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Yoga Nidra as Therapy

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati

Swami Shankardev is an eminent yoga teacher, author, medical doctor and yoga therapist. After meeting his Guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati in 1974 in India, he lived with him for 10 years and has taught yoga, meditation and tantra for 30 years. Swami Shankardev is an Acharya (authority) in the Satyananda lineage and he teaches throughout the world. Yoga and meditation techniques have been the foundation of his yoga therapy, medical and psychotherapy practice for over 25 years. He is a compassionate, illuminating guide, dedicated to relieving the suffering of his fellow beings. (Author can be contacted on www.bigshakti.com)

Reproduced with permission from www.bigshakti.com

Yoga Nidra therapy is a powerful healing tool and is ubiquitous in yoga therapy. This is because it is an ultimate method of inducing profound relaxation and deep rest. Resting the body-mind is the fundamental basis on which true and deep healing takes place. Most people find it extremely difficult to rest deeply, especially when they are ill. Many people will not even take time off from work during an illness because of commitments, or because they are so driven. This in turn may lead to more complex and difficult to manage disease situations.

In therapeutic situations the rest and relaxation inducing power of Yoga Nidra is used as a basis to introduce other healing processes. In yoga therapy, we combine Yoga Nidra with an understanding of Ayurveda and tantra. In particular, we use tantric techniques to release energy for healing. We access the five elements (tattwas) earth, water, fire, air and space in different ways in order to cleanse, strengthen and rebalance the body - mind.

Yoga Nidra can be applied as both a primary therapeutic tool in certain situations, and as an adjunctive treatment for many acute and chronic physical and psychological disease conditions. These conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, digestive problems of all kinds, arthritis, other chronic degenerative conditions, and some acute conditions, such as coughs and colds.

Yoga Nidra is also particularly useful as a tool to recuperate from exhaustion, to manage stressful situations of all kinds, and to manage pre - and post - surgical conditions.

Yoga Nidra therapy has two main stages :

  • The first stage induces a relaxed state of body-mind. This stage is common in all Yoga Nidra practice. The body has the potential to heal itself but requires the correct conditions to allow healing to proceed. The primary condition required for healing is deep rest. The process of inducing deep rest begins with the use of a positive resolution, a resolve that consciously articulates our desire to heal ourselves. Then rotation of awareness through the parts of the body is performed, which is a simplified form of nyasa. Rotation of awareness creates whole body relaxation. This is followed by awareness of and manipulation of the breath which powerfully relaxes the nervous system and the thinking mind.

  • The second stage is the use of processes that can either be general healing strategies appropriate for the majority of people, or strategies that are specific to the condition being treated. In specific disease conditions the yoga therapist must know about the condition they are dealing with, and must understand its nature and its usual progression. This gives the therapist the understanding required to initiate proper treatment.

The second stage of Yoga Nidra therapy may employ tactics and techniques such as specific forms of breathing, and instructions to induce feeling-states that rebalance the basic elements of the body-mind. For example, inducing the feeling of heaviness activates the earth and water elements that may be required when a person is feeling ungrounded or anxious. Inducing lightness activates the air and space elements that may be useful when a person is feeling stuck, heavy or depressed. Techniques that work with feelings of heat and cold, pleasure and pain, and thoughts, including memories, attitudes and held beliefs are also employed.

Another important part of therapeutic Yoga Nidra is the use of visualization to create positive images while placing the awareness on affected parts of the body. Positive awareness injects energy for healing into those parts.

Dr. Shankardev Saraswati