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Yoga Nidra: Is your thinking sabotaging your health?

Updated: May 3

What if disease wasn’t just disease? What if depression wasn’t just depression? What if stress wasn’t just stress? What if so many of the problems we experience physically, mentally and emotionally are just the visible manifestation of a variety of deeper causes?

Thinking: the unseen factor

As science and natural healing have progressed, we are finding that the very nature of our thoughts and attitudes influence the body’s health and its ability to heal and recover. A study done by the Massachusetts health department shows that the greatest risk factor for death from coronary heart disease can be determined in the answer to two questions: “Are you happy?” and “Do you enjoy your job?” This remarkable study and numerous others like it demonstrate that we must begin to include more than the body in our paradigm of health. We must begin to take into account that which tells the body how to behave—the mind.

Every day of our life our body is hearing what we say, what we feel, what we think. Every thought, every feeling, every conversation and interaction, real or imagined, is dutifully registered in the body. The cells of the stomach, kidneys, heart, lungs, intestines and immune system receive our thoughts, causing them to behave in certain ways. It has been shown that positive emotions boost the immune system and increase tolerance to stress. Positive thoughts release chemicals that inhibit the stress response. On the other hand, repeated negative emotions weaken the body over time and can set the disease process in motion. (Science Daily Dec 22, 2006).

Consider the following studies:

Over one-half of heart disease cases are not explained by the standard risk factors – such as high cholesterol, smoking or sedentary lifestyle. R. Rosenman. Integr Physiol Behav Sci. 1993; 28(1)

Long-term studies at the University of London show that chronic unmanaged emotional stress is as much as six times more predictive of cancer and heart disease than cigarette smoking. H. Eysenck. Br J Med Psychol. 1988; 61(Pt 1)

The Body Mind Connection

The truth of the matter is there is no mind without the body and no body without the mind. What we refer to as body, mind, thoughts, emotions or energy are not separate, but are all part of one seamless system. To treat it as anything less limits our healing potential.

How can I affect my thinking?

From the point of view of yoga, it is not our thoughts that are the problem, but our relationship to them. It is not until we believe our thoughts that they begin to affect us at a biological level. We have thousands of thoughts every day that go through our mind. But only a few of them create a significant physiological response. These are the thoughts we have attached to. If we can learn how to manage our relationship to our thoughts, we can create not only a happier life, but a more healthful one as well.

Yoga Nidra

Every night when we go to sleep, we transition from waking to dreaming to deep sleep where we naturally and progressively disengage from thoughts. In deep dreamless sleep, all our problems disappear. We don’t know if we have money in the bank, we don’t know if we are sick or healthy, we don’t know where we live or if we like our job or not. It all disappears. In that profound state of rest, the body is able to deeply restore itself. Intuitively we know this to be true. This is why a doctor will tell us to get plenty of rest when we are sick. That is because the body, when unimpeded by the machinations of the mind, is in the best possible position to heal and restore itself.

In addition to optimally restoring the body, sleep allows us to take a step back from the thoughts and emotions that wreak havoc on the nervous system all day long. Interestingly, this is one thing meditation is intended to do; create a gap between ourselves and our thoughts so that we can choose not to be pushed around by them.

The yogis of old, recognizing the deeply restorative and meditative qualities that sleep naturally engenders, created an ancient practice called yogic sleep or yoga nidra. Like sleeping, it is usually practiced lying down. Unlike sleep, it profoundly relaxes the body and quiets the mind while conscious.

Comprised of a series of techniques which vary from session to session, a skilled facilitator can formulate a yoga nidra experience that is tailored to a variety of needs ranging from health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and insomnia to, pain management, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and addiction. These techniques are structured to systematically take the practitioner to alpha and theta brain wave states that relieve a wide variety of mental and physical ailments.

What can the techniques of Yoga Nidra do for my health?

The techniques of Yoga Nidra have been shown to increase tolerance to stress, manage pain, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, manage blood sugar in adult onset diabetes, boost immune response and alleviate stress-related symptoms from IBS to angina. Yoga Nidra creates greater mental clarity, problem-solving ability and can be used to improve sports performance and recovery.

Numerous studies suggest that Yoga Nidra is a powerful technique to optimize mental and physical health. It doesn’t require great skill or physical capability and can be used as an adjunct to other healing modalities and treatments.

Originally published online at on May 7, 2014

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