Our mind is like a horse. It has enormous power, speed, agility and potential. It can take us
where we want to go at the merest suggestion. But if not managed, it can take control of you. It will do as it pleases – running out of control and taking you with it – perhaps leaving you holding on for dear life as the mind takes you where it wants to go. Whether due to long term stress, genetics or habitual thinking patterns, this is what it can feel like if we have mental health concerns. But if you learn how to develop a harmonious relationship with the mind you have, you and it can work together to achieve great things.
The Special Relationship Between Yoga and Mental Health
The practice of Yoga and Meditation dates back over 2000 years to ancient India and focuses on unification– the abiding sense of all-encompassing peace which can be reached when we learn how to go beyond the distractions of mind.
Yoga postures are practiced by billions of people all over the world to better their physical and mental health and is an excellent support for the management of mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. Numerous studies have shown that through the practice of Yoga, people have reported feeling happier, fuller and freer. What you may not know is that you can get many of Yoga’s mental health benefits from Yoga’s meditative counterpart: Yoga Nidra.
Yoga doesn’t have to include postures and movement. Yoga Nidra translates as yogic sleep and is a type of meditation. Yoga Nidra is done lying down, and is designed to induce a deep relaxation response through a guided series of breath and awareness techniques. Like physical yoga – and maybe even more so – overwhelming evidence suggests that meditation practice such as Yoga Nidra significantly alleviates stress, anxiety, and depression while increasing quality of life and emotion regulation.
How Do Yoga Nidra Practices Benefit Depression and Anxiety?
- Yoga Nidra Meditation assists regeneration of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for mood and memory. A strong hippocampus dampens our stress response, while a weak hippocampus makes us more prone to anxiety. Studies conducted by Sara Lazar at Harvard University have shown that as little as 8 weeks of daily mindful meditation practice can increase the size of the hippocampus.
- Yoga Nidra practice promotes the removal of excess cortisol (stress hormone) from the system, which can weaken the hippocampus, and makes us vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
- During Yoga Nidra both Gaba and Serotonin are naturally released in the body, creating both anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. When practiced five to seven days a week, Yoga Nidra can help maintain high levels of these neurotransmitters in your body to naturally boost your immunity and resistance to both anxiety and depression.
- Yoga Nidra optimizes restorative sleep and stabilizes sleep patterns. In one survey, 97% of depressed people reported sleep difficulties during depression. The majority believed their sleep difficulties started at the same time as their depression.
Yoga Nidra: An Antidote to Anxiety
Depression and Anxiety can be triggered by a stressful event, such as the loss of a job or a loved one. It has been said that depression can be rooted in dwelling on the past, while anxiety has to do with a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about what is to come. While depression has us dropping into a state of collapse hopelessness and depletion, anxiety has us meeting stressful events with a fight or flight response, which, when repeated enough, can become patterned into the physiology of the body. Eventually, no trigger may be needed to bring on anxiety. Very often depression and anxiety arise as mirror images of one another with the individual swinging between both extremes.
Anxiety can be categorized in these five types:
- Panic: The onset of intense but momentary fear with or without an external cause
- Phobia: Irrational fear that results in total avoidance of certain people/situations/things/places.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Constant worry, restlessness, difficulty concentrating
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): An obsession with something that has its main roots in fear or avoidance of an underlying unresolved stressful event.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): An unresolved traumatic event that causes hypervigilance among other symptoms. Triggers can easily bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions.
People suffering from anxiety are in fight or flight mode. Feelings of anxiety can be fuelled by constant worry about the future, creating mental scenarios which will never happen, and cultivating negative thoughts which put the nervous system on high alert mode. As anxiety escalates, the body and mind become exhausted, and emotions more susceptible to dramatic shifts – including a shift into depression.
Yoga Nidra is extremely helpful in calming such a mind and releasing the negative thought patters that perpetuate these states. The release of Gaba and Serotonin assist the body in making the biochemical changes to support a more balanced mind and short circuit anxiety and depression. Most people who practice Yoga Nidra experience its immediate calming, stress reducing effects. Over time they notice it supports a more positive approach to life.
Why Yoga Nidra?
For those who are often troubled with endless thoughts, anxiety, or depression it can be challenging to sit in peace and quiet. But because Yoga Nidra is guided with techniques that give the mind things to do, it gives a natural point of concentration to the mind. As the mind is focused, it becomes calm and the nervous system can begin to relax.
Here is when Yoga Nidra is the most beneficial.
Typically, when we try to sit and meditate, we struggle with sitting upright. But in Yoga Nidra we remove the effort and instead practice lying down in a resting position. By removing discomfort in the body as a distraction, we can more easily focus attention inward.
Furthermore, in many types of traditional meditation we are given a single tool. We are asked to shift from participating in our thoughts to observing them. This can be challenging for the novice meditator. But Yoga Nidra helps the mind dive into a deep state of profound relaxation and meditation by gently and progressively using a series of techniques to shift our attention from the outside to the inside – gradually moving concentration from the tangible to the intangible in a way that is easy and effortless. Before you know it, you are in a state of meditation and are not even sure when it actually happened. Instead of struggling to meditate, meditation happens.
How Does Yoga Nidra Work?
There are as many styles of Yoga Nidra as there are styles of physical Yoga practice.
In I AM Yoga Nidra we work from the gross to the subtle:
We begin by releasing excess muscular tension. Using physical techniques such as tension and relaxation, we release tension in the body, which begins to release tension in the mind. For those with anxiety, this stage is particularly important and time should be spent here. It can even be advisable to take a yoga class or do several dynamic yoga postures preceding Yoga Nidra practice to assist in removing excess cortisol (and other stress hormones) from the system before going deeper. This will best prepare someone who has a very busy or anxious mind. However, it is not necessary for everyone.
- Then we begin to pull attention inward by absorbing the mind in bodily sensation. This automatically withdraws us from thoughts in the mind.
- We move concentration subtler still to the dimension of breath. Deepening the breath promotes the relaxation response; allowing us to enter alpha and deeper brainwave states. Here the body can offload excess tensions which are reflected in the breath pattern. By changing the breath pattern, we can change the state of mind.
- Then with relaxed attention, we begin to move neutral awareness through the body with various body scanning techniques.
- All the while you are gently being pulled away from the outside world and even your thoughts as you are progressively drawn into a profound state of silence.
- At points you will find that you are no longer directing awareness, you become one with awareness itself. You may find yourself entering gaps of silence – a space beyond the mind where the mind totally dissolves. You may not even consciously hear the voice of the facilitator.
- In this place, your body and biochemistry is deeply rejuvenating itself. It is rebuilding its reserves and rebalancing. Your brain and nervous system can be recalibrated from the extremes of depression and anxiety and tuned to peak performance.
The practice is designed to work from the gross to the subtle. From attention on the physical body, we move to the breath, to sensation – and eventually to awareness itself. In this way we progressively withdraw attention from external stressors that cloud the mind towards a silent space that resides behind it all – much like the sky rests behind the clouds. A person who can access this place has a much better ability to handle the changing weather patterns of depression or anxiety as they move through.
The practitioner of Yoga Nidra will benefit on all three levels of existence:
- Physical – biochemical and brain changes
- Mental – increased mental balance, concentration, memory and positive outlook
- Spiritual – greater connection to a sense of wholeness, peace and silence that resides beyond the busy mind.
Practicing Yoga Nidra on a daily basis will help an individual to experience more and more physical and emotional relaxation. Yoga Nidra releases the pent up emotions and makes way for a lighter existence.
The Dos of I AM Yoga Nidra: Specific Tips
- Breathing deeply during your practice is very important
- Practice in a way that induces dynamic engagement, but not stress. Receive the directions rather than trying to do them. The point is to remove excess stress hormones from the system and not boost them. That means letting go of excess effort, self-doubt, commentary and judgement. Just receive the guidance and trust that you can’t do it wrong.
- If you find your thoughts wandering, concentrate your attention on the guidance and the physical sensations they create in your body. Alternatively you can concentrate on your breath. One pointed, neutral attention helps focus the mind while singling out unhelpful thought patterns associated with depression, anxiety and insomnia.
- At points you might find that you are dropping out of concentration and into gaps of silence or states of expanded awareness. Allow this to happen. In I AM Yoga Nidra we see the technique as a way to take you beyond the technique. The purpose of the technique is to take you to these expansive states beyond the threshold of the mind. When the mind naturally comes back in, simply pick up the technique you are being guided in.
- Our mind is our biggest asset and friend, learn to use it for your own benefit
- Yoga Nidra is the meditative aspect of Yoga
- Yoga Nidra will help you create immunity to anxiety and depression
- Yoga Nidra removes the effort and works through progressively moving attention inward towards a profound space of silence within.
- When practicing, follow the technique without effort or judgment. You can’t do it wrong. Experiencing “gaps of silence” is normal and a sign the technique is working. Simply pick up the technique when the mind comes back.
- A healthy mind will give you a healthy life
Is there something we missed out? Leave a note below because we love to hear from you!
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Originally published online at www.kaminidesai.com on March 9, 2021