Sleep your way to mental & physical fitness.
What is it about Yoga that its new trends generate greater zeal among Westerners than its Indian followers? Is it that the novelty of the concept attracts Western minds not already exposed to ideas such as meditation to heal the body and mind? Or is it that yoga as a rage is simply a great marketing phenomenon in the Western world? While the craze for yoga in America continues to grow and evolve, every few years a new offshoot of the centuries old practice manages to become the next in-thing for the new generation.
After years of twisting and balancing their tensile bodies in various asanas, some followers of yoga, ranging from yuppy Manhattanites to corporate types in California, are clamoring to a new form of yoga that requires minimal stretching or diet restrictions. Nidra Yoga, the new discipline of yoga, which has its roots in the Indian mythology of Mahabharata, and claims to de-stress the body and mind while calming the nerves, is catching the attention of urban yoga lovers.
Nirali Lauren McCrea, assistant director of education at the Amrit Yoga Institute, at Fort McCoy, Fl, which offers Nidra Yoga classes, has been practicing this yoga form for 10 years says. She says: “Nidra Yoga is a guided, sleep-based meditation technique that uses body, breath and awareness techniques to bring the practitioner into profound depths of relaxation. This technique carries the practitioner into the healing rhythms of the alpha state that we enter just before sleeping. Here, you simultaneously access the power of the logical left-brain and the intuitive right brain to align the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems back into homeostatic balance.”
According to the principles of ancient yoga, Nidra Yoga is practiced by yogis who lie in a savasana (corpse posture) pose and train their minds to relax to reach a meditative equilibrium. The asana is aimed at reaching a state of conscious sleep — a stage where the body is in a deep sleep, but the mind remains aware. The practitioners believe that the body in this state regains healing properties and the brain is switched from the beta to alpha state.
The idea is to attain a tranquil, almost nirvana like, trance during which the alert mind is trained to go into a meditative stage. Yoga teachers advise their disciples to cultivate calming emotions to relax and induce the mind into this state. Often some asanas, breathing exercises and chanting rituals help the mind and body reach a state of detached relaxation from the worries and stresses of the world.
Classes teaching Nidra Yoga are growing not just across Asia, but in Europe and America. In fact, with growing evidence of yoga’s psychological benefits, some clinicians have included yoga alongside psychotherapy treatments for patients.
While there has always been some skepticism of the efficacy of yoga, because of the lack of rigorous scientific examination, some research has thrown light on its methodology. Clinical psychologist Richard Miller of the Integrative Restorative Institute (IRI), developed a nine-week, restoration program based on the principles of Nidra Yoga in 2006. Titled iRest, the program is a modern adaptation of the practices of ancient Nidra Yoga. Miller led the initial iRest research at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in 2010.
Nidra Yoga was endorsed by the U.S. Army Surgeon General and Defense Center of Excellence as complementary and alternative medicine. iRest also currently supports active duty veterans and families of service men across the United States and is practiced in hospices, community programs and many schools. It is finding enthusiastic takers in posh New York yoga centers and many suburban de-stressing retreats.
The Yoga Academy of North America offers a Satyananda Nidra Yoga certification program. Swami Atmarupa Saraswati of the Yogacharya Yoga Vidya Council and director of the Yoga Academy of North America, in Cleveland, Ohio, says: “Nidra Yoga was developed by Swami Satyananda in the 1960s and is derived from an ancient Tantric practice known as nyasa. Swamiji published a book on this technique in 1976. The technique was relatively unknown outside of the Satyananda yoga community until the 21st century, when it was embraced by other yoga traditions and teachers.”
He adds: “The technique has been altered and adjusted within our tradition in an effort to more fully meet the needs of our modern lifestyle. Satyananda Nidra Yoga not only provides a simple method to achieve deep relaxation and stress management; in its more advanced forms it can become a very deep meditation leading to a transformation of the personality.”
Nidra Yoga Online
The website Book Yoga Retreat helps enthusiasts book Nidra Yoga retreats across the United States. Some popular packages on the website offer Nidra Yoga spiritual retreats in California, Montana and Massachusetts. Dharma Yoga Center and Pure Yoga in New York city is among those presenting classes on Nidra Yoga. A number of websites pitch tutorials to help individuals transcend into a trance like sleep meditative state in the convenience of their homes.
A study on the impact on stress and anxiety through Nidra Yoga conducted by the Department of Human Consciousness and Yogic Science, Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidalaya, Haridwar, observed 80 students over a period of six months. The experiment found that the group practicing Nidra Yoga was found to have significantly reduced stress levels.
Dinesh Dagar, a yoga trainer who conducts yoga retreats for foreigners coming to India to practice yoga, says: “The fact that Nidra Yoga is gaining huge popularity abroad is only natural. The more developed a society is, there is a pattern of increased stress, lifestyle induced problems, psychological impairment, etc., and Nidra Yoga aims at successfully treating all of these, primarily first world ailments.”
He adds: “Also there has been a continued fascination amongst the Western believers of yoga on the deep, mythological associations of various meditative practices.”
Nidra Yoga comes with a rich and fascinating history. According to Maharishi Markandeya, an ancient Hindu sage, Nidra Yoga is a state of deep relaxation, practiced by Lord Vishnu himself. Another legend connects Krishna with Nidra Yoga in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
The little known practice intrigues mainstream yoga lovers with its promises of reducing stress and inducing better and peaceful sleep. If performed over time it is said to heal deep psychological wounds.
Nirali Lauren of the Amrit Yoga Institute, says: “If you can lie down, you can practice Nidra Yoga. It is an effortless technique absent of any willful doing, and yet it can accelerate the release of chronic stress and held tensions. Nidra Yoga helps unleash the innate intelligence of the body to pay off sleep-debt, replenish its reserves, and create greater physical, mental and emotional resilience to stress-producing situations.”
Dagar explains that the appeal of Nidra Yoga lies in its simplicity: “What attracts most Western students of yoga is that it does not require them to make any significant changes to their lives. It’s a restorative process, which is extremely simple to follow. Also the feeling of reaching a meditative state even though for a short duration is extremely gratifying to people in the West who have not grown up listening to stories of rishis and munis entering trance like state.”
Many Americans are also attracted by the novelty of getting to practice an exotic new idea. However, Dagar cautions: “Many students from West come for yoga retreats all the way to India. For many it’s another adventure holiday, but the benefits are not permanent unless you practice it diligently and not as an of-the-moment-fad.”