Never before has our society dealt with so many stress-related diseases. In the past few decades, there has truly been a global mental health crisis, especially among young people. Over time, chronic stress can lead to many diseases, illnesses, and conditions in the body. Coronary diseases, hypothermia, asthma, anxiety, depression are all, at least partly, induced by stress. New times call for new methods. One of such methods is yoga nidra, which is great for beginners. Numerous academic and medical studies have attested to yoga nidra being helpful in reducing stress.
Here’s Why Yoga Nidra Reduces Stress and Why Beginners Should Practice It:
- Yoga nidra operates on a cellular level – it uses the body’s nervous energy to regenerate cells of the whole body.
- It opposes the negative effects of the overactive sympathetic (“flight or flight” stress response) nervous system by activating the parasympathetic (rest, calm, relaxation) nervous system.
- Yoga nidra lowers adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones.
- It helps us disassociate from our problems.
The Australian Federal Health Department did a survey which showed that stress was the main cause for concern of most people. Without a proper vent, most people have found themselves unable to regulate stress.
How Yoga Nidra Helps to Reduce Stress
The modern disease of stress comes from overidentifying with the mind. When we do that, we become our problems — our unpaid bills, overdue projects, the traffic jams. The purpose of yoga nidra is to help us disassociate from it all. When this happens, we manage to rise above the mind and realize we are much more than our problems and stressors. We find a deeper space of inner peace.
When we are in deep sleep, dissociation happens automatically. We forget our names, our problems and troubles. A similar process of disidentification from our emotions, the mind and the body happens during yoga nidra.
The body adapts to stress in destructive ways. Excessive sweating, increased heart rate, diarrhoea, indigestion and headache are some of the ways in which our physiological systems respond to stress. Frequently, anxiety, depression, irritability and frustration follow. The so-called stress response includes increased blood pressure, muscle tension, palpitations and noradrenaline levels in the blood.
When the stress-induced state continues, the body’s resistance wears down and imbalances in the autonomic nervous system, endocrine glands, chemical and hormonal properties of blood, and organs follow. A variety of nervous symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, even neurosis can then manifest. As the imbalance persists, psychosomatic diseases (asthma, ulceration, hypertension) develop. The consequences of poorly managed psychological tensions are then passed onto the body’s physiological systems.
The Stages of Stress
Dr K.N. Udupa of Banaras Hindu University in India shows that stress-related disorders manifest through four stages:
1. First, psychological symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and irritability appear as a consequence of overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.
2. Next, physical symptoms appear such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate or gastric motility.
3. In the third stage, a deeper physical and biochemical imbalances arise. Organs start to malfunction.
4. In the fourth stage, lesions appear, often with severe symptoms which require surgical or pharmacological intervention.
Yoga nidra is today prescribed by doctors both as a preventive and curative therapy in the first three stages. It is also effective as an addition to treating psychosomatic disorders that have progressed into the fourth stage.
Many sensitive people have experienced the shortage of modern day technological lifestyle. Doctors are now looking for efficient, scientific ways to combat stress and have successfully found them in yoga nidra.
The Benefits of Yoga Nidra in Reducing and Alleviating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Yoga nidra gives immediate relief, mitigating depression and anxiety. It provides deep and systematic relaxation. Many people, who previously struggled with being frustrated, anxious or depressed have now reported that daily yoga nidra helped them completely change their perspective on life. Yoga nidra has proved to doctors worldwide to be an effective coping method.
Yoga nidra decreases sympathetic (“flight or flight” stress response) and increases parasympathetic (rest, calm, relax) nervous activity. The relaxation response is the opposite of what is familiarly known as the flight or fight response, which is the overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system, hypothalamus and endocrine system. This happens when our organism perceives that we are in an imminent danger and adapts accordingly. This is an evolutionary leftover from our cavemen times when our existence really was in constant life-or-death situations.
Unfortunately, running to catch the bus is not a life-or-death situation; still, our organism perceives it that way. This evolutionary residue still remains active today when we find ourselves under highly stressful conditions of modern life. This has serious effects on our health and it is the main culprit for most modern mental and psychosomatic disorders.
Yoga Nidra Reduces the “Flight or Flight,” Stress Response – It also Lowers Adrenaline and Cortisol, Stress Hormones
Yoga nidra serves to reduce the detrimental effects of the flight or fight response. Studies have shown that a regular practice of yoga nidra helps to decrease levels of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. It creates somatic conditions opposite to those enforced by sympathetic overactivity. The body and its systems get deep, physiological rest. It also helps to start the body’s potent regenerative mechanisms. The nervous energy is used to rejuvenate the body, and protect it physiologically from stress. Proper use of this prana (nervous) energy is what lays the foundation for our best mental and physical health.
Yoga Nidra for Self-Realization (Samadhi), Increased Self-Awareness, and Greater Success in Life
Yoga nidra does much more than fight the influence of stress on our organism. It was initially used by yogis to attain self-realization (samadhi). Such use of yoga nidra helps a person to use tensions in life for attainment of greater awareness and success in life.
By using yoga nidra to visualize an anticipated stressful situation in as much detail as possible, one is able to mentally prepare for it and overcome it. This is a great hack for success in life, which many of the best worldwide sportsmen use today. They simply imagine their race, football match or choreography as vividly as possible. Studies have shown that the brain can’t tell the difference between a real and an imagined event – that’s why imagination is so powerful.
On the contrary, worry does the opposite. Instead of welcoming and embracing the stressful situation, by worrying, we create resistance. This only creates a conflict between us and the reality around us which we can’t control. Willpower is a limited and fallible resource. That’s why using imagination is much more effective. With imagination we can consciously imagine the future dreaded event and prepare for it, leaving no chance for failure.
The many possibilities of yoga nidra still remain untapped. We have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.
Yoga Nidra for Beginners – A Step by Step Guide
What’s good about Yoga Nidra is that anyone can do it, regardless of their physical fitness, experience doing yoga or age.
Simply start by:
- Lie in shavasana
- Spread feet a bit further than the hips
- Rest arms gently next to the body without touching the body, with palms facing up.
- Next, start relaxing the body, part by part until you cover the whole body.
- You can practice this following the instructions of a teacher or a recording.
What makes Yoga Nidra so powerful? It includes numerous relaxation techniques at once, such as:
- Body scan (rotation of consciousness)
- Evoking feelings and sensations
- Breath awareness exercises
- Resolution which is repeated in the beginning and at the end of the practice.
Basic Sequence and Steps of Yoga Nidra:
|Basic Sequences of Yoga Nidra||Description|
|Noticing the breath||Taking a few deep breaths. Noticing the body rising and falling with each breath.|
|Resolution||Stating a resolution for the practice. It should be a clear, positive statement; for example: “I am peaceful”.|
|Rotation of consciousness||Systematically guided relaxation of body parts.|
|Awareness of the breath||Counting the breaths.|
|Feelings and sensations||Feeling pairs of opposite feelings and sensations: love-hate, hot-cold, lightness-heaviness.|
|Visualization||Evoking images of mountains, lakes, landscapes, etc.|
|Ending the practice||Repeating the resolution from the beginning of the session with great faith.|
Noticing the breath
We start yoga nidra by taking a few deep breaths. Begin to notice how with each inhale, the body rises and expands, and how with each exhale the body falls down and sinks into the ground. We focus on just this for a few moments.
We then make a resolution for the session. A resolution is a short and affirmative sentence which we use to plant the seed into our subconscious mind. It may be, “I am a wonderful being,” or “I am peaceful and calm,” or “I live in abundance.” We purposefully set the intention that we want to work with. We repeat it mentally 3 times and we then let it go.
Rotation of consciousness
Next we move our awareness to the thumb of the left hand. It’s important to note that we don’t move the thumb, or overly focus on it. We simply feel it and let go of it. The relaxation of each individual body part follows a systematic sequence, thus activating certain parts of the brain. We call this rotation of consciousness. We begin with the left side of the body, starting from the fingers on the left hand, the palm, back of the palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, armpit, left side of the waist. Move down to the left hip, tie, knee, calf, ankle, heel, sole of the foot and finish with toes, ony by one. We then do the same with the right side of the body.
We then move on to the back body. Sense the back of the head, right shoulder blade, the left one, right buttock, left buttock, right heel and left heel.
Next is the front side of the body. Here we give great attention to all parts of the face, which are very important because they stimulate certain parts of the brain. After covering the head and the face, we move down towards the neck, right collarbone, left collarbone, right side of the chest, left side of the chest and middle part of the chest. We finish with the navel, upper belly and lower belly.
We then move our awareness around major parts of the body: the whole right leg, whole left leg, both legs together. The whole right arm, whole left arm, both arms together. The whole back, whole front, whole head and then legs, arms, back, front and the head together. We then feel the whole body together. This ends the rotation of consciousness.
Awareness of the breath
In this part, the practitioner becomes aware of the breath without trying to change it in any way. There are several exercises for how awareness of the breath is maintained – one may notice the navel rising and falling with each breath, or the chest, or the air moving through the throat. Another technique is to simply count the breaths. Breath awareness does more than simply instigate relaxation – it serves to awaken pranic energy and direct it to every cell of the body.
Feelings and sensations
We next awaken different feelings, emotions and sensations to experience them physically and emotionally, after which we let them go. This is usually practiced in pairs of opposite feelings and sensations — love-hate, joy-sorrow, hot-cold, heaviness-lightness. The pairing of feelings and sensations harmonizes the two brain hemispheres and helps to balance our basic drives which usually remain unconscious. Moreover, by reliving deep feelings, we can attain catharsis.
The last stage of yoga nidra includes visualizations. The images used are universal and have strong associations, such as landscapes, oceans, mountains, parks, saints or flowers. They serve to cleanse the mind of disturbing content. They bring to surface what’s hidden in the subconscious mind and purify it.
Ending the practice
The visualization part usually ends with an image that evokes profound feelings of peace. This makes the unconscious mind open to suggestions. This is when the resolution from the beginning of the class is repeated again three times.
The direct instruction that the conscious mind gives to the subconscious mind plants the seed for radical change. That’s why it is imperative that the resolution is stated clearly and with great faith. This will empower the mind to achieve it, so that it becomes a reality.
There you have it, an easy to use, daily stress reduction tool for beginners as well as advanced practitioners of yoga. Yoga nidra serves to activate the relaxatory system of the body, counter the flight or fight body’s response, help us disengage from our problems and finally get some peace of mind. How good is that?
Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, 1976.