How Bedtime Yoga Nidra Can Help Reduce Anxiety

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Apr. 16 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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When I first discovered yoga nidra, I was participating in a yoga retreat. Like our meals, yoga was offered three times a day, anchoring us back into our breath and body in between workshops and exploring the Berkshires. By the time evening rolled around, my body had chimed in: There had been enough downward dogs for one day. Scanning the nighttime offerings, I chose yogic sleep (Yoga Nidra) instead.

Yoga nidra is an ancient tantric relaxation technique in which participants rest in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) and follow a guided meditation. Yoga nidra is not the same as sleeping (though it’s possible to fall asleep while practicing). You still have your awareness, but you are in a deeply restful, relaxing state. While yoga nidra is usually practiced in 45-minute sessions, practitioners often rise from the experience feeling like they’ve emerged from a much longer hibernation- a feeling I’ve come to know intimately myself.

Benefits of Yoga Nidra

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In our chronically busy world, I crave rest and relaxation. However, it can be hard to settle down the activity in the mind and body on my own. And this is especially true for people who have anxiety present in their lives. A recent narrative review study found a recurrent theme in the clinical research on yoga nidra: The practice is associated with positive changes in physiology plus reduced anxiety symptoms for those with mild anxiety.

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Meanwhile, a 2023 study in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine reflects that yoga nidra can also reduce depression, anger, and even PTSD symptoms. The study goes on to report that the practice “brings relaxation to the mind and brain, mental catharsis, a positive attitude, self-improvement, and personality refinement. At the same time, YN contributes to boost concentration, memory, and other cognitive capacities, including attention, and thoughts.”

Brandt Passalacqua, founder, director, and lead teacher at Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy, explained how these benefits are possible. “By bringing you into a state of deep relaxation that accounts for each part of the body, you can release physical tension that contributes to stress and anxiety,” said Passalacqua. “Yoga Nidra in particular can help your body switch from fight-or-flight response to your rest-and-digest response. This can reduce cortisol, the primary stress hormone.”

While practicing Yoga nidra can change us at a physiological level, getting into this rest-and-digest state also helps us engage with our emotions in ways that feel more comfortable for us.

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“You can observe your emotions and thoughts from a distance,” Passalacqua said. “This gives you more perspective on them, allows you to better release negative thoughts and emotions, and makes it easier to manage any stress or anxiety associated with them.”

How To Practice Yoga Nidra at Home

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The good news is you don’t have to travel to a yoga retreat to try yoga nidra for yourself. Your local yoga studio may have yoga Nidra offerings, but even if it doesn’t, you can practice yoga nidra at home and still reap all the same benefits.

For those who have anxious minds that seem to get louder, not quieter, at bedtime, yoga nidra can be an excellent activity to include in your bedtime routine. According to Passalacqua, this is because it can also help reset your existing sleep patterns that may be out of alignment. “[It allows] you to more easily fall asleep, stay asleep, and get better quality of sleep—all of which can have an impact on your stress and anxiety.”

To get started practicing yoga nidraYoga Nidra at home, you’ll want to explore YouTube, Spotify, or your go-to meditation app to find a guided Yoga Nidra meditation that feels welcoming for you. Insight Timer is one such meditation app. It’s free, and it features guided yoga nidra meditations from Passalaqua himself, including Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation and Yoga Nidra for Bliss.

As with any yoga or meditation technique, yoga nidra is a practice you continue to cultivate, bearing witness to how it changes you over time. At its very core, Yoga Nidra is a journey inward- bringing you deeper into the fold of the basic goodness and peace that is always somewhere within us.

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By: Natalli Marie Amato

Natalli Amato is a journalist and poet based in Saratoga Springs, New York. She covers wellness, relationships, and culture for Her Agenda, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Saratoga Living, and others. Natalli has authored four poetry collections, the most recent being 2023's 'North Wind.' Natalli is currently earning her master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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