The Emotional Benefits of Yoga Nidra

 

Yoga Nidra-  "A systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation"  

Swami SatyanandaSaraswati

 

Yoga Nidra comes from two Sanskrit words. Yoga - Union or focused awareness and Nidra - Sleep. Therefore Yoga Nidra means Yoga Sleep, a union of both wakeful awareness and sleeping states.

Yoga Nidra is a powerful practice of meditation and guided imagery. It is a practice of Pratyahara, the Sanskrit word for conscious withdrawal of the senses, where consciousness can be separated from external focus/senses and from sleep. It is dynamic sleep with full conscious awareness.  The Yoga Nidra involves the powerful use of Sankalpa (Intention or Resolve). It also involves specific techniques to train the mind to practice rotating consciousness, to shift awareness, experience feeling/sensing opposites and to experience symbolism/imagery usually seen only in sleep.  The use of symbolism and imagery, unique to Yoga Nidra, awakens and impacts the unconscious mind.  The practice of Yoga Nidra generally lasts twenty to forty minutes,however it can be practiced in as little as ten to fifteen minutes.

Yoga Nidra is a specific set of breath, body, mindful and relaxation practices that induces alpha wave dominance in the brain.  Alpha waves occur when one is closest to sleep yet not asleep. It is characterized by mental relaxation.  In western psychology this state is called ‘hypnagogic’ and is a state most closely associated with increased receptivity and decreased reactivity.  By training the mind with the Yoga Nidra practice, it is possible to access a brain state between asleep and fully alert, a state where one's mind becomes open to all its potential.  When complete relaxation is achieved, our receptivity is not influenced by our conscious mind and its perceived limitations; it becomes open to the limitless possibilities and potentials for healing the emotions, body, mind and spirit.

When we practice Yoga Nidra we are directed to follow the voice and instruction of the guide, to bring an 'observer's' mind and turn our focus inward.   With the practice of Yoga Nidra, we are not just relaxing (although it is a wonderful tool for this).  We are systematically moving slowly to ever deeper realms of the mind, through conscious, subconscious and unconscious layers (in Yogic philosophy these are known and divided into the Five Koshas).  When we move through the Koshas we can confront deeply rooted emotional tensions and/or beliefs.  These beliefs are called Samskara (the Sanskrit word for mental grooves in the mind).  Through the practice or Yoga Nidra repressed emotions can be released and beliefs restructured.   From our earliest childhoods the events of our lives are registered both as a narrative story and as implicit memories, subconscious beliefs or Samskaras.  As the events of our lives unfold, we develop deeply held beliefs/samskaras about ourselves and the world and how we get our real and perceived needs for safety, security and love met. These are implicit and are often beyond our conscious awareness, residing deep in the unconscious mind.  Often they are negative/unrealistic and self-limiting beliefs that were at the time quite adaptive and useful and have become maladaptive and in many cases harmful.  These samskaras do not die or go away. They play themselves out in our present moment and behaviors.  Therefore, we are often 'stuck' in our present, recreating the same realities over and over with little understanding why or more importantly how to free ourselves.The unique, systematic practice of Yoga Nidra is designed to be powerful tool for healing at the level of body/mind and emotions.

 

The Essential Elements of the practice of Yoga Nidra:

Become Comfortable

Be entirely Calm and Still

Be present - be fully Present and Awake

Turn your Focus Inward

Follow the Instructors Voice - the "Instruction, not the Instructor"

There are specific stages that one goes through during the practice of Yoga Nidra.  They are:

Preparation - lying in shavasana, getting comfortable in a quiet place with focus on removing or limiting external stimuli. the eyes remain closed during the entire practice.

Relaxation - by stating a Mantra, by following the breath or a progressive relaxation with body scan

Resolve -  One picks an unique and meaningful, specific positive, present moment Intention

Rotation of Consciousness - where one is instructed in a trip through the entire different parts of the body

Breathing practice - counting breaths with focus on navel, chest, throat and nostril awareness

Awareness of Sensations - an experience in opposite sensations of feeling, emotion and body

Image Visualization - a rapid experience of things to experience at the level of awareness, emotion, imagination, and feeling

Resolve - Repeating your Intention

>Finish - the Yoga Nidra practice is experienced in reverse, going from inward to outward experience, to ground ourselves back to this present moment.

 

The Emotional Benefits of Yoga Nidra

In our 'modern' world, psychologist, mental health professional and physicians are seeing a profound increase in anxiety, depression and stress related diseases. The rates of suicide for this generation are far beyond that of those seen even two decades ago.  More disturbing still is the growing trend of depression and suicide in our youngest.  The World Health Organization lists depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. Women are far more prone to depression than men and men are more likely to act out their depression with suicide. Further it states that the average age for suicide is now 14-45.  The National Institute of Mental Health states that about forty (40) million Americans will suffer from anxiety.  In one study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the top ten selling prescription drugs listed are all lifestyle (and lifetime) drugs, with the number one prescription drug being pain medicine.   Each of these issues:  depression, anxiety and physical pain are either stressed caused or stressed exacerbated.  The practice of Yoga Nidra is a proven, effective, simple and inexpensive tool for treating all of these conditions.  A review of the benefits of Yoga Nidra are listed below:

 

Yoga Nidra is "a proven antidote to anxiety and restlessness" - Katherine Griffin

Yoga Nidra is a powerful meditation and relaxation tool.

Yoga Nidra trains the brain to deeply relax the body and release emotional, mental and physical tensions.

Yoga Nidra allows one to alter deeply held unconscious beliefs (samskaras) which help us change entrenched emotional responses and long standing limiting beliefs and behaviors.

Yoga Nidra builds resilience and helps build internal resources for coping with life stress. Developing resilience and internal coping mechanisms contributes to positive self-esteem.

Yoga Nidra has been found to be a powerful tool to treat PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Yoga Nidra can be an effective pain management tool and further an effective treatment for addictions - especially when used in conjunction with other therapies.

Yoga Nidra can be used to 'visualize' new habits and positive healthy behaviors.

Yoga Nidra enhances memory and learning capacity. Both hemispheres of the mind are open in Yoga Nidra, therefore information can be planted directly to the subconscious mind.

Yoga Nidra is a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind and can therefore be a powerful way to increase creativity.

Yoga Nidra allows one to become emotionally responsive and less reactive.

Yoga Nidra can engender a profound sense of Joy and Well-Being.

 

One caveat:  If a person is suffering from profound depression, suicidal thinking/urges or other serious mental health problems, it is best to consult a physician and follow a treatment plan that improves the condition. Once treated, Yoga Nidra may be a powerful adjunct to that treatment.


Sources:
>Yoga Nidra - Swami SatyanandaSaraswati
The Bihar School of Yoga
Yoga Nidra - Richard Miller, Ph.D
Kellie Adkins, M.Sc., EYRT, CYTher.
The World Health Organization - WHO
Louise Hay - You Can Heal Your Life
IMS Institute of Healthcare Informatics
National Institute of Mental Health -  NIMH
National Institute of Drug Abuse - NIDA