga nidra is all about, and what it can do for you.
NSDR/yoga nidra is an ancient technique that follows the same biology that takes you from wakefulness to sleep, but enables you to rest in the gap between between the two states. Through a guided process, you direct your attention to your body and your breath, relaxing physically and distancing yourself from the clamor of your thoughts. It’s a type of meditation that feels effortless, a retreat from “doing doing doing” that results in a sensation that yoga nidra expert Kamini Desai describes as “floating.”
NSDR/yoga nidra is performed in my favorite yoga position, savasana, also known as the corpse pose. You lie on your back with your palms facing upward, on a yoga mat or any place other than your bed because if you lie down on your bed, chances are you’ll fall asleep because that’s what you’ve been conditioned to do.
This week provided me with an ideal opportunity to practice yoga nidra. After entertaining guests into the wee hours, I was sleep deprived and in need of restoration. 45 minutes of yoga nidra is said to be equivalent to 3 hours of sleep, so I chose a guided sequence from Kamini Desai's Yoga Nidra app called the “Rapid Recharge,” 21 minutes that I figured would be equivalent to roughly 1.5 hours of sleep — exactly the top-up I needed!
I found the experience to be trancelike — it was as if I was suspended in a wakeful, yet dreamy state. What surprised me is that, although I was tired, I didn't fall asleep, and the brief session of yoga nidra left me feeling significantly refreshed.
The next day I tried a 20-minute NSDR video with the subtitle “A tool for rapid deep nervous system relaxation” that opened with scientific claims about enhancing sleep, learning, and cognitive capacity. The main difference I noticed between the NSDR and yoga nidra sessions is that NSDR directed attention to my breath and many body parts, whereas yoga nidra broadened the practice to include intentionality along with breath and body awareness. Yoga nidra not only relaxes you, but gently sets a direction for your life with intentions such as “I am here to empower others” repeated while you’re in a relaxed, receptive state.
NSDR exclusively focuses on the physical aspects of relaxation without the spiritual element. To me, NSDR felt somewhat clinical, like my consciousness was being processed through a computer algorithm. I can imagine how such an approach would appeal to Silicon Valley types, and those who recoil from the phrase “embody your interconnected wholeness.” Appropriately, the session ended with the words “Your practice of NSDR is now complete.” After 20 minutes of NSDR I continued with the normal operations of my day feeling relaxed, but not as uplifted as I felt with the previous day’s interconnected wholeness.
What can NSDR/yoga nidra do for you? I strongly encourage you to give it a try and find out for yourself — please check out the options presented under the Get Fully Charged heading — but based on the research and experience of practitioners, you can expect three main benefits:
1. Stress reduction - When you’re between being awake and asleep, your thoughts become less sticky and more fragmented. With practice, you can get better at disengaging from repetitive negative thought patterns, and can even nip trauma in the bud before it becomes a stress disorder.
2. Accelerated learning and creativity - A recent study reported in Science Advances looked at people’s ability to uncover a hidden rule to solve a math problem under three conditions: one, participants stayed awake; two, participants took a nap; and three, participants hovered between sleep and awareness in the state produced by NSDR/yoga nidra. People in the NSDR/yoga nidra protocol who almost fell asleep but didn’t quite get there were 3 times more likely to discover the hidden trick than those who stayed awake and 6 times more likely than the nappers. The authors called the non-sleep non-awake state the “ideal cocktail for creativity.”
3. Recharge! - Based on anecdotal reports from Google CEO Sundar Pichai, neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, and countless other practitioners, you can expect a session of NSDR/yoga nidra to leave you feeling refreshed, restored, and rejuvenated.
“NSDR, I really want to emphasize, in addition to being zero-cost, is a very powerful tool if done regularly.”
- Andrew Huberman, Ph.D.
Get Fully Charged on NSDR/Yoga Nidra
Sundar Pinchai discusses NSDR and how walking helps him think in “Google CEO Sundar Pinchai's Vision for Return to Work” from The Wall Street Journal.
You can hear Dr. Andrew Huberman talk about NSDR and how it helped him recover from the trauma of a near-death experience in this wide-ranging interview with Tim Ferriss.
Kamini Desai, Ph.D. Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep is the definitive book on NSDR.
Get a sense for yoga nidra in this interview with Kamini Desai “The Original Power Nap - Yoga Nidra.”
Here are a few NSDR/yoga nidra scripts available for free on YouTube: 10 minutes of yoga nidra stress busting with Kamini Desai, 30 minutes with Liam Gillen, and 20 minutes of NSDR. For a minimal cost, Kamini Desai’s yoga nidra app will give you a variety of sessions to choose from including yoga nidra for sleep, healing and creativity.
I will be taking a couple of weeks off from this newsletter for some restorative NSDR vacation. See you in April!