Yoga Nidra for Relaxation, Insomnia, and Posttraumatic Stress

african-american-woman-doing-yogaImagine something that could calm you, ease symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTS), and rewire your nervous system—and all you have to do is listen to it. Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. It’s yoga nidra, the ancient guided meditation technique that is currently being used in VA hospitals all across America to ease PTS. (I refuse to call it PTSD, as I don’t think it’s a disorder to have negative reactions to trauma. That seems like a normal reaction. Why pathologize it?)

Yoga nidra, Sanskrit for yogic sleep, is different from other guided meditations in that it not only directs your attention to your body, it uses special breathing techniques and rotates you back and forth from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. The result is an increase in theta brain waves, a greater ability to self-regulate one’s emotions, and markedly reduced rumination.

In yoga nidra, you are relaxed and alert at the same time, though if you are sleepy you will likely fall asleep. If not sleepy, you will likely feel fully rejuvenated after even a 30-minute session. Rest is crucial, as it enhances functioning of the immune and metabolic systems, improving overall physical health and leading to higher energy and fewer colds and infections of all types. Rest also improves mental health by lessening or eliminating insomnia, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and depression.

Clearly, yoga nidra is an excellent antidote for insomnia and a great relaxation technique. How does it help ameliorate posttraumatic stress? When the body becomes deeply relaxed and the mind is occupied with various yoga nidra activities, the brain can create new calming neural pathways. The old ones are still there, but in time, the new ones eclipse them. When that happens, you feel more emotionally balanced. You may still get rattled by something, but you can rebalance more quickly and easily because your body-mind is so familiar with feeling supremely relaxed.

In addition, yoga nidra employs something called a sankalpa, or intention. This can reflect your true nature, such as, “I am healthy and whole.” Or it can be an intention for a specific goal, what you would like to manifest in the coming year.

The following is a handful of audio files you might like to try. One suggestion: listen to a sample on Amazon or iTunes and see if the person’s voice appeals to you. If not, try a different version.

  • Free yoga nidra: Go to iTunes, go to Elsie’s Yoga, and scroll down until you hit episode No. 62, “Deep Relaxation.” This is her wonderful version of yoga nidra. The first 15 minutes she is chatting with a fan, so you can skip through that to the one-hour program that follows. I have been using this for years and highly recommend it.
  • Richard Miller, PhD, is the major proponent of yoga nidra in America. In fact, he has successfully shown how regular use of yoga nidra calms posttraumatic stress symptoms in service people coming back from deployment. His CD is excellent. There’s a version of the longest track available for $1.95.
  • Swami Janakanada also has a great yoga nidra CD that is available on Amazon. It has a shorter practice, a seven-minute music interlude, and a longer, 45-minute practice. He is a true yogi with an Indian accent, and the CD is done in a serious but light-hearted way, which makes it different from almost everything else currently available.
  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati’s yoga nidra is very monotonic, which can be hypnotic.

There are a plethora of yoga nidra programs. Some have music, most do not. It’s great to experiment with different versions, as each brings something unique to the practice.

Only use yoga nidra while lying down, never while engaging in any other activity, especially driving or operating machinery.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cody

    Cody

    February 2nd, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    I am so glad that you feel this way about PTS!!
    I too have often thought that this is probably something that is very normal to feel, given what these people have had to see and do.
    Why does it have to be characterized as something bad when quite honestly the sanest of the sane could very easily fall into this sort of behavior just as easily as someone who is sick could?
    I know that the article is about so much more than this but I just had to to state my appreciation for this viewpoint. Thank you.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    February 3rd, 2015 at 5:34 AM

    Thanks, Cody.

    Why it has to be classified as a disorder is so people using the DSM, a manual with codes for psychiatric illnesses, can get reimbursed by insurance for treating it.

    Initially, I think it lent credibility to the term posttraumatic stress, which was good. Now, I think it only serves to pathologize something anyone would feel after trauma.

  • Cody

    Cody

    February 4th, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    Thanks for the feedback Nicole. Just another way we are getting screwed over by the insurance companies when they dictate what they will and won’t pay for.

  • Jenna

    Jenna

    February 8th, 2015 at 4:35 AM

    I am honestly so pleased the hear that the VA is finally starting to think outside of the box a little when trying to get help for so many of our wounded veterans. When you try something like this version of yoga, this shows these men and women that there may or may not be a way that they can heal from this stress that they are feeling by something other than medication. I think that feeding this with medicine only exacerbates the thoughts that this is disordered thinking and feeling, but with yoga techniques and practices I think that they see that this is manageable and something that they can do to overcome those feelings.

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