A quick search on the topic of Yoga Nidra on PubMed will result in a long list of studies conducted for the effects of Yoga Nidra on chronic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Why is Yoga Nidra such a powerful proven elixir for chronic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD, and trauma?
As a NeuroCoach, Yoga Therapist, and Neuro-based bodyworker with 33-years experience focused on holistic high performance and chronic pain – injury; I’ve found Yoga Nidra to be a highly effective spiritual practice to help my clients heal an overworked and anxious brain without the negative effects of a taxing movement or Yoga practice which can create cortisol spikes, further stress to the HPA axis (hyp, nervous system, and post-exercise exhaustion.
The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is our central stress response system. The HPA axis is an eloquent and every-dynamic intertwining of the central nervous system and endocrine system. The HPA axis is responsible for the neuroendocrine adaptation component of the stress response. Source: Neuroimmune Biology Text
There are three prominent styles of Yoga Nidra. IRest, one variation used for therapeutic application with PTSD, was developed by Richard Miller called IREST a clinical psychologist, author, researcher, and scholar of yoga. He is the founding president of the Integrative Restoration Institute, co-founder of The International Association of Yoga Therapists, and founding editor of the professional Journal of IAYT. His IRest protocol was sold to the military for use with soldiers suffering PTSD. I use both IRest and an original tantra yoga framework for my Yoga Nidras. By adding advanced neuro-strategies throughout each layer, I teach people effective skills they can take out into everyday life to help build resilience to stress and take charge of their health.
Yoga Nidra works, helped me recover from chronic burnout, and I’ve taken time over the past 5 years to enhance the process with advanced mindfulness, yoga psychology, and neuro-coaching strategies at each layer to deliver a layer-by-layer elixir for health. As you are guided through a Yoga Nidra practice, each layer comes into prominence, one at a time, the key in enhancing Yoga Nidra is in utilizing strategies to activate a mindful state of awareness, deep states of relaxation, focused strategies that strengthen the key networks of the brain, and help you move toward deeper states of consciousness. It’s important to address each layer to create a harmonious state and shift within the body-mind.
Yoga Nidra and the importance of Kosha layers
According to the yoga tradition, every one of us has five bodies, each made of increasingly finer grades of energy. The five progressively subtler bodies that compose our personality are referred to, in Sanskrit, as “sheaths” because each fits in the next like a sword in a scabbard. The meditation practice of Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is based on these five main koshas and includes the physical, energetic, mental/emotional, higher intelligence, and bliss bodies.
Let’s get to know each of the five koshas and explore how I fuse Yoga Nidra practices and neuroscience-based strategies to effectively reduce your suffering, address chronic pain, heal the brain from burnout, soulfully, strategically, mindfully without pills, pain creams, spending hours on the floor trying to stretch and relieve tension, or needing extreme yoga practices, in just 60 minutes or less.
1. THE PHYSICAL LAYER
The first layer, and perhaps the easiest to identify, is the physical layer, or annamayakosha. Literally, the “food body,” the annamaya kosha includes all of your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. You can experience this kosha directly. It’s your body, and you can see and feel it.
In a Yoga Nidra practice, this layer is attended to, typically, with a physical experience like a body scan. You may hear cues like, “Relax your head, your arms, your legs, your upper body, your lower body,” etc. To help my clients drop into deep states of mindful awareness rapidly, I guide them through an evidence-based strategy of yawning paired with super slow stretching. This enhances our body’s ability to relax further. Enhancing the effects of the mediation overall. At this layer, the body is spoken to directly and observed. As you move on to the next layer, the physical body, in a sense, drops away from your direct awareness.
2. THE ENERGY LAYER
The second layer is the pranamaya kosha, the “energy body.” This layer can be perceived, yet significantly subtler than the annamaya kosha. According to yogic philosophy, our prana, or energy, moves through inner channels called nadis, and it travels on the breath. Though prana is sometimes translated as “breath,” it is not the breath itself. It works with the breath, but it is more subtle than the breath.
We typically channel the pranamaya kosha in a Yoga Nidra practice by observing the breath. You may be asked to simply observe your inhalation and your exhalation, or you might do a practice like nadi shodhana (alternate-nostril breathing) without using your fingers. However, neuroscience studies show diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing,” engages the diaphragm, which is supposed to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to breathing. This is particularly helpful for people who struggle with anxiety, chronic stress, chronic pain and is the ONLY breath style with proven positive psycho-physiological effects on the brain.
Using breath and counting strategies, “27 belly rise, 27 belly falls……26 belly rise, 26 belly falls” and so forth. We enhance the effects of our belly breathing technique to quiet the anxious mind with the complexity of counting. The intention is that as you focus on your breath, your mind, some of the energetic restrictions and tension patterns in your body release. Then this layer, just like the physical layer, drops away.
3. THE MENTAL/EMOTIONAL LAYER
The third kosha is the manomaya kosha, the “mind-body.” This is one of the most fascinating layers, as this is said to be where our emotions reside. When we feel that we are carried away with emotions like anger or fear, we are living in this kosha. The manomaya kosha relates to our instinctive state of mind in all situations, revealing both conscious and unconscious communication with ourselves and others. We may try to avoid dealing with this layer by suppressing our emotions. However, most of us understand that suppressed emotions increase stress and tension in the body, possibly trigger disease, erode our resilience to stress, and can bring us to a physical, emotional, or mental breaking point where we can no longer deal with our emotions.
That’s why this is a critical layer to address in a Yoga Nidra practice. One where we can experience emotions, in a relaxed mindful state of awareness, without being governed or triggered by them. You are guided through various mindful prompts to notice general sensations of heaviness or lightness, or to feel into your heart, or to recall a time when you were relaxed or not. To allow the brain and the body to make a mindful connection.
A powerful aspect of this exercise is that you may be able to feel that the manomaya kosha is indeed a separate layer and that you are not your emotions such as anxiety, happiness, or anger— that those are emotions or reactions that occur within the brain. Once we’ve addressed this layer, it, too, drops away.
4. THE HIGHER INTELLIGENCE LAYER
This layer is the vijnanamaya kosha, the “wisdom body,” and it is the wiser, more intuitive sibling of manomaya kosha. By stimulating the salient network and surrendering to our intuitive faculties of the brain, deep insights occur and we deeply acknowledge your vijnanamaya kosha.
When we practice Yoga Nidra at this layer we generally work with visualization. Typically, you are guided through a visual stimulus that will create an emotional response both positive and negative such as, the ocean, the beach, rain rainforest, a coffin next to a grave. This helps us to become aware of our own habitual tension patterns and lack of awareness. Our reactivity in life is caused by these inner tensions.
At this layer, we build stronger salient and imagination networks of the brain. Cultivating a relaxed mindful state of awareness, visualization, and intuitive listening is a powerful neuro coaching strategy proven to help people solve problems faster, and more effectively. At this layer, we experience a deeper relaxed mindful state of awareness that helps us to gain profound insights that equip us to heal negative memories, to hurdle over mental, emotional, performance, and even identify relationship blocks effortlessly. When we finish moving through the mind scape aspect of my Yoga Nidra practice, this layer to drops into the background.
5. THE BLISS LAYER
The fifth sheath is the anandamaya kosha or “bliss body,” and it can be described as a total embodiment of a blissful state. This is the subtlest of the five koshas, a phenomenological felt state between you and the divine.
In Yoga Nidra, this layer is present in all of the practices for the other layers, before the practice ends and before you are brought out of the meditation, I blend three powerful tools for healing and relaxation enhancement. 5-10 minutes a spent just allowing the mantra, sound healing, and AumaKhua-Ki® energy activation to wash over your body, to further calm your mind and create a magical experience that lights up your soul.
Neuroscientific studies have found that chanting or listening to mantras for 10 minutes can decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms in the human body. Energy healing enhances the quality of life, boosts the immune system, even reduces stress. Sound healing allows your body to heal itself by slowing down your brain waves, which affect every cell in your body, “shifting them from diseased to being in ease.”
There are many wonderful benefits of sound healing such as:
- lower stress levels.
- fewer mood swings.
- lower blood pressure.
- lower cholesterol.
- improved sleep.
Upon awakening from your yogic sleep, there is typically a feeling of complete and utter calm, connectedness, oneness between body, breath, and mind. Participants always say that their whole body feels buzzy, activated, and lit up as they sit in mindful stillness and silence. When you experience this state of embodiment and bliss, it signals that you have harmonized all of your kosha layers.
Join us in our next virtual Yoga Nidra for chronic stress and chronic pain. June 3rd at 7:00 pm CDT. Our last event was to be filmed in studio and was canceled due to COVID so, we are excited to host this as a virtual online live event via our zoom studio.
Tamara Gold, NeuroCoach. AumaKhua-Ki® Grand Master, Spiritual Business Coach
Master Your Energy & Master Your Mind. Apply for a spot in my July AK Masters Accelerator Training: https://akmastersaccelerator.com/
Sources: Koshas – MVP 300 & YPS 300 Adv. Yoga Psychology
Photo source: Ayurveda.com