In the last decades and particularly in the last year the words ‘mental health’ have finally reached the limelight amongst the world population. Recent studies show that anxiety and mood disorders are significantly high in today’s world and state that a high number of individuals will experience some type of anxiety or mood disorder at some point in their lifetimes, mostly in a continuous or recurring manner. A shocking statement at a time that has offers a great variety of modalities, techniques, tools and strategies when it comes to self-love and self-care.
Current treatments for mental health conditions, such as stress symptoms, depression and anxiety are generally based on evidence-based therapeutic and pharmacological interventions – bandaids that are meant to bring people rapidly back to their states of productivity without necessarily putting root causes, long-term integration of trauma experiences and awareness around emotion and the subtle body (the energy body) to attention.
What about the ones that do not seek professional help, that choose not to submit to the effects and side effects of drugs and antidepressants? What about the ones that simply cannot afford long term therapy? Or the ones that choose to do their work in a ‘different’ way?
The need for reliable and sustainable ‘self-care strategies’ has become increasingly prevalent, with the wellness and yoga industry at the forefront of offerings. It is important to state that there is never just one way the right way, and all practices have their validity and can be combined, integrative and complementary to the path chosen. A great amount of studies have demonstrated significant effects of spiritual techniques as a crucial part in the treatment of mental disorders.
Spiritual practices, consistently applied, are relevant methods that can actually prevent mental issues due to an increase in resilience, acceptance and strengthening of our emotional and spiritual bodies.
YOGA NIDRA – THE YOGIC SLEEP
In the following we would like to introduce the technique of Yoga Nidra as one of the means to instil calmness of the mind and heart. We have teamed up with the beautiful Emily Kuser, a dear friend, a wonderful Yoga teacher in the fields of Classical Tantra, Hatha Yoga, Somatics and Integrated Sexuality and self care. I have known Emily for over 12 years and she is one of my dearest and closest friends, working her magic throughout the entire world with her offerings and her fun and honest approach.
So what is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is commonly known as the ‘Yogic sleep’, a technique that provides deep psychological and physical relaxation, while maintaining mental functions functional and alert. Yoga Nidra has the effect to be as restorative as sleep, while remaining fully conscious.
During Yoga Nidra, participants remain lying down horizontally with the face and torso facing up while a facilitator (usually a yoga/meditation teacher) slowly guides them into deep relaxation using specific techniques in different stages. Yoga Nidra is considered a systematic meditation that takes the receiver through the pancha maya kosha (five layers of self), leaving the participant with a sense of wholeness, inducing them into the felt sense of the experience rather than a story the mind is clinging onto.
From a Yogic perspective Yoga Nidra has been designed to practice awareness in a liminal space (Hareesh Wallis). The technique facilitates a liminal state at the edge between waking and dreaming that allows for recalibration of the energy body, deep replenishment and purification of Samskaras (so called energy impressions that have been caused through stories we are not willing to let go off or are incapable of digesting). This is facilitated through the mere fact that no mental effort is needed in liminal space which allows us to titrate into our experience without holding on to any cognitive thoughts that could steer our experience away into a different, a mind-based reality.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF YOGA NIDRA?
Yoga Nidra has proven to contribute to mental health disorders in a great number of ways. Here are a few, not concluded benefits that Yoga Nidra offers from the very first experience.
1. Improves sleep and reduces insomnia
Yoga Nidra is a good way to supplement sleep if you’re not sleeping well at night. Insomnia and sleep deprivation contribute to mental disorders, stress management (or lack there of) and immune suppression. Yoga Nidra trains the mind and body to relax and move more easily into the deeper states of sleep. Forty-five minutes of Yoga Nidra is equal to up to 3 hours of sleep!
This is because it slows the wavelengths in your mind as you enter a sleep-like state. The experience often starts with sensing the body and mindfully breathing to trigger the relaxation response in your body. This response balances both your left and right brain, plus the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, in preparation for yogic sleep.
Yoga Nidra is process to go through before completely powering down brain and body. It trains the mind and body for this relaxation process so we can reach a deeper sense of sleep.
2. Detachment from thoughts
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
To come into the present moment and to find ease and relaxation within it allows us to detach from our thoughts and everything that has been keeping us preoccupied throughout the day. Yoga Nidra invites us to let go of these thoughts that strongly shape our reality.
There is power in being still and being able to quiet your mind. As our minds begin to quiet, we can start to recognize that thoughts are simply thoughts as they come and go.
Repetition allows for a deeper self- awareness in a resting state which is a sense of mindfulness we are invited to bring into our everyday life.
3. Releases tension & chronic pain
The practice of Yoga Nidra gives the body time to rest, recover and restore, which thereby brings down inflammation and improves the function of the immune system.
It brings about improvements in emotional self-regulation—with reduced levels of depression, stress, and anxiety—and therefore an increase in mood, quality of life, and well-being.
4. Facilitates healing
Yoga nidra guides the practitioner into the deepest state of sleep where the brain produces theta (4-7 hertz) and delta waves (1-3 hertz).
According to Theta Healing, “Theta State is a state of very deep relaxation. The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second…Theta waves are always creative, characterized by feelings of inspiration and very spiritual. It is believed that this mental state allows you to act below the level of the conscious mind.”
Delta waves on the other hand, are the slowest waves at 1-4 cycles per second and are experienced during deep dreamless sleep. When our brain waves have slowed down to the delta level, it is when our body has an opportunity to rest, restore and heal.
5. Stress reduction
The practice of yoga nidra shifts the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward the parasympathetic nervous system, hence allows for a reduced level of stress and anxiety.
Yoga Nidra is accessible to anyone, to everyone from children to seniors. It doesn't inquire any greater knowledge beforehand to be practiced as it is a guided practice. Every time you come to the practice you encounter a new experience—none of which is wrong.
7. Become intimate with yourself
Yoga Nidra offers a space to explore what you need in this very moment, as well as an opportunity to work on releasing long-held emotions. During Yoga Nidra you are able to experience emotions and come “face to face” with them, without diving or falling into it completely—meaning without feeling the emotion so completely that you become overwhelmed. Over time you continue to experience the emotion and associated feelings, moving deeper into the practice. We call this the felt sense experience of an emotion. After all emotions are 'energy in motion', that need to be moved through.
Yoga Nidra can serve as an incredible pathway to liberation without creating physical stress.
8. Plant the seeds of future growth
The work done in Yoga Nidra with a Sankalpa (a core intention or affirmation) can facilitate life altering changes in one’s thought patterns, relationships and achievements. It is a tool that the yogis have been using for many many years. Working with a sankalpa helps to create new sattvic impressions in the mind and can move us to a state of clarity, aligned with our dharma, and connected to the wisdom of the divine.
Learn more about Emily here.