Yoga Nidra Teacher Training Class Four
Chapter 4: The Human Brain & The Stress Response
The Three Fold Tensions
In our fast-paced modern world, stress is a ubiquitous part of everyday life. It affects everyone, regardless of age, gender or social status. Stress is often seen as an enemy, a constant source of tension and discomfort, but it is not a real thing in and of itself. Stress is an interdependent phenomenon arising from the tensions between the body and mind.
To understand this, we need to delve into the threefold tensions:
- Muscular tension
- Emotional tension
- Mental tension.
Muscular tension is related to the physical aspect of our being, and it involves the habitual contraction of muscles due to emotional or mental stress. Emotional tension, on the other hand, is linked to our breath, and it arises from the way we breathe when we are under stress. It can manifest as shallow breathing or holding our breath altogether. Finally, mental tension is associated with our thoughts, moods and underlying state of mind, and can affect our emotional and physical well-being, as well.
These threefold tensions are interconnected, forming a chain that links the body, breath, and mind. Here is the key: By breaking the tension in one chain, we are simultaneously breaking the stress and tension in the others. For example, by simply focusing on our breath during yoga nidra we can release the tension in the muscles responsible for respiration, resulting in deep abdominal breathing that helps to calm the mind. Alternatively you can chose the body to focus on; maintaining awareness of muscular relaxation leads to slow, deep breathing and a quieting of the mind. Therefore, we can see that by relaxing one level, the others are relaxed, as well. By practicing this technique regularly, we can retrain our nervous system to release tension rather than clinging to it, rapidly improving our overall physical and mental well-being.
The best way to achieve this is through simple breath awareness. By focusing on our breath, we can calm our mind, which in turn has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system. A relaxed mind also helps to reduce muscular tension, making us feel more natural and at ease in our body. Therefore, breath awareness is not simply awareness of only the breath – but directly equates to homogenous self awareness.
The fourth perspective, beyond the always changing body, breath, and thoughts, is the higher awareness of our inner state of being. By knowing ourselves as the formless Self, not the forms and objects of perception, we can become established in both knowledge of our freedom and our personal power. By maintaining the tranquility of our inner state, we can simultaneously maintain the tranquility of the body, breath, and thoughts. This fourth perspective is the result of pratyahara.
As yoga nidra teachers we must have a solid understanding that stress, pain, tension, and suffering are not real things. Stress does not have an independent existence of its own, but arises from the interdependent tensions between our body, breath, and mind.
Suffering arises from failing to recognize the formless silent witness as our authentic true self, beyond the stress. Nevertheless, we can break the chains of tension and stress, access our natural state of perfect relaxation, and regain detached self-awareness by comprehending that stress arises in a codependent relationship with the body and mind, and does not have its own intrinsic existence.
Yoga is a holistic approach to health and wellness that aims to integrate the body, mind, and spirit, in a process of introversion as we transcend our illusory attachments and false identifications in a grandiose return to Self.
Yoga adheres to the fundamental principle that mental rigidity and emotional stress can materialize physically as muscular tension, stiffness, pain, palpitations and other bodily manifestations. As a result, beginners are likely to undergo unpleasant releases of pent-up nervous energy as the muscles holding that psychological tension are finally released, leading to the simultaneous release of mental and emotional tension.
From a yogic perspective, all physical and behavioral indications are rooted in the psyche. Yoga nidra employs a systematic method to alleviate tension across all three dimensions. It’s essential to note that just as psychological tension affects the body, releasing physical tension can also result in the release of emotional and psychological tensions, leading to sudden and random manifestations of pain, anxiety and nervousness during the practice. This may also be a point when many of your students will fall asleep. In some cases, sleep serves as a safety mechanism to protect individuals from intense psycho-emotional energies. In such cases, it is necessary for students to prioritize rest to replenish their pranic reserves and enhance their mental strength, which will later empower them to confront and detach from the emotional and mental tensions that may arise in the intermediate and advanced stages of their practice.
As the facilitator you should be sensitive to the experience of your students and constantly remind them not only to stay awake and alert, but to detach from their experiences – reminding them that these experiences are subject to change, impermanent and not self.
Lets take a deeper look at these three fold tensions:
Muscular tension can result from chronic psychological and nervous tension. Prolonged muscular tension can lead to pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Yoga nidra can be particularly effective in reducing muscular tension. By guiding your student through the body scan, breath awareness and a series of visualizations, it promotes physical relaxation, releasing tension in the muscles. This can be especially helpful for individuals who experience chronic pain or tension due to poor posture or stress.
Emotional tension can result from feelings of anxiety, fear, depression or anger. It can be challenging to manage our emotions, especially when we are going through difficult times. Yoga nidra is an incredibly effective tool for managing emotional tension. The body scan and conscious breathing exercises facilitate the release of pent up psycho-emotional energy. Polar opposite sensations help to develop physiological and emotional resilience. The guided meditations help individuals to create a safe and supportive space to explore and release their emotions. Through this process, individuals can ventilate, transcend outdated tendencies, and cultivate self-awareness.
Mental tension can result from the constant chatter of the untrained mind, which can create a sense of restlessness and anxiety. It can be difficult to quiet the mind, especially when we are constantly bombarded by external stimuli. Yoga nidra is indeed a powerful tool for reducing psychological tension by helping to silence the mind while simultaneously revitalizing the mental faculties. This can promote a sense of calm and clarity, allowing individuals to approach their daily tasks with greater focus and efficiency.
Along with yoga nidra, a complete lifestyle-oriented approach incorporating other yogic practices such as asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), mudras (gestures), maha bandha (kriya yoga), antar mouna (inner silence meditation), satsang (attending spiritual discourses), kirtan (singing the names of the divine), seva (selfless service), svadhyaya (self study), sanyam (restraint) and santosha (contentment) can be beneficial depending on individual preferences. Regularly practicing these aspects of hatha, raja, kriya, karma, bhakti and jnana yoga can quickly lead to self knowledge and enhance one’s ability to regulate their physical, emotional, and mental states, ultimately promoting a sense of optimal equilibrium and total wellness in all aspects of life.
There are numerous case studies that highlight the effectiveness of yoga nidra in a variety of clinical situations. For example, a study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy demonstrated that yoga nidra was effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military veterans. Another study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that yoga nidra was effective in reducing anxiety and improving quality of life in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
- Bockelman, P., Gibson, A., & Parmenter, B. (2019). Yoga nidra as a complementary therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: A qualitative review and clinical vignette. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 29(1), 33-45. https://doi.org/10.17761/2019-00004R2
- Dhruva, A., Miaskowski, C., Abrams, D., & Acree, M. (2012). Yoga Nidra: A complementary intervention for chemotherapy-induced neuropathic symptoms. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 43(3), 517-525. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.03.013
Chakras And The Brain
The chakra system is an ancient framework used to describe the energy centers in the body. Each chakra is a plexus of conscious energy where the mental (manas shakti), vital (prana shakti) and spiritual forces (kundalini shakti) in the body converge, creating the different levels of intelligence. Interestingly, recent research has shown that the locations of the chakras in the body correspond to different regions of the brain.
The lower two chakras, the root chakra, and the sacral chakra are associated with our basic instincts; survival, and reproduction. These chakras correspond to the brain stem, which is responsible for regulating the most fundamental and automatic functions of our body, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The middle two chakras, the solar plexus chakra, and the heart chakra are associated with our emotions; intuition, and empathy. These chakras correspond to the limbic system, which is responsible for our emotional responses, motivation, and memory.
The upper two chakras, the throat chakra, and the third eye chakra are associated with our intellect, communication, intuition, and spiritual connection. These chakras correspond to the frontal lobe, which is responsible for our cognitive functions, such as knowledge, decision making, attention, and creativity.
By understanding the connection between the chakras and the brain, we can use this knowledge to enhance our overall well-being. For example, if we feel stuck in our basic survival mode, we can work to balance and purify our root chakra through practices such as hatha yoga, grounding, and yoga nidra. Similarly, if we struggle with emotional regulation, we can work to balance and activate our heart chakra through practices such as mindfulness, mantra japa, atmabhava (seeing the Self in everyone), or self-reflection.
Overall, the chakra system provides a framework for understanding the psycho-energetic and spiritual aspects of our being. By connecting these centers to specific regions of the brain, we can deepen our understanding of how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected. Through practices such as yoga nidra, meditation, and energy work, we can work to balance and activate these energy centers, promoting greater physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Yoga Nidras Effect On The Nervous System
One of the reasons yoga nidra is so effective at promoting both short-term and long-term therapeutic benefits is that it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system. This system is responsible for slowing down the heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and promoting relaxation in the body. By activating this system, yoga nidra helps individuals to feel more relaxed and centered, while also promoting better physical and mental health.
The parasympathetic nervous system relates to relaxation, whereas the sympathetic nervous system relates to stimulation.
To make it really simple, think of it like this…
Sympathetic nervous system: Fight or flight.
Parasympathetic nervous system: Rest and digest.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems can be compared to the brake and accelerator pedals in a car. Just as the brake pedal slows down a car, the parasympathetic nervous system slows down heart rate, breathing, and other bodily functions to promote relaxation and conserve energy. On the other hand, just as the accelerator pedal speeds up a car, the sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate, breathing, and other bodily functions to prepare for action in response to perceived stress or danger.
Can you imagine always holding down the accelerator pedal while driving, breaking and even while trying to park your car? To one extent or another, many of us operate our nervous system in this same way. However, yoga nidra retrains this negative unconscious behavior by increasing the self luminous light of awareness of the body, breath and mind from a fully detached and neutral perspective.
Prolonged nervous tension results in excessive stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers a state of fight or flight response, leading to muscular tension, stress, and even deterioration of body systems. The body is not designed to maintain a high level of stress for extended periods of time any more than your car’s breaking system is designed to always be used in conjunction with constant acceleration. Chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a wide range of health issues, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, chronic pain, insomnia, and the various psychosomatic illnesses that further degenerate into somatic and organic illness and disease.
During yoga nidra you assist your students to balance the sympathetic nervous system’s over activity by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to rest, digest, and heal. The eight steps help regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and reduce the negative effects of chronic nervous tension on the body and mind.
The biology of stress
Stress is a normal and natural response to the challenges of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can take a toll on our physical, emotional and mental health. Understanding the biology of stress and how it affects the body can help you as a facilitator to understand the unique challenges of your students, and to write better yoga nidra scripts for managing and preventing the negative effects of chronic stress and tension.
The limbic system, located in the brain, is responsible for the body’s stress response. When we perceive a threat, the limbic system triggers a cascade of hormonal and physiological changes that activates the sympathetic nervous system and prepares the body to fight or flee. These changes include an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, as well as the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
These changes are essential in the short term, as they help us become alert and respond quickly to potential threats in our environment. However, when stress becomes chronic, the body is exposed to high levels of stress hormones over an extended period, which not decreases our quality of living but may lead to negative health effects.
The effects of chronic stress
Chronic tension can affect various parts of the body, including and especially the neck, shoulders, and back, and can lead to constant discomfort and pain. As we will soon learn from Doctor Udupa’s extremely important model for the origin or stress and disease; if allowed to continue chronic psychological stress manifests as psychosomatic, somatic and then eventually organic disease and illness.
Yoga nidra is an incredibly useful tool in addressing chronic tension by promoting complete relaxation, illumining the psychological root and allowing the body to release built-up stress and tension, and in this way is an ideal curative and preventative form of self therapy.
By using yoga nidra to recognize that stress is a natural response to external stimuli rather than an inherent trait, individuals can re-learn to let go, retrain their responses to stress and develop an ever-deepening sense of inner peace, calmness and stability.
Employing sakshibhava instructions allows you to assist your students in acquiring the skill of creating psychological distance between themselves and any negative experiences, enabling them to disengage from the mental hold of stress, both during and outside of the yoga nidra practice.
Frequently remind them accordingly, “you have a body, but you are not your body. You have emotions, but you are not your emotions. You have thoughts, but you are not your thoughts. These are all objects of your awareness, not the subjective experiencer. They are external to you, impermanent, ever-changing – therefore not self.”
Managing stress with Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra utilizes physical relaxation, conscious breathing, and detached awareness to alleviate stress and encourage recovery on physical, mental, and emotional levels. The state of mindfulness is retained throughout and even beyond the practice, allowing us to delve beyond physical relaxation and the limitations of sleep to access the deeper realms of the mind and psyche. This ‘deep dive’ into ourselves helps to illumine all obstacles to natural relaxation, unlocking the potential for profound healing and growth.
During a yoga nidra practice, the body enters a state of deep relaxation, similar to deep sleep, but with a heightened awareness of ourselves in the present moment. Each of the eight steps of yoga nidra are designed to calm the mind and release tension from the body. This enables your students to experience a restorative and rejuvenating form of optimized rest, ultimately leading to a state of perfect contentment and bliss.
One of the most significant benefits of yoga nidra is its ability to regularly and reliably reduce chronic stress and tension. By consciously relaxing each part of the body, you can gradually train your students to release tension and prevent psychosomatic illnesses from ever developing. In this way, it is saving you from untold miseries and suffering!
Yoga nidra can also help to reduce stress by promoting a state of deep mental calm and relaxation, bringing you back into control over your inner state. By systematically putting the body to sleep while remaining awake, then tranquilizing the emotions with breath awareness and focusing on the present moment to let go of worries and distractions, you can create a profound sense of inner peace and tranquility that remains with your students far after the end of your sessions. This can quickly help to reduce feelings of anxiety, promote better mental health and lead them to an enhanced overall experience of life.
Yoga nidra is a powerful practice that offers not only long term relief but also short term relief from symptoms of psychosomatic illness and even physical pain. It has been shown to be highly effective in reducing not only stress, but chronic fatigue syndrome, hypertension, fibromyalgia, ulcers and depression, as well.
It can also help alleviate symptoms of chronic pain, migraines, and other physical ailments. Moreover, the benefits of yoga nidra extend beyond just symptom relief. It can also be used as a curative and preventative measure to maintain overall health and wellbeing. By inducing a state of deep relaxation, and addressing the psychological root of the illness, yoga nidra helps the body heal and rejuvenate itself, leading to improved physical and mental health over time.
In addition to its many therapeutic benefits, yoga nidra strikes at the very core of our suffering by addressing spiritual ignorance and removing it with self knowledge. By dissociating from false identifications, connecting with your higher self, revitalizing your mental faculties, and tapping into your intuition and creativity, you can cultivate a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life than perhaps you ever knew possible.
Let us summarize this very important point before moving on: Stress is a natural and normal part of life, but when prolonged it can have negative effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health. This chronic stress is mostly unconscious because modern man has not developed the tools for coping with modern challenges. By understanding the biology of stress and how it affects the body, we can develop tools to manage it and prevent its negative effects.
Yoga nidra is one such tool, offering you a powerful way to reduce stress and promote physical, mental, and emotional health in your listeners. By guiding your students to practice regularly, you can empower them to release tension from the body, reduce stress, promote emotional maturity and develop a permanent sense of inner peace and tranquility that is grounded in self knowledge. As they progress with their practice, they will find that they are better able to manage stress and maintain a state of calm and relaxation even in the face of life’s many turbulent challenges. With regular practice, you are guiding them to develop greater resilience, tenacity as well as sensitivity and a deeper connection with their inner self, helping them to live a more fulfilling, meaningful and joyful life.
A New Model For Understanding Stress*
The primary cause of stress and suffering is spiritual ignorance. It’s because we don’t really know what we are that we suffer. Out of ignorance we project selfhood onto the objects of the mind and senses and suffer when they inevitably change or perish. Your students can go to a number of various doctors, therapists and healers for temporary remedies, but yoga has the greatest remedy of all: Self knowledge.
Stress disorders are now understood to have an underlying cause in the psyche and to exist along a continuum spanning several years. In a recent study, Dr. K. N. Udupa of the Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India has proposed a classification system for stress disorders. This system is based on four phases of stress-induced illness:
- Psychic phase: This phase is characterized by psychological changes resulting from excessive psychic trauma. The individual becomes irritable, hyperactive, and may develop mild tremors. Sleep patterns are disturbed, and the individual becomes increasingly anxious. The state can be objectively measured by estimating levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the blood, which are usually elevated. This phase can last from a few days to a few months, depending on the type and severity of stress phenomena and the individual’s body constitution and personality.
- Psychosomatic phase: Here, physical manifestations become evident, such as palpitations, tremors, raised blood pressure, and a rapid pulse. Irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, fibromyalgia, asthma, hypertension, ulcers, allergies, eczema, and psoriasis are all examples of psychosomatic illnesses.
- Somatic phase: In this phase, there is an increased function of the target organs. The stress disease usually settles upon a particular organ, depending on a person’s hereditary background and environmental factors. One individual will develop a hyperthyroid state, another an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure, and another elevated acid levels in the stomach. This phase can be objectively measured by recording elevated levels of stress hormones in the blood.
- Organic phase: This is the final phase in which disease fully settles down into a particular organ. The earlier psychosomatic and somatic excessive functions settle down, and chronic inflammation and organ destruction begin. The individual develops the signs and symptoms of coronary insufficiency, thyrotoxicosis, bronchial asthma, peptic ulceration, or some other clinical condition. There is plasma cell and lymphocyte infiltration in the target organ, and tissue destruction ensues. Fibrosis progressively impedes the function and destroys the organ. The end result is that disease states such as diabetes mellitus, myxoedema (chronic thyroid insufficiency), emphysema, and cardiac insufficiency develop.
While medical and surgical treatment is available for these diseases, the background of psychological stress is often overlooked. In this way, modern medicine often treats the symptomatic effects rather than the cause of the disease or illness. Although this may be a more lucrative approach for the pharmaceutical companies, it cannot lead to regaining homeostasis and full recovery of health. However, with yoga nidra we can gain awareness of the source of the dis-ease within ourselves in the form of prolonged psychological tension. The sooner we can apply this method the sooner we can arrest the disease at a less serious stage. In this light, yoga nidra is enjoying greater attention for its preventative therapeutic benefits, however its unique healing potentials have yet to be fully recognized.
According to a report by doctors at Davis Sacramento Medical Centre, University of California, USA, yoga nidra as relaxation therapy has proven effective in treating patients with chronic medical problems. The technique has been adapted for easy practice by hospitalized patients and has been successful in alleviating many issues related to chronic illness. Specifically, it has been helpful in reducing insomnia and sleep disturbances, managing pain, and addressing feelings of hopelessness and depression. Additionally, the therapy has led to reduced use of hypnotic and sedative drugs, which can cause long-term drug dependence and undesirable side effects.
During the therapy, the patient is led into a state of deep systematic relaxation of the body and breath, and is encouraged to recall a restful and pleasant memory. The patient then fully experiences the memory, leading to effortless attention without any sense of striving for concentration. The American Journal of Psychotherapy has published case histories of challenging patients who benefited from this therapy.
The cases presented include a sixty-five-year-old man with oesophagitis, a twenty-two-year-old man with extensive bullet wounds, a fifty-three-year-old man with widely disseminated lung cancer, and a fifty-year-old man who had previously suffered a myocardial infarction. All patients experienced improvements in their conditions after utilizing yoga nidra, including pain reduction, improved sleep, and better mental attitudes.
These studies highlight that pain is a complex matter that can be influenced by a patient’s expectations and approach to life. Yoga nidra can help release mental and emotional tensions, reveal negative unconscious thought patterns and promote a positive outlook, leading to reduced suffering and expedited healing. Ultimately, yoga nidra as self therapy changes one’s way of life, making them more positive, open minded and tension free.
All therapy systems are incomplete if they do not address the psychological source of the issue. It’s important to recognize that neglecting psychic tension during therapy can cause disease and illness to reoccur, just like a weed whose root you did not pluck. Therefore, we must not neglect this root level of our being during therapy and use some form of relaxation technique in order to facilitate complete and total healing.
The modern stress epidemic is a major public health issue affecting people around the world, and conventional medical approaches alone are not enough to address it. This is not a new problem, the first mantra of Ishvara Krishna’s Samkhya Karikas (which are the only surviving text on Samkhya philosophy) echoes this same predicament by saying the following: “From the torment caused by the three kinds of pain, proceeds a desire for inquiry into the means for terminating them. If it be said that (the inquiry) is superfluous since visible means exist, (we reply), not so; because (in the visible means) there is the absence of certainty (in the case of the means) and permanency (of pain).”
The three kinds of pain are the same as those we covered in the first chapter, natural, acts of god and psychological. The visible means said to already exist are the various forms of medicine that existed at that time. Even during those times these means were not enough because they only addressed the external dimensions of our being and ignored the root cause of suffering in the psyche, which is self ignorance.
While homeopathic and allopathic medicines may be effective in treating physical symptoms, yoga offers a more comprehensive approach to healing by addressing the root cause of suffering. Through yoga, we can gain a deeper understanding of our true nature and recognize the illusions that cause us pain and distress. By practicing yoga, we learn to quiet the mind and tune into our bodies, allowing us to connect with our innate wisdom and intuition. In doing so, we can uproot the underlying causes of physical and mental imbalances, rather than just treating the symptoms. Ultimately, the holistic approach of yoga provides a powerful tool for achieving overall health and wellness, addressing not just physical symptoms, but also emotional and psychological imbalances.
By incorporating yoga nidra and other relaxation techniques into treatment plans, healers can provide patients with safe and effective tools for managing stress and preventing stress-related illnesses. To fully realize the potential of these practices, more research, standardization, and education efforts are needed, as well as greater collaboration between the medical and yoga therapy communities. With a concerted effort, we can begin to shift the paradigm from reactive treatment to proactive prevention and help individuals lead healthier, more balanced lives.
*K. N. Udupa, “Pathogenesis and Management of Stress Disorders”, Quarterly Journal of Surgical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Vol. 13, no. 2, June 1977.
*Karmananda Saraswati, S. (1979). Stress-Related Diseases. Yoga, 17(1). Retrieved from http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1970s/1979/7901/7901stds.html
Addressing Stress and Tension in the Panchakosha
In this next section, we will explore how Yoga Nidra addresses stress and tension on each of the panchakosha.
Again, the panchakosha are the annamayakosha (physical body), the pranamayakosha (energy body), the manomayakosha (mind), the vijnanamayakosha (psyche), and the anandamayakosha (bliss body).
Annamayakosha (Physical Body)
The physical body is the most gross dimension of our being, and it can develop tension, pain, discomfort or disease due to chronic psychological stress and tension. To address this issue, yoga nidra induces deep relaxation in the body, releasing healing hormones such as growth hormone, melatonin, prolactin, and hCG, which can be beneficial in reducing chronic muscular tension and other physical symptoms. During the body scan technique, rotating awareness around the various parts encourages the body to enter a deep state of rest similar to sleep, which facilitates the release of these healing hormones. Additionally, the relaxation response triggered by yoga nidra can also reduce the production of the harmful stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which have been shown to have negative long term effects on the body.
Yoga nidra allows you to become aware of habitual clenching of various muscles in the body and how it relates to mental and emotional tension. With practice, you can identify how mental and emotional stress manifests physically as muscular tension and shallow or restrained breathing patterns. By releasing physical tension, you can also release emotional and mental tensions, as well.
Pranamayakosha (Energy Body)
The pranamayakosha is the layer of our being that governs the flow of prana, or life force energy, through the body. This directly relates to the processes in the body such as digestion, assimilation, circulation, respiration, immune response and others. Impaired bodily functions and feelings of lethargy or restlessness may arise when the energy within the body is blocked or stagnant. Yoga nidra can help release this tension through heightened breath awareness, which can lead to a more balanced flow of prana throughout the body, promoting feelings of vitality and well-being.
In yoga nidra, emotions can be viewed as merely energy in motion that can be channeled and guided with breath awareness. During this practice, the focus is on maintaining neutral and detached attention of the breath without any attempt to manipulate or modify it in any way. The principle of “from awareness comes relaxation” is utilized to allow the breath to naturally deepen and become more rhythmic simply by observing the muscles of respiration and the constant wave-like motions of the inhalation and exhalation.
The manomayakosha is the layer of our being that governs our conscious thoughts during the waking state. Stress and tension in the mind can manifest as anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders. Yoga nidra can help release this tension by promoting a state of mental clarity, tranquility and inner calm. During the practice, the student is guided to become a detached witness to their state of mind and mental activity. The first stage of the visualization step encourages the listener to visualize pleasant mental scenery. This can help to quiet the mind and reduce the production of stress-inducing thoughts and emotions. Next, sakshibhava is utilized encourage your listener to dissociate from any abstract associations. Finally, a psychic symbol is used to occupy the mind fully, leading to one-pointedness and the mental silence necessary for entering the third stage of yoga nidra; conscious unconsciousness.
The vijnanamayakosha is also known as the psyche, or subconscious mind, and is responsible for shaping our identity, beliefs and unique perspective in life. This is also the layer of our being that governs our subtle experiences during the dream state. Mental fatigue, irritability, depression, mood swings and apathy are some of the effects of stress and tension on the psyche. Yoga nidra can alleviate psychic tension by bringing repressed thoughts, desires, and memories to the light of neutral awareness, and by inducing mental clarity and alertness. In this case, sakshibhava is employed to neutralize the ego’s irrational and emotional reactions, enabling awareness to advance to a higher level of comprehension.
Anandamayakosha (Bliss Body)
The anandamayakosha is the deepest layer of our being, where we experience the bliss of deep sleep without any stress or tension caused by internal or external factors. However, all the sources of tension from our physical, energetic, mental, and psychic levels are stored here in a dormant state. The mind’s positive and negative manifestations are not eliminated; they are simply inactive. When the wakeful mind resumes its operations, all the impressions, desires, and thought forms return. During sleep, this bliss is experienced unconsciously, however during yoga nidra, it can be experienced consciously.
Yoga nidra is a powerful tool for addressing stress and tension in each of the panchamayakosha. By promoting deep relaxation, breath awareness, promoting mental clarity, revealing repressed matter, working with a sankalpa, affirmations, symbolism and promoting a sense of inner peace and connection, yoga nidra helps to release tension and promote overall wellness on every level of our being.
By practicing yoga nidra on a regular basis you are helping your students to develop a greater awareness of their internal state, enabling them to recognize and release tension as it arises in their daily lives. This is called ‘self regulation’ and can lead to greater emotional resilience, improved cognitive function, and a deeper sense of connection to ourselves and the world around us.
Whether if your listeners are new to the practice of yoga nidra or have been practicing for years, incorporating this approach to alleviating tension on every level of their being has a profound impact on their physical, emotional, mental, and psychological health. With regular practice, you can guide them to experience greater inner peace, serenity, and self-born joy in every aspect of life.
Retraining Yourself How To Breathe
Breathing is something that we often take for granted, assuming that our bodies will handle it without any conscious effort on our part. However, the truth is that our breathing patterns have a significant impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, many people fall into the trap of undisciplined, unconscious, and reactive breathing, which can have negative consequences.
One of the downsides to undisciplined breathing is that it can lead to shallow breathing, which does not allow enough oxygen to enter the body. This can cause a host of problems, including fatigue, weakness, and poor concentration. In addition, shallow breathing can contribute to anxiety and stress, as the body is not receiving enough oxygen to function optimally.
Another issue with undisciplined breathing is that it can be reactive, meaning that we tend to hold our breath or take shallow, rapid breaths in response to stressful situations. This can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress, and also lead to physical tension and pain.
The reptilian brain, also referred to as the brain stem, plays a significant role in regulating our body’s most basic and instinctual functions, such as breathing. When we engage in unconscious and reactive breathing patterns, this part of our brain becomes activated. However, conscious and deliberate breathing patterns activate the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for higher cognitive functions like problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity. This shift in brain activity is a clear indication of the essential connection between our breath and our cognitive functioning. Since the frontal lobe is a more recently evolved part of the brain and conscious breathing activates this region, it may be argued that conscious breathing equates to conscious evolution.
Conscious breathing is a superior alternative to undisciplined breathing, and yogic breathing is a technique that emphasizes deep, full, and conscious breathing. To teach yoga breathing, start by having your students focus on breath awareness at the navel, then at the chest, and finally at the clavicle. Afterward, guide them to breathe in a fluid wave-like motion between these three points, using the full capacity of the lungs.
Yoga nidra can be used to retrain breathing patterns with great success. This approach involves maintaining simple breath awareness from the beginning to the end of the practice. Through the heightened sensitivity and awareness developed during yoga nidra, practitioners can learn to regulate their breathing, retrain reactive tendencies and patterns, and to breathe more fully.
In addition to yoga nidra and pranayama, there are other ways to incorporate yogic breathing into your daily life. For example, you can practice deep breathing exercises while sitting at your desk or during a break at work. Simply take a few deep breaths, focusing on expanding your belly, filling your lungs with air and breathing vertically.
The benefits of yogic breathing are numerous. By practicing full, deep, and conscious breathing, we can improve our physical and emotional well-being. Yogic breathing can help to reduce anxiety and stress, increase energy levels, and promote overall relaxation. In addition, yogic breathing can help to release tension in the body, improving posture and reducing chronic pain.
How Perspective Can Affect Your Experience of Physical Pain
Pain is a universal experience that we all go through at some point in our lives. There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is mundane, it comes with having a physical body. However suffering is the result of self ignorance.
The most compassionate approach is to treat other peoples pain as thought it were real, not merely a result of ignorance. We can utilize yoga nidra to help alleviate not only psychological tension but even to gain immediate relief from physical pain. Whether if it is a headache, a broken bone, or a chronic condition like arthritis, pain can be a debilitating and distressing experience. By developing physical stillness and releasing the tension in every muscle, sustained relief from mild physical pain can be experienced.
Once relief from the physical symptoms of pain has been achieved we can begin to address the personality. While we often think of pain as a purely physical sensation, recent research has shown that our attitude and perspective can also play a significant role in how we experience pain.
Studies have shown that a positive attitude and a sense of control over one’s pain can help to reduce the intensity and even duration of the pain. This was demonstrated in a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, which found that individuals who had a more positive attitude towards their pain were able to tolerate it for longer periods of time than those who had a negative attitude. Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that patients who felt more in control of their pain reported less pain intensity and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Karlson, C. W., & Gallagher, R. M. (1996). “Positive coping strategies and pain tolerance: an exploration of temporal summation.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 41(3), 279-287. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3999(96)00218-6
- : Gaston-Johansson, F., & Fall-Dickson, J. M. (1991). “Nurses’ attitudes towards cancer pain and their pain management practices.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 14(2), 167-184. doi: 10.1007/BF00844857
Conversely, a negative attitude and a sense of helplessness can exacerbate the experience of pain and even prolong it. A study published in the European Journal of Pain found that patients who felt that their pain was uncontrollable had higher levels of pain intensity and greater functional impairment. Another study published in the Journal of Pain found that patients who overreacted and exaggerated their pain, or engaged in excessive negative thinking about their pain, had higher levels of pain intensity and greater levels of disability.
- Eccleston, C., Crombez, G. (1999). Pain demands attention: A cognitive-affective model of the interruptive function of pain. European Journal of Pain, 3(4), 309-318. DOI: 10.1016/s1090-3801(99)90014-5
- McCracken, L. M., & Gross, R. T. (1998). The role of pain-related anxiety in predicting disability and depressive symptoms: A prospective study of chronic pain patients. Journal of Pain, 9(5), 209-217. DOI: 10.1016/s1526-5900(98)00006-3
These findings highlight the importance of addressing the psychological factors that contribute to the experience of pain. As yoga nidra teachers we can work with our students to help them keep mild and even up to moderate pain out of awareness, to dissociate from their pain as ‘not self’, to develop a more positive attitude towards their pain, as well as providing them with tools to help them feel more in control of their symptoms. The crux of this approach is sakshibhava; the attitude of a detached and unaffected witness that is totally free from it all.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that a positive attitude and profound ability to dissociate from the body-mind complex is not a cure-all for pain. Students should never be blamed nor shamed for their pain or made to feel that their pain is their fault due to an inability to grasp spiritual concepts.
Instead, we should utilize the many various therapeutic aspects of yoga, while simultaneously working with a sankalpa and planting the seeds of higher awareness in the subconscious mind. As much as possible, we should try to work collaboratively with therapy students to develop a holistic treatment plan that takes into account their unique personality, nature and both the physical and psychological aspects of their pain.
How to Distance Ourselves from Negative Experiences During Yoga Nidra
During the practice of yoga nidra, it is not uncommon for negative experiences such as discomfort, fear, or anxiety to arise as a result of releasing repressed matter from the psyche. These experiences can be challenging to deal with and may even discourage one from continuing the practice, however they must be purified eventually unless they continue influencing our moods and behavior unconsciously. When these negative experiences arise it is important to identify them, distance yourself from them mentally, and label them as ‘not self’.
Today we have been talking a lot about sakshibhava, which not only fosters self awareness but is also incredibly useful for providing psychological relief during negative experiences. During sakshibhava we observe our own thoughts and experiences without judgment or attachment. It is a potent way to distance oneself from negative experiences and emotions during the practice by correctly discerning that anything subject to change cannot be the real self. By cultivating the attitude of a silent witness, we can learn to observe and accept negative experiences without allowing them to overwhelm us and shape our inner state.
To incorporate sakshibhava into your yoga nidra sessions, begin by cultivating a sense of detachment from all thoughts and sensations. Instead of identifying with your thoughts and feelings from the first person perspective of the ego, observe them as if they are happening outside yourself. This technique is not only useful during yoga nidra but can also be applied in daily life. It helps in recognizing that thoughts and feelings are impermanent and that by observing them without attachment, our understanding can mature, and outdated beliefs and thought patterns can be recognized and transcended. With continued practice, your students may find that negative experiences become less overwhelming and easier to manage.
Another technique to cultivate sakshibhava is to use positive affirmations. Throughout the session repeat affirmations to your students such as “you am not these thoughts”, “you aare not these feelings”, “you are not an object”, “you are calm” or “you are at peace.” These affirmations can help to shift their focus away from an egocentric perspective to a more enlightened one. Additionally, affirmations can help to build confidence and promote a sense of well-being. These affirmations can be customized to suit one’s needs and goals, for example, affirmations such as “I am nonreactive” or “I am not an object, nor does anything object to my awareness” can be used to address specific concerns.
Another way to practice sakshibhava during yoga nidra is to return focus on your body or your breath. As stated previously – the body, breath and mind are all interconnected. When you release tension on one level, tension is released on the other levels automatically. Instead of thinking of this negative experience as a real thing, consider it in terms of how it is impacting your current degree of physical tension or relaxation. Or, when negative experiences arise, shift your attention to your breath and observe it without judgment. Focus on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body. This technique can help to ground you in the present moment and calm your mind. Witnessing the body or the breath is a great way to train yourself to dissociate from mental stress and return focus to the serenity of this present moment.
Furthermore, besides the aforementioned methods, there are alternative approaches to foster sakshibhava during meditation. These encompass visualization techniques, exemplified by the procedure elucidated in the initial sutra of Drg Drishya Viveka, which is an important Advaita Vedanta text. This involves guiding the practitioner through the process of cultivating discrimination between the objects of perception and the subjective perceiver itself. Initially, the forms and colors are considered as objects while the eye serves as the subject. Subsequently, the eye becomes the object while the mind functions as the subject. Ultimately, the mind is perceived as the object of awareness, and awareness itself is the ultimate subject. Awareness is never an object, for it is the final and ultimate level of pure subjectivity. The result of this method is the development of discernment between the formless inner self and the objective outer world.
Finally, it is important to approach the practice of sakshibhava with an open and curious mindset. It really is like exercising a new mental muscle. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work to cultivate higher awareness. Allow your own insights to come to you regarding the witness consciousness.
To summarize this section: Negative experiences during yoga nidra can be challenging to manage, but cultivating sakshibhava can help individuals develop a better understanding of their mental and emotional patterns, ultimately leading to better self-awareness and emotional regulation. This can be especially beneficial for individuals struggling with mental health conditions such as anxiety, irritability and depression.
The Short And Long Term Benefits Of Yoga Nidra
It is essential for a yoga nidra teacher to understand the short and long-term benefits of the practice to guide their students effectively. The short-term benefits of yoga nidra include deep relaxation, stress reduction, improved sleep quality, and heightened self-awareness. These benefits can be experienced almost immediately after a session, and they are essential in promoting overall well-being. On the other hand, the long-term benefits of yoga nidra include improved emotional regulation, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, improved immune function, increased cognitive function and self knowledge. By understanding these benefits, a yoga nidra teacher can create a program that is tailored to the unique needs of their students, helping them achieve their goals and promoting long-term wellness.
Short-Term Therapeutic Benefits
Yoga nidra has a range of short-term therapeutic benefits that can be experienced immediately after a single session. Here are some of the ways in which yoga nidra can positively impact the health and well-being of your students in the short term:
- Reduces Stress and Anxiety
One of the most well-known benefits of yoga nidra is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. During a yoga nidra session, you systematically guide your students into a state of deep relaxation. This helps them to calm the mind, reduce heart rate, and lower blood pressure.
- Promotes Relaxation and Better Sleep
Yoga nidra is a godsend for insomniacs. Now that you know this technique there is no excuse for you nor any one you know to suffer from sleeping disorders. According to the American Psychological Association, 60-70% of people in the United States report experiencing sleep-related problems due to stress and anxiety. Yoga nidra can help to calm your mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. The most important aspects of yoga nidra for insomnia are body scan, the thirteen points of contact, alternate nostril breathing and guided visualizations that both calm the mind and activate the imagination.
- Improves Concentration and Focus
Yoga nidra can also help to improve concentration and focus. During a yoga nidra session, you are prompted to remain awake, present and to not sleep. Maintaining wakeful relaxation can help to improve your concentration and focus in your daily life.
- Problem Solving & Enhanced Creativity
Another short-term benefit of yoga nidra is it allows you to access enhanced creativity and problem solving skills from your own higher intelligence. When you enter a state of deep relaxation, the mind enters into Alpha state and is more receptive to new ideas and inspiration. This can be helpful for writers, artists, and other creative people who need to tap into their inner creative genius on a regular basis.
Long-Term Therapeutic Benefits
In addition to its short-term benefits, yoga nidra also has a range of long-term therapeutic benefits. Here are some of the ways in which yoga nidra positively impacts the health and well-being of your students over the long term:
- Improves Immune Function
Yoga nidra has been shown to improve immune function over time. When you are in a state of deep relaxation, your body is better able to heal and repair itself. This can help to boost your immune system and make you more resistant to illness and disease.
- Reduces Chronic Pain
Yoga nidra can also help to reduce chronic pain. Chronic pain can be caused by a range of conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain. Yoga nidra helps to reduce pain by eliminating stress at its source in the psyche and promoting absolute physical and mental relaxation.
- Improves Mental Health
Yoga nidra has been shown to improve mental health over time. It can help to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By promoting relaxation, promoting self awareness and reducing stress on the panchakosha, yoga nidra helps to improve your overall mood and sense of well-being.
- Promotes Spiritual Growth
Last but not least, yoga nidra promotes spiritual growth over time. It can help you to connect with your own true nature and develop self-awareness. This is very helpful for anyone who is looking to develop their spirituality, find relief from suffering, attain permanent joy and connect with their higher self.
- Enhances Cognitive Function
The practice of yoga nidra can have a positive impact on memory and cognitive function. This is achieved through inducing deep relaxation and mindfulness, which can help to resolve inner conflicts and promote mental clarity and harmony. These benefits can lead to improved memory retention and enhanced problem-solving abilities, as well as better critical thinking skills. Additionally, the practice of yoga nidra can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are often major factors in cognitive decline. When the mind is relaxed and free from distractions, it is better able to process and retain new information.
Objective: To create a yoga nidra script that addresses a specific therapeutic aim.
- Choose a therapeutic aim: Choose one of the therapeutic aims discussed in today’s class to focus on. Examples include reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, reducing chronic pain, improving mental health, and promoting spiritual growth.
- Research and plan: Conduct research and plan your yoga nidra script. Identify which of the panchakosha the issue you are aiming at providing therapy for is on. Determine which techniques and strategies you will use to achieve your therapeutic aim. Consider the language, pacing, and tone of your script to ensure it is suitable for your target audience and therapeutic aim.
- Write the script: Write your yoga nidra script, keeping in mind the therapeutic aim you have chosen. Use clear and concise language, and ensure your script is easy to follow. Keep in mind the pacing and duration of the session, and ensure that your script is appropriate for the length of time you have allotted.