Updated: Nov 19, 2019
In today’s fast paced world, the need for relaxation has grown tremendously. Increasing and continuous levels of tension, often caused by long, stressful workdays, demanding schedules and deadlines, predispose us to develop psychological and psychosomatic issues and disorders over time.
Muscular, emotional and mental tension with its manifestation in the physical body as stiffness and rigidity is very common, and recognized by Western psychology and yogis alike. However, it can be released progressively by the systematic and regular practice of Yoga Nidra, an ancient relaxation system with a growing audience in the western world.
The overly prominent role of media, an abundance of communication means and devices, and highly sophisticated advertisements in the modern world are some reasons for the constant arousal of the human mind, which lead to an excessive activity on the mental plane. In order to counteract this hyperactivity, several stages in Yoga Nidra are dedicated to relaxing the mind and releasing mental tension. Even deep rooted, repressed emotions, which cause emotional tension, can be recognized and released by the Yoga Nidra practitioner.
Yoga Nidra originated in the ancient tantric practice called Nyasa. Its most common practice is the one introduced and popularized by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga in India in the mid-20th century. It is often referred to as “lucid sleep” or “psychic sleep”, since the body reaches sleep-like states of deep relaxation, while the mind remains fully awake and responsive to instructions.
Yoga Nidra is practiced lying down in Savasana (corpse pose), bringing awareness, light and energy to the whole body in eight guided stages:
1. Preparation 2. Sankalpa (creating an intention) 3. Rotation of consciousness 4. Awareness of the breath 5. Opposition of feelings/sensations 6. Visualization 7. Sankalpa (repeating the intention) 8. Ending the practice
The stage of Sankalpa, for instance, frames the beginning and end of the Yoga Nidra session, and is a highly effective technique for training the mind. The practitioner is instructed to find an aspect of her/his life that needs improvement, and then to form a short, positive phrase (Sankalpa), which is mentally repeated three times. During this process, the Sankalpa embeds itself in the subconscious mind in its very relaxed and receptive state. For best results, it is important to plant the phrase with strong willpower and conviction, rather than just with the intellect. Swami Satyananda says that “the Sankalpa taken at the beginning of Yoga Nidra is like sowing a seed, and the Sankalpa at the end is like irrigating it. So the resolve taken in Yoga Nidra always brings result, if it is taken sincerely.”
By progressively relaxing every layer of our being, all different stages of the Yoga Nidra practice facilitate down-regulation, reduce tension and the effects of stress caused by nervous and endocrinal imbalances, and initiate a change in brain activity by dropping brainwaves to healing alpha and theta frequencies.
Evidence-based research has shown the effectiveness of Yoga Nidra aiding the treatment of anxiety, depression, and chemical dependency, and its far-reaching benefits have been successfully employed in the treatment of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as by schools in helping children to express their emotions and build a healthy sense of self.
Yoga Nidra is also a highly successful treatment of sleep disorders, e.g. insomnia. Additionally, the (occasionally) sleep-deprived practitioner may benefit from a regular practice as well according to Swami Satyananda, “a single hour of Yoga Nidra is as restful as four hours of conventional sleep”.
Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that Yoga Nidra has been found to be a significant therapeutic tool for asthma therapy (Erskine and Schonell, 1981). Improvement was shown in 18 out of 27 asthmatic patients regarding respiratory function and for greater freedom of breathing, as well as 63% having definite relaxation and dilation of the bronchial tubes as tested on a spirometer (Gupta et al, 1979).
After only three weeks of Yoga Nidra relaxation training, symptoms of colonic irritability had been significantly reduced (Jansson, 1979). Cardiac patients showed lowered cholesterol levels (Cooper, 1979), and lower levels of blood pressure in hypertensive patients (Datey et al, 1977 Bali, 2012).
Participants do not require any prior knowledge, however, a level of focus and concentration is needed to maintain the whole practice. An awareness of our body-mind landscape evolves with an ongoing practice of Yoga Nidra.
(This article was first published on March 23rd, 2015 by the UNSRC Yoga Club.) -----
- Bali, Yogitha, MR, “Yoga Nidra and its therapeutic applications,” Journal of Pharmaceutical and Scientific Innovation (2012): http://jpsionline.com/admin/php/uploads/111_pdf.pdf - Charu, Yogi, The Powerful Path of Meditation (unpublished text) - Cooper, M.J. and M. M. Aygen, “A relaxation technique in the management of hypercholesterolemia,” Journal of Human Stress (1979), pp. 24-27. - Bhushan, Siddhartha, “Yoga Nidra: Its Advantages and Applications,” Yoga Magazine (Munger: Bihar School of Yoga), 2001: http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2001/bmar01/yoganid.shtml - Datey, K. K and S. J. Bhagat, “Stress and heart disease and how to control it with biofeedback and shavasana” Quarterly Journal of Surg. Sci. (Banaras Hindu University), 1977, 13(3-4). - Erskine-Milliss, J. and M. Schonell, “Relaxation therapy in asthma: a critical review,” Psychosomatic Medicine, (1981) 43(4). - Gupta, G. B., G. C. Sepaha, I. Menou, and S. K. Tiwari, “The effects of yoga on bronchial asthma,” Yoga Magazine (Munger: Bihar School of Yoga), 1979, 27(2): 29-33. - Jansson, L., “Behavioral treatment of irritable colon,” Scandinavian Journal of Behaviour Therapy, 1979, 8(4): 119-204. - Satyananda Saraswati, Swami, Yoga Nidra (Munger: Bihar School of Yoga), 1998, 6th Edition.