Can Yoga Nidra positively benefit our mental and physical health?
Yoga Nidra originates from the Tantrik tradition and is an adaptation of the practice of Nyasa (meaning to place). This practice was brought to the west by Satyananda Saraswati in 1964.
Nidra has become popular as a practice for deep relaxation. While it is effective for this purpose, calming the mind and body, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and allowing us to cultivate conscious relaxation, ease ongoing stress and anxiety. Yoga Nidra is much more than a form of progressive relaxation, it is a state of consciousness.
Unlike other forms of meditation, Nidra is always a completely guided practice placing awareness on multiple areas throughout the body, consciousness of the breath and guided visualisations.
The dream of Vishnu
The story of creation is told in several ancient Vedic texts such as the Puranas of Lord Vishnu laying on a serpent sleeping in the ocean of Cosmic Consciousness. He lies in the state of Yoga Nidra and in this state of consciousness takes control over the process of creation. Nidra translates to deep sleep. A state of being, or form of awareness.
Although the stories in the 18 classical Puranas vary slightly each describes Lord Brahma arising from the Belly Button of Lord Vishnu signifying that creation occurs from this State of consciousness.
In Vedantic teachings we are taught about the different layers of consciousness through the body. It said to be a method that leads us to Purusha – One who dwells in the city of True Nature.
Nidra is a methodology to traverse the 4 states of consciousness
The Four States of mind/ stages of consciousness
Jagrat - the waking state - the awareness is with the physical body
Swapna - the dreaming state - the awareness is with the subtle body
Sushupti - the deep dreamless state - the awareness is with the causal body
Turiya - Pure Consciousness - the awareness has been liberated
Koshas are energetic layers (or sheaths) associated with the human experience which move from the outer layer of the skin, towards the spiritual core. There are 5 of these layers within the body;
Annamaya BODY - Physical body. The skin, muscles, connective tissue, fat and bones.
Pranamaya ENERGY - Subtle body. Circulatory system for prana, energy, our life force.
Manomaya MIND - Emotional body. Mind, emotions and nervous system.
Vijnanamaya DISCERNMENT - Wisdom body. Higher intelligence, Insight, desires, intuition.
Anandamaya BLISS - Liberation.
When waking from yogic sleep, there can be a feeling of connection and unity between body, breath, and mind. The feeling of peace, comfort and connectedness, that all of your layers have been addressed.
It is said that just 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra can feel like 2 hours of regular sleep due to the relaxing qualities of the practice, the deep dive into the 4 stages of consciousness within us and also because of a series of brain-wave changes which is happening during yogis sleep as we pass through those stages. An increase of Alpha waves as we move into deep relaxation, we move towards Theta waves which are similar to clinical hypnosis. Throughout the stages the brain moves to Delta which are the slowest brain waves, similar to when the brain in a coma. Brain waves have been known to alternate between theta and delta, meaning the mind is simultaneously in two states at once sleep and awareness
You can read more within a clinical study HERE
image of Lord Vishnu laying on a serpent sleeping in the the ocean: Pinterest
There are 8 stages to the practice of Yoga Nidra, these stages are developed and practiced in such a way to guide us through these Koshas.
The Eight Stages of Yoga Nidra
Settling & Awareness - This first stage settles and prepares the body and the nervous system, creating a sense of ease and safety.
Sankalpa - Sankalpa is an intention or resolve which works with the mind to set a positive mental impression (Samskara).
Rotation of Consciousness - Rotation of consciousness brings the awareness into the body-embodiment. This stage is one of the most fascinating for me, during this stage we are guided around the body, resting attention on various part of the body, without moving the physical body. The sensory motor cortex is the region of the cerebral cortex within the brain which is connected to planning and directing the actions of muscles and glands that are under our conscious control. In this area of the brain there are pathways to all of the areas of the body that we place awareness on during a rotation of consciousness. Particular parts of the brain are stimulated and therefore certain parts of the body respond. When placing our awareness on particular parts of the body, we are able to strengthen pathways between the brain and the body.
Manifestation of Opposites - Manifestation of opposites works with the mind to connect to and draw from our sensations from within. Feelings that come from our core centre that affect the body as a whole, such as heaviness and lightness, cool and warmth.
Breath Awareness/ Control - Breath awareness stimulates concentration with the breath and awareness of the energy body. The Breath, is our Prana, our life force and the heart of our yoga practice. We can utilise our breath to calm our nervous system, harness a sense of calm and focus, settling the mind away from thinking and worries.
Visualisations in Chidakash - Chidakash gives us access to the sub and unconscious aspects of the mind. This is another stage which I find incredibly interesting. Chidakash is the space behind the eyes and forehead, also referred to as the mind’s eye. In Chidakash we can listen and observe inward, some practitioners may experience seeing colours, shapes or images whilst in a state of wakeful REM sleep. Behind this spot lies the pineal gland, and this gland is stimulated when you turn your attention there. The pineal-gland hormone is melatonin, melatonin is responsible for helping a more restful sleep, reducing stress and boosting the immune system.
Sankalpa - We return to our Sankalpa to repeat the intention or resolve.
Externalization - Externalisation brings the awareness back to the external world and away from the practice, drawing us back through our energetic layers.
Medical research and Yoga Nidra
There have been many studies researching the effects of Yoga Nidra on the mind and body.
Nidra has been found to increase Parasympathetic tone - connecting us to the nervous system responsible for rest and digest.
Nidra for Patients undergoing a colonoscopy Read full Study
In this clinical study, 144 patients who were scheduled to undergo colonoscopy were assigned to three different treatment groups;
Group 1 was a no treatment control group
Group 2 was delivered relaxing music
Group 3 was delivered a yoga nidra recording
Patients were monitored for pain score, patient satisfaction score, a willingness to repeat the procedure score, and a perceived colonoscope insertion difficulty score.
Effect measures were systolic and diastolic blood pressure and total procedure duration.
Results: The patients' perceptions of pain and the endoscopist's perceived colonoscope insertion difficulty were significantly reduced by both the music and the yoga nidra recording.
Overall patient satisfaction was significantly improved by both the music and the yoga nidra recording.
Patients' willingness to repeat the procedure and the total procedure duration were significantly improved and reduced, respectively, by the yoga nidra recording, but there were no significant differences compared to the music group. There were no statistically significant differences among the three groups in terms of blood pressure.
Conclusions: Both the yoga nidra recording and the relaxation music helped reduce the pain participants undergoing colonoscopy experienced. The yoga nidra recording was the most successful intervention among the three groups.
Adolescent students aged 13-15 years with an aim to assess effects of Yoga-nidra on various dimensions of well-being. Read full study
Thirty-six students received Yoga-nidra sessions 30 min daily for 3 days in a week for 1 month. The patients were being monitored for their happiness, perceived stress, overall quality of life, and psychological general well-being.
Well-being comprising of enthusiasm, alertness, quietude, clarity of thought, control over anger, self-confidence, and self-awareness were evaluated before and after intervention.
Results: Yoga-nidra intervention resulted in significant improvement in all primary outcome measures. Participants reported significant improvement in the feelings of happiness, enthusiasm, quietude, being more inspired and alert, active, having clarity of thought, control over anger, and self-confidence at the end of the study period.
Conclusion: Yoga-nidra is beneficial in improving multiple dimensions of adolescent well-being
Yoga Nidra increases heart rate variability read full study
Our heart rate variability can measure the balance of our Autonomic nervous system, where HRV increases, our parasympathetic (rest and digest) effect increases.
Previous studies have suggested that relaxation or mind-body exercise can influence ANS balance positively as measured by HRV but may act via different mechanisms.
In this study, 20 men and women looked at yoga and relaxation and yoga Nidra alone.