Yoga Nidra May Improve Psychological Health

Published on February 29, 2012

A recent study suggests that yoga nidra
(yogic sleep/deep relaxation), in combination with medication, may
reduce moderate depressive/anxiety symptoms among women with
menstrual disorder
, for whom such symptoms are common.
This is the first study to assess the impact of yoga nidra on symptom
severity, although previous research has found the practice to
general psychological well-being in menstrual disorder

patients. Menstrual disorder is an umbrella diagnosis that
encompasses menstrual irregularities including irregular periods and
pain during menstruation.

is a type of meditation in which one is guided
into lucid deep relaxation
, a conscious state in between
wakefulness and sleep. The unconscious mind and intuition are
believed to be more readily accessible during the practice. Yoga
nidra is verbally led by a yoga instructor or other qualified
practitioner and may also be practiced along with audio recordings,
during which time participants are taken through deeper levels of
awareness into a state of clarity, insight, stillness, and peace.
Participants lie down comfortably while the facilitator leads the
experience, which involves participants committing to remain lucid
and awake, intention-setting, taking a journey into the subconscious,
and emerging between 15-60 minutes later (sometimes longer).

Yoga nidra has been shown effective at
improving various elements of health, potentially attributable to its
invocation of the relaxation response. It was originally intended,
however, to be a deep spiritual experience wherein yogis could access
their “intrinsic
,” experience union
with the divine
, and attune to inner wisdom, or
intuition, as a guide.

Researchers for the study randomly
assigned 150 women aged 18-45 to two treatment groups: 1) Yoga nidra
plus medication, or 2) medication only (controls). In addition to
medication, the yoga nidra group received daily 35-minute sessions
five days per weeks for six months. Their findings suggest that yoga
nidra may be effective in reducing mild to moderate, but not severe,
depressive and anxiety symptoms.

While these findings are interesting,
the specific role played by yoga nidra—which incorporates the
relaxation response, a well-validated method for improving mental
health—is unclear. Symptoms may have improved solely because
participants spent 35 minutes a day relaxing, rather than because of
yoga nidra’s more esoteric and spiritual elements. Future studies
should thus compare yoga nidra to a relaxation response program to
ascertain if it confers additional benefits.

Do you have any experience with yoga
nidra? Have you found it to be a helpful practice?

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Tosca Park Avatar
About the author
Tosca Park, a 200-hour Kripalu Yoga instructor and 500-hour Integrative Yoga Therapist, is a doctoral student in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where she conducts research on yoga, mindfulness, and health with her mentor, Dr. Crystal Park, and collaborators. Prior to UConn Tosca spent five years as a research intern and project manager with Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, an organization devoted to the scientific study of yoga-based curricula. She holds bachelor’s degrees from Reed College and SUNY Empire State College in history and health psychology, respectively, and has more than 2,000 hours of training in yoga, Ayurveda, and the mind-body connection.
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