This yoga isn’t about exercise. Yoga nidra is a systematic, multistage set of relaxation techniques that help induce a deep, meditative state. It’s as old as yogis, but has gained both in popularity and credibility in recent years in the West as an effective way to relieve stress and anxiety.
Unlike exercise-based yogas, yoga nidra’s health benefits are more closely akin to those of meditation practices and have been researched accordingly. Studies have shown that yoga nidra may help with insomnia, anxiety, depression, addiction, and chronic pain. In 2013, the Department of Defense conducted research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the efficacy of yoga nidra on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. This led to the incorporation of yoga nidra into weekly treatment programs for soldiers in several VA facilities across the country.
The University of Massachusetts Medical Center has proposed a new National Institutes of Health study on yoga nidra’s benefits for chronic pain. If approved, potential research sites would be the Veterans Administration centers in Springfield, Northampton, and Worcester, according to Richard Miller, a consultant on the project, a psychologist, and the creator of the type of yoga nidra that will be used in the study. A second grant proposal would study yoga nidra’s effect on chronic pain at the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center in Washington, D.C.
Many of the participants tonight at the Easton Yoga Center are regulars, who say they come to these monthly yoga nidra sessions to deal with the stress of the work week. Patty Mazza, who owns a small manufacturing company in West Bridgewater, says it also helps make her more focused at work.
Classical yoga nidra sticks closely to the style developed from traditional Tantric practices by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in India. It is a five-stage process that begins with a body scan to engage the physical body, and incorporates meditation on the breath, the balancing of emotional states, visualization, and self-healing. It includes setting a positive intention, which is called a “sankalpa,” to give the participant a specific purpose to the session. The step-by-step process is designed to relax the body and awaken the subconscious and conscious mind, leading to inner healing of both physical and emotional tensions.
Humans are so stressed out living our lives in the flight-or-fight mode that we have lost the ability to switch out of it,” she says, adding that when nervous systems are stuck in this mode, it leads to a variety of health problems, including digestive issues, tight muscles, vascular illnesses, and asthma. While more and more people are beginning to learn about the health benefits of meditation, they often have trouble meditating at home and become frustrated. This guided form of meditation is more accessible and the relaxation more immediate.