Yoga Nidra and Mental Health

September 29, 2019   

Yoga Nidra is a specific type of yoga that focuses on inducing total relaxation. Though it includes relaxing physically, Yoga Nidra emphasizes mental and emotional relaxation and well-being. There are very few asanas (physical yoga poses) in a Yoga Nidra class. I generally describe Yoga Nidra as a guided meditation. There are multiple types of readings that can be done in Nidra classes, including readings that focus on the breath, the body, visualizations, emotions, etc. Students in Nidra classes generally report a feeling of relaxation, peace, happiness, as well as other positive feelings, however only a few studies have investigated the effects of Yoga Nidra.

Yoga Nidra classes can be attended in person at a studio, but there are also online options. Stankovic, 2011, investigated Yoga Nidra in combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Vietnam War (and 1 from Iraq War). The participants used iRest, an online Yoga Nidra platform for 8 weeks [Disclaimer: I have NOT used this site so cannot attest to its contents]. Even participants who struggled with the iRest in the beginning were able to overcome the struggles of feeling, identifying, and tolerating the sensations achieved in Yoga Nidra. The most appreciated values participants found with Yoga Nidra were: 1) heightened focus on physical pleasure; 2) bliss; and 3) greater inner strength. Participants gained subjective control regarding their experiences, felt relief, and experienced positive states that are usually not experienced with PTSD symptoms. Most participants even continued using iRest after the study ended (and those who didn’t continue were those with the most chronic and severe PTSD symptoms who missed multiple classes) (Stankovic 2011). What is particularly amazing about this study is that these effects were found in veterans that have been experiencing PTSD for an extended period of time, some since returning from the Vietnam War. If Yoga Nidra is practiced more quickly after returning from combat, extended deployments, or closer to the onset of PTSD symptoms, the effects could have an even larger positive impact.

Eastman-Mueller et al., 2013, also used iRest for 8 weeks, but recruited college students. This study found decreased stress, worry, and depression. The group mean (average over all participants) depression scores were reduced from ‘mild depression’ to ‘minimal depression’ classification. It seems that changes in depression play a large role in reducing stress and worry, and this relationship indicates that a Yoga Nidra program may decrease stress and worry by decreasing depression. Mindfulness skills were also increased after this yoga nidra program! This includes an increase in nonreactivity to inner experiences, attending to thoughts and feelings, acting with awareness, describing with words, and not judging experiences (Eastman-Mueller et al. 2013).

Similar results were also found in a study investigating Yoga Nidra in individuals with menstrual disorder, which commonly causes emotional insecurity, stress, depression, and/or anxiety. The attention Yoga Nidra brings on recognizing and releasing suppressed thoughts and emotions could provide great benefit to those with menstrual disorder. This study found that after Yoga Nidra training, the individuals with menstrual disorder showed significant improvement in both anxiety and depression, reducing the severity of symptoms (Rani et al. 2012).

Though more research on Yoga Nidra needs to be done, these studies find that these interventions can reduce stress, depression, worry, and anxiety as well as improve mindfulness skills. These results suggest Yoga Nidra is effective and may be useful as a companion to mental health services.

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