It is often in the moment of challenge or crisis when our yoga practice is needed the most. When a true life threatening crisis hits, it is a natural biological response to go into the stress state, ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ We are wired to survive and in those moments, the body puts all its resources into helping us get out of harm’s way and to deal with the immediate situation. This is necessary for true crises, however, with regular practices such as Yoga Nidra, we can train our ability to respond to crises with less reaction and more presence. Once the immediate crisis is over, it is really important to have the right tools to bring ourselves back into a balanced state and release any physical or mental imprints from the situation so they don’t influence our future health and well-being.
The impacts of stress are a health epidemic in modern times. Acute stress necessary to ‘run from a lion’ is important for survival, however, when it becomes long term, a myriad of health challenges including inflammation, blood pressure imbalances, digestive issues, mental and emotional difficulties can hijack our well-being.
Yoga Nidra, a systematic, transformative, deep relaxation practice, is one of the most powerful tools to help build resilience and strength to assist in the midst of challenges. Once the immediate crises is abated, it is also an incredible healing tool to let go of any lingering influences. Here are some ways Yoga Nidra can support us before, during and after challenges:
- Activating the Relaxation Response
At its most elementary level, Yoga Nidra helps to calm the nervous system by turning on the relaxation response and systematically releasing tensions in the body, mind and emotions. When stress occurs, blood pressure and breath rate go up and the digestive and reproductive systems are de-prioritised. This is helpful in short-term stress but if there are continued stressors that ‘seem’ life-threatening or the short-term stress continues, then many health issues can arise. Dr. Herbert Benson, who coined the term the “relaxation response” said, “Just sitting quietly or, say, watching television, is not enough to produce physiological changes. You need to use a relaxation technique that will break the train of everyday thought, and decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” Dr. H. Benson
The relaxation response is the physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress. In the relaxation response, the muscles relax and metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing all decrease. It reverses the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism, allowing the breath to deepen, the digestive and reproductive systems to operate optimally and the heart rate to balance thus bringing the body back into balance and allowing for healing responses to occur.
- Developing the Witness
Throughout the practice of Yoga Nidra, the aim is to remain the unaffected observer or witness to whatever occurs. With enough formal practice, the attitude of the witness begins to extend into daily life so that we can ‘sit more comfortably’ with whatever experience is occurring without attaching or identifying with it. This can help us to face difficulty with more balance and give us perspective when memories or fears surface that may be rooted in past trauma. By remaining the witness during life experience or perhaps over a meditation period, the mind can release thoughts and emotions that would otherwise remain trapped within us. This development of the witness is a fundamental feature in Yoga Nidra.
- Keeping the Balance
Regular practice of Yoga Nidra helps us to rewire our brain so we can stay more balanced even in the face of a difficulty. The stage of opposites during Yoga Nidra connects us with the primitive part of the brain that is responsible for survival. By consciously invoking opposite emotions and sensations, which are normally unconscious, whilst in a relaxed state of being, we grow our ability to stay calm and balanced in the inevitable ups and downs of daily life. We gain more mastery over both physiological and emotional experiences so that over time equanimity is more accessible. Particularly in a crisis situation, this ability to stay more balanced can be lifesaving. In terms of healing from crises, this stage of Yoga Nidra can give us access to that state of balance.
- Healing from the Crises
From yogic and psychological perspectives, the roots of many physical, mental and emotional issues can be found in the unconscious and subconscious mind. In yogic terminology these mental imprints are called samsakras, and if they are not managed, can influence health, day-to-day decisions and ways of being. Often in crises, the immediate emotions and physical experiences are repressed which allows us to get through whatever is occurring. However, these roots, if not pulled out, cause other imbalances and can lead to long-term stress impacts on mental and physical well-being. Or perhaps, they can create fears or blocks that inhibit the ability to truly be present and enjoy life. Yoga Nidra works directly on the mind to release the past as well as projections about the future. In some recent studies, Yoga Nidra has proven to support people in many areas of trauma, particularly, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as well as depression, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. By bringing the practitioner into a state where there is consciousness yet also alpha waves (relaxation waves) and theta (dream waves), the practitioner may be able to face the memories in a relaxed state and release them
- Moving Forward after a Crisis
One of the key stages of Yoga Nidra is use of the sankalpa or the conscious repetition of a positive statement of intent when the mind is in a relaxed and receptive state. Actively generating a positive attitude is important in order to move on from crises. The mind has what psychologists call a ‘negativity bias’, which is designed to identify anything that can harm us and keep us safe. After crises, the nervous system is on high alert and this married with the negativity bias means, the brain will be focusing on all the ‘potential’ threats. Many of these may not be real threats but may be experienced as such. This is often the cause of anxiety and depression, which are common symptoms after crises. The witness discussed above is important to help us to keep perspective, but we can also actively implant a positive focus into the subconscious mind during Yoga Nidra. The sankalpa should be a short, positive statement that ultimately is a deeper life purpose. However, in terms of supporting ourselves after trauma, it can be something even short-term. When used within the practice of Yoga Nidra, the seed of the sankalpa goes into the deeper mind. In the same way that advertising plants subliminal messages with the hope of us purchasing particular products, our chosen positive statement will put this imprint in our subconscious mind and support us to manifest it in daily life.
We don’t have to stress, suffer or be stuck with trauma if crisis comes into our lives unexpectedly. Thanks to the powerful practice of Yoga Nidra, we can empower ourselves to be ready to deal with whatever life throws at us. Yoga Nidra allows us to activate the relaxation response in stressful times, train the witness to observe without reaction, stay balanced, heal leftover imprints from trauma and create hope for a positive, inspiring future.
Yoga Nidra is an incredible yogic practice to do daily and have in your tool belt in case of emergency. If you feel called to experience the life-changing benefits of this practice, learn more about it, and take control of your mental, physical and emotional well-being, join us for a 6-day Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga Immersion. To go even deeper with the practice and learn to teach it, you can attend the 10 day residential Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga Teacher Training course which includes a 3 month training package.
 Benson, Herbert “The Relaxed State and Science”, Bindu No.11, 1997: Pg 6