Yoga Nidra and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

I recently returned from a teacher training on yoga nidra. Yoga nidra translates as yogic sleep and it’s a practice that guides participants into that realm between wakefulness and sleep. It’s much like hypnosis however the nidra practitioner is encouraged to stay awake and alert.

What I found most phenomenal was the state of deep relaxation. Being a yoga practitioner and regular meditator, I thought I understood what relaxation felt like in my body, but yoga nidra took it to a whole new level. Incredibly relaxed yet still lucid, I was guided through different layers of my being – the body, the breath, sensory perceptions like hot and cold, and imagery – all while I felt, aware, safe and protected.

It turns out that this deeply relaxed state is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) in full force. The PNS is the relaxation response and it’s crucial for healing. The body can’t begin to repair and restore itself, to heal, until we move out of the stress response, which is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and into the parasympathetic nervous system. I’ve touched on this in two previous posts, A Relaxation Revolution and Meditation and the Relaxation Response.

The way we live today, so technically connected and with our schedules so packed, we hang out in the stress response. We’re attuned to it. It’s the norm for us to constantly be concerned with what’s next or how can I fill this moment? What else do I need to do or how can I entertain myself now? We stay ‘on guard’ and thus are chronically activating the stress response. It’s part of our goal-achieving mentality and it has served us well . . . up to a point. And that point is when we can’t turn it off.

I recommend that you know what gets you into the relaxation response (PNS) – a hot bath, a walk in the woods, a massage, a love-fest with your pet – and use these often. It’s for your health! If you’d like to try yoga nidra, here’s a sample from my teacher, Jennifer Reis.

I’ll be offering a yoga nidra session in Mt. Airy on Sunday, May 15th at Springboard Studio. Details are here. Let me know if you’d like to join!

Published by Michelle

Michelle Stortz, C-IAYT, ERYT500, MFA, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in yoga for cancer and chronic illness. She teaches in numerous medical settings throughout the Philadelphia area. Michelle also teaches mindful meditation. She has been studying in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition for the past 15 years and has also trained in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction curriculum. She leads retreats and group classes and works with individuals in private sessions.

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