Recently, I gave two Yoga Nidra sessions to someone awaiting biopsy results. Nervous about the diagnosis, she was weak from sleepless nights. After the first one-hour deep relaxation practice, she reported a sleep-filled evening. The day after her second Yoga Nidra experience, her visualization materialized. She was cancer-free.
Yoga Nidra is one of my favorite offerings. It is revitalizing. It packs in the power of sleep, quadrupled. It can change habits, and reduce PTSD.
Nidra means sleep. However, Yoga Nidra is sleep-like, but not sleep. It’s meditation-like, but it’s not. It’s hypnosis-like, but you’re not under a spell.
It may be one of the most powerful of yoga practices. And, one of the least known. Few have experienced Yoga Nidra before they close their eyes and lay under a blanket in my studio. Some may have done a mini session, or, practiced what they were told was Yoga Nidra. Others confuse savasana (corpse pose) with Nidra.
I view my style as extremely therapeutic and authentic. Passed on by my yoga therapy guru, I consider it the real deal. My lineage was researched and practiced many years ago in India by a disciple of Swami Sivananda. Swami Satyananda Saraswati studied the effects of Yoga Nidra on himself, on his dog, and a young boy. He concluded that the secret of Yoga Nidra was powerful. “When the relaxation is complete, the receptivity is greater…whatever impressions enter the mind at that time become powerful, and they remain there.”
In 1968, Swami Satyananda went to a detention camp to teach yoga. The inmates were disrespectful and insulting. “About 600 prisoners converged on me,” Swami recalled. He knew he wouldn’t be successful sharing hatha yoga with the “hardened criminals.” His solution: Yoga Nidra. Still flustered, he called the detention camp to cancel his commitments there. To his surprise, the prison official pleaded with him to return. “Swamiji, you have cast a spell over them. They have been quiet ever since you left.” So Satyananda went back and conducted six days of Yoga Nidra at the prison. Each time, dispositions improved. On the final day, there was a farewell meeting, and the men were respectful and apologetic. “When a man is under tension, his behaviour is influenced, and when he relaxes, he becomes natural,” concluded Swami Satyananda.
At the recent Texas Yoga Conference, another yoga therapist for whom I have great respect, recalled Satyananda’s studies and accounts.
If we can enhance quality of life for anybody, even for a single moment, that makes us feel worthwhile. — Smitha Mallaiah
Smitha Mallaiah works full time as a mind-body intervention specialist for the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She studied Naturopathy and Ayurveda, and has a masters in Yoga Therapy from S-VYASA in Bangalore. At MD Anderson she is involved in developing and teaching yoga research interventions for cancer patients. She’s one of my top picks at the annual Texas Yoga Conference in Houston. I’m a fan of hers, She’s a fellow yoga therapist who is clinically focused, and digs for data.
Mallaiah led a Yoga Nidra session at the conference. Another day, she lectured about the science and research supporting its benefits. At the research session, she referred to the author of my Yoga Nidra bible, Satyananda. She shared anecdotes about how the practice has helped people in different geographies. Closer to home, she spoke about her first-hand experiences at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
As I saw with my encounter with someone awaiting biopsy results, sleep disturbances are among the most common cancer-related symptoms. A wide range of 15 to 95 percent of cancer patients report sleep disturbances during and post-treatment. That’s why the Integrative Medicine Center at MD Anderson offers Yoga Nidra, meditation and other services. “We use a modified form of Yoga Nidra – a conscious relation technique, and women who have trouble sleeping for 30 years have learnt to relax and sleep effortlessly,” says Mallaiah, referring to her patients.
The side effects that cancer and treatments wreak on patients may be unavoidable. However, our society and lifestyles inflict stress on most of us, causing many dis-eases. Mallaiah notes that 100 years ago, the plague and cholera were rampant. Now, stress is causing illness. She says that relaxation is essential, given the high stress and fast paced lifestyle in which most of us live.
“Emotional tensions arise from likes and dislikes…the fight between domination of positive and negative emotions leads to pranic or emotional imbalances, which are deeper than physical tensions,” says Mallaiah. “Most relaxation methods are external, like television or video games, which over stimulate. So there is no silencing of the mind, body and spirit. It is very important to rethink what you do for relaxation.”
As our lifestyle/society has caused more stress-related diseases and dysfunctions, we need more deep relaxation techniques, and Yoga Nidra is incomparable.
Yoga Nidra as iRest
One of today’s greatest Yoga Nidra researchers is Dr. Richard Miller. For 30 years, he has been studying Yoga Nidra. So successful, he has rebranded it as iRest for the military. It is currently being practiced among active duty, veterans and families of service members in more than 30 VA or military settings across the United States. Among his books are “The iRest Program for Healing PTSD: A Proven-Effective Approach to Using Yoga Nidra Meditation and Deep Relaxation Techniques to Overcome Trauma.” I’ve taken workshops with Miller, and others that attest to the special needs of active or retired service members. Read more.
Try a Yoga Nidra session as a stand-alone, or as part of my Chill Out signature workshops.