Yoga Nidra for Trauma and PTSD

Woman doing Yoga Nidra for trauma

Individuals who have experienced traumatic events may face a unique set of challenges in their healing. More and more people are turning to yoga therapy for trauma and PTSD relief. In my decades of experience as a yoga therapist, I’ve seen a number of clients find peace and healing by using yoga nidra for trauma and PTSD.

Keep reading to learn more about what yoga nidra is and its benefits, limitations, and safety for trauma survivors. I’ll also share key information that yoga therapists should know if they want to help others heal with yoga nidra and how to get started. If you’re someone who has experienced trauma and you’re interested in using yoga therapy to heal, you can read about our private, online yoga therapy sessions here.

Table of Contents

What Is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga nidra, sometimes called “yogic sleep,” uses yoga techniques to put you into a restful state that is somewhere between being awake and being asleep. It is usually performed while you are laying down, with a professional helping to guide you into the proper state. This can involve a yoga nidra body scan, in which you become aware of each part of your body one by one and relax them.

Although it is similar to meditation in certain regards, it is a different practice. Meditation, by contrast, is usually performed while you are fully awake and focused. Yoga nidra typically requires less skill and training than a meditative mindfulness practice.

What Are the Benefits of Yoga Nidra for Trauma and PTSD?

One of the reasons that I often recommend yoga nidra for PTSD and trauma is because there are so many potential benefits of yoga nidra, including:

  • Reregulating brain waves. After someone experiences a traumatic event, it can actually dysregulate their brain waves. Yoga nidra can help to change your brain wave states.

  • Helping clients feel calm. Not only can yoga nidra help to reregulate brain waves, but it also promotes certain types of brain wave states that can help people feel calmer.

  • Allowing clients to stay present. People who suffer from trauma or PTSD, especially in the form of flashbacks or persistent negative thoughts, may struggle to stay present in certain circumstances. Yoga nidra can make it easier to remain present.

  • Seeing things from a broader perspective. By changing your brain waves with yoga nidra, you can make the brain more plastic, which makes it easier to see a situation from multiple perspectives. Yoga nidra can also help you to get back in touch with all aspects of yourself and find harmony.

  • Reducing reactivity to certain thoughts and feelings. Even if a trauma survivor continues to have certain thoughts or feelings, practicing yoga nidra can help them to become less reactive to those thoughts and feelings over time.

  • Lower barrier to entry. Because yoga nidra can require less skill and training than a meditation mindfulness practice, many people are able to start experiencing the benefits of it in just a few sessions.

  • Empowerment in healing. Clients who learn how to use yoga techniques themselves are empowered to wield the tools of their own healing. They can practice these techniques at home without needing an expert or specialty equipment with them. This makes using yoga nidra for healing trauma survivors especially beneficial.

Research has shown that iRest, a practice based in yoga nidra, can effectively treat conditions such as trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and sleep issues. It has even been endorsed by the U.S. Army Surgeon General and recognized by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Its roots go back to ancient times, and we are studying yoga nidra in more and more clinical settings today:

  • A 2022 paper published in Sleep Vigil documents over 20 clinical studies of yoga nidra and outlines the benefits of yoga nidra, including lowering blood pressure, improving heart functioning, reducing mild stress, depression, and anxiety, and more.
  • A 2020 study published in Current Psychology suggests that 30 days of yoga nidra meditation can improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and increase well-being.
  • A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Yoga indicates that yoga nidra is effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
  • A 2017 article published in Sleep Science and Practice concludes that yoga nidra can be used effectively to complement other treatments for chronic insomnia.

When it comes to yoga nidra, PTSD and trauma survivors can rest assured that it is often an effective, practical, and safe technique to use. However, it’s not right for everyone, which is why it’s important to work with a knowledgeable yoga therapist to determine the best path forward for each person.

What Are the Limitations of Using Yoga Nidra for Trauma and PTSD?

Although there are many benefits of yoga nidra for PTSD and trauma, there are some limitations to keep in mind as well:

  • It’s not right for everyone. Some people may benefit from more body-based practices than they do from yoga nidra. For others, the mental challenges of staying in yoga nidra for a longer period of time can be an issue, just as can be an issue with using Yin Yoga for trauma. Those who have schizophrenia or other mental health conditions that can cause delusions may not be good candidates for yoga nidra.

  • There are many different kinds. The fact that there are many different kinds of yoga nidra can be both a benefit and a limitation. If someone tries yoga nidra and doesn’t have a great experience with it, they may assume that yoga nidra won’t work for them. In fact, you may still be able to find a style of yoga nidra that works for you.

  • It requires a safe space. Especially for those who have experienced trauma or PTSD, it is critical to feel that you’re in a safe space in order to practice yoga nidra effectively. Read more about how to determine when yoga nidra is safe for trauma survivors below.

Is Yoga Nidra Safe for Trauma Survivors?

Under the right circumstances, yoga nidra is safe for trauma survivors and can be exceptionally beneficial. However, yoga nidra isn’t right for everyone. When it comes to yoga nidra healing trauma, you will see the most benefits if you feel that you are in a safe space when you practice it.

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to creating a safe space, which will vary from person to person:

  • The physical space. Being in a physical space that feels safe is important when using yoga nidra for trauma. This could mean anything from avoiding rooms that are too small to leaving the doors open.

  • Body positioning. Some people who have experienced trauma will feel comfortable laying on the floor, while others may not. Likewise, some people will like being led in a group class and others won’t.

  • Maintaining full autonomy. It is important that trauma survivors have complete control over their bodies and decisions at all times when practicing yoga nidra for trauma. This means everything from being able to decline the yoga instructor’s or yoga therapist’s guidance to stopping the practice completely at any moment. A trauma-informed yoga instructor or yoga therapist can facilitate the client’s autonomy by using invitational language rather than commands.

Can Yoga Nidra Be Dangerous?

In many cases, yoga nidra is perfectly safe. However, yoga nidra can be dangerous under certain circumstances:

  • If you are susceptible to delusions or hallucinations, yoga nidra may not be suitable for you. This can occur in some people who have PTSD, schizophrenia, or other mental health conditions, as well as among those who take certain medications.
  • If holding a position for long periods is triggering, yoga nidra may not be a good fit for you. There may be mental challenges associated with holding a position like this for long periods of time. Those who have experienced trauma may find it difficult to feel safe or like they have agency over their bodies in these scenarios.
  • If you feel unsafe for any reason, whether it has to do with your environment or the practice itself, it may not be safe for you to use yoga nidra to heal.

If you fall into one of the scenarios outlined above or you’re still wondering if yoga nidra can be dangerous for you, consult with a professional first.

Where Can Survivors Find Trauma-Informed Yoga Therapists?

If you’re a trauma survivor, it’s important to work with a trauma-informed yoga therapist to safely apply yoga nidra for PTSD or trauma. Without proper oversight, you risk doing yourself harm instead of using yoga nidra for healing trauma.

For years, my mission has been to make practical, quality, ethical yoga therapy more accessible. In support of this mission, I’m pleased to be able to offer one-on-one yoga therapy sessions via Zoom with myself and a select group of certified yoga therapists from Breathing Deeply’s program.

If you’re interested, read about our private sessions and fill out an intake form today. Someone from our team will be in touch shortly to discuss how we can help.

What Do Yoga Instructors and Yoga Therapists Need to Know?

If you’re a yoga instructor or yoga therapist who wants to use yoga nidra to help others heal from trauma or PTSD, there is a lot you need to learn first. I’ve also known mental health professionals who want to use yoga techniques like this. As someone with an extensive background in this field, I strongly encourage you to seek out a training program like ours to teach you what you need to know. But these are a few helpful tips to keep in mind throughout your journey:

  • Find specialized training. First and foremost, you should be trained by someone like myself who has knowledge and experience using yoga nidra for PTSD or trauma in therapeutic settings.

  • Use invitational language. Don’t give your clients commands when guiding them. Use invitational language that makes it easy for them to decline if they want, and make it clear that they are in control of their own bodies and decisions.

  • Don’t touch clients. Along with using invitational language, stick to verbal guidance rather than any physical guidance or hands-on adjustments.

  • Create a safe space. Talk to your clients about their needs and preferences in order to create a safe space, whether it’s leaving all of the doors open or how you keep your lighting.

  • Identify comforting memories. Help your clients to find an image, person, place, or moment in time that makes them feel comfortable, calm, and safe. Allow them to use those memories whenever they may feel uncomfortable or have difficult emotions arise, giving them an out if they need it.

For more information, watch my video below discussing some of the benefits of yoga nidra as an intervention as opposed to meditation or pranayama.

Someone asked me about trauma and different practices for trauma which is obviously a big subject but this is not acute trauma but the results of traumatic events, PTSD, and trauma-based issues. Anyway, they were asking about Yoga Nidra vs other kinds of contemplative practices, asking me whether Yoga Nidra would be a good intervention because there have been so many studies on PTSD with the iRest things, and we’re actually talking about that at the retreat so it’s on my mind. But the basic thing is that with trauma, many things can happen but you get dysregulated and so your responses, you know, your nervous system response is different, fight or flight is different, and I thought I would just give a two-minute explanation of the Yoga Nidra rationale.

So, Yoga Nidra can go either way depending on how you apply it. If you can keep the person safe, iRest has a pretty nice protocol for, they have something called the inner resource, but basically finding your safe space, a safe set of images being in an environment also that feels safe to you or as safe as it can.

The rationale with the Yoga Nidra practices from a scientific point of view, is that it changes brain wave states and so you can imagine someone with trauma has become dysregulated and they’re not going through the brain without –  I could talk about brain waves for the next half-hour, which I could – but the brain wave states get shifted and so Yoga Nidra reregulates them and furthermore sort of promotes certain types of brain wave states that have people be more calm but more importantly allow them to think more broadly so often these brain wave states are associated with creative endeavors.

But when it comes to trauma it sort of similar in that, or applicable I should say, in that you would need those brain waves states in order to think outside your current situation which is responding to the trauma, another way to look at it is it allows you to be more in the present but I think maybe a better way to think of it for us, would be to have somebody who is constantly getting input from memory the trigger memory and then what you would want is for their brain to be more malleable so Yoga Nidra would do that. It’s not really different than meditation for that, both of them, you could argue that they’re the same.

I think what’s interesting about the Yoga Nidra protocols, which are all guided, often lying down, and you use the body’s natural ability to go to sleep but you’re sort of sleeping while awake so when you’re sleeping you get all these beneficial brain wave states but when you’re awake, you get them but you can sort of guide your experience and so instead of just sleeping and dreaming, etc, you can promote these brain wave states that would make you more likely to see things from a broader perspective, be less triggered by things around you and therefore change your response to the traumatic event.

So Yoga Nidra, to answer the question, is this good vs mindfulness mediation? I don’t know that I want to go on the record and say that one is better than the other because there are plenty of reasons by meditation is a good idea, plenty of reasons why Yoga Nidra is a good idea, plenty of reasons why pranayama is a good idea, but Yoga Nidra is particularly good at getting people who don’t have a high skill level into these states so that’s why it’s a particularly good intervention.

You’ll hear me on the Q&A’s and talking about cases, recommending Yoga Nidra over and over again and that is because you would need to be personally less skilled to go into deeper states whereas with meditation you would need a lot more training.

Most people find that it might take them 12 weeks or 16 weeks to get their meditation mindfulness practice together where their brain’s really changing whereas with Yoga Nidra in just a few sessions you can gain a lot of skill so that’s the advantage.

On the other side, there isn’t really an advantage because I think once you do have the skills, I’m not sure one’s better than the other, they’re different in their nature. That’s another point I guess we could talk about all the different ways they’re different but if you have someone off the street, “I have these responses that I don’t like to past trauma”, “someone said you could help me”, “I’m super agitated all the time”, Yoga Nidra would be a go-to because you could say to yourself, ok one session or maybe two sessions or maybe three sessions I can get this person to experience these states and that’s the, for lack of a better word, that’s the sell of the whole thing because you need to have an experience in order to want to do it again.

People can only go on faith for so long so Yoga Nidra gives you that quickly. And now there’s some great research verifying all this, so that’s good, but even that research is still in its infancy so just to answer that question, Yoga Nidra is particularly good for trauma, the only caveat is that it has to be done correctly it has to be done with somebody in a very safe space, so they need to have some sort of out or technique when difficult emotions and feelings arise, you can’t just tell them to ride it out, because if they’ve experienced strong trauma then there would be very difficult for them so that would be the skill.

Get Started with Yoga Nidra Training for Yoga Therapists and Instructors

Ready to start your journey? Want to help heal others with yoga nidra for trauma and PTSD?

My mission is to put my decades of experience to use training others to become ethical, effective yoga therapists and yoga teachers. I have extensive experience using yoga nidra in a therapeutic setting, and I have helped hundreds of students and thousands of clients on their path.Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapy offers programs at every skill level, whether you’re just getting started with a 200-hour yoga teacher training or you have the prerequisites to start an advanced program and become a certified yoga therapist. Apply now for one of our programs and join our community.

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