Reactions during Yoga Nidra Practice

Reactions during Yoga Nidra Practice

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Most people familiar with the practice of Yoga Nidra know about the many benefits they experience, and that these deepen with consistent regular practice.  However, not every sensation or emotion felt during a Yoga Nidra session is comfortable and peaceful – the tensions released as the body relaxes can be felt in various ways.

If you Google ‘adverse reactions to yoga nidra’ very little comes up!  Important contra-indications for the practice are mental health issues such as severe PTSD, schizophrenia, and clinical depression. Yoga Nidra can help many with these conditions, but they need the support of a teacher who is well qualified and experienced in both YN and mental health.  

In an ideal world everyone who begins a serious YN practice would benefit from a mentor to guide and reassure them.  This rarely happens, so be aware of the issues that may come up as we release deeply held tension, memories and the emotions that may accompany this letting go.

Yoga Nidra is not always blissful

‘The idea that yoga nidra is always a relaxing experience is not true. As Katie Stewart explains, calm feelings are a wonderful by-product but can be challenged during a practice. “We lie down and whatever we need to see in that moment starts to come up. Yoga nidra meditation brings our current feelings, imagery, and memories to the forefront for us to sit with. It is not always comfortable because life is not always comfortable. What we learn through the practice is that we don’t need to control it, we don’t need to fix it, we fall back into awareness and see where this resonates.” 

Some examples of reactions during Yoga Nidra practice

A wide range of reactions is possible on all levels – some listed below.  People may experience other reactions and/or none of those mentioned. The way tension is released can be as unique as we all are, with a combination of commonalities and one-off expressions of letting go.

  • Numbness of a part or parts affecting just one side or both
  • Tears, from one or both eyes; quivering of the eyelids, sobbing
  • Electric or lightening-like sensations
  • Out of body sensations or experiences; loss of body consciousness, 
  • Extreme heaviness or lightness of parts or entire body
  • Chills and drenching sweats, flushing of the face, teeth chattering
  • Pins and needles, tingling, rigidity of limb or limbs
  • Colours in single areas or throughout the body and beyond 
  • Pain, often in the site of an old injury but not always 
  • Moving sensations although body is immobile, jerking, twitching

All these reactions generally disappear either during the course of YN practice or when it is over, and are healthy manifestations of stress releasing. If any physical sensations persist, cause concern, or are related to a pre-existing condition, advise the individual to have a check-up. The more extreme reactions mentioned are generally associated with trauma or chronic burn out.

Sources: personal reactions, some of 100+ people who have completed the Classical Yoga Yoga Nidra training

Fundamentals of Yoga Rammurti S. Mishra MD

Deepak Chopra says “One can have almost any type of physical sensation during meditation in any area of the body. Because the mind and body are so closely connected, when the mind experiences more expansion in meditation, the body gains a deep enough state of rest to normalize any imbalances that may be stored in the body. The ticklish sensation in your heart just means that some normalization is occurring there, allowing for a more full expression of your emotions. The sense of anxiety or fear is a by-product of that clearing process. Don’t give these sensations and feelings too much importance. It is a valuable process, but don’t focus on it; simply return to the meditation process. 

Pain - if you have a condition that causes pain generally when there is prolonged pressure, use whatever props needed to ensure comfort and alignment. If a temporary discomfort arises during practice, don’t move a muscle! Involuntary movements are not a matter of choice - jerking and twitching, numbness, tears etc, but you can continue to lie still as these movements occur.

Pairs of opposites

‘Great care must be taken when deciding to use opposites from this group for another, important reason. The amygdala is hyperactive in people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  People with PTSD are known to have increased difficulty with deliberate regulation of emotion compared with people without this disorder; they may not have identified this problem to the teacher, and may not be aware of this issue themselves. While yoga nidra can be used therapeutically for PTSD, it should only be used by trained, experienced therapists who are also experienced in the practice and techniques of yoga nidra’.

Cultivating our relaxation response

Bound emotions and repressed memories can accelerate the aging process, compromise immune response, and trigger the fight, flight or freeze function of the sympathetic nervous system - a vital automatic reaction for survival in some circumstances, but frequent activation depletes us on all levels. We sometimes accommodate significant past events (which may now seem insignificant) without fully processing them. However, the sympathetic nervous system can still be reacting to them, unconsciously wearing us out. 

Yoga Nidra allows us to safely discharge stress and deal with triggers, or reminders of past memories, which often come via the senses - familiar smells or loud noises, for example.  With regular practice we remember how to actively trigger our relaxation response in order to replenish ourselves after stressful events, and learn how to separate the emotion from the data.

© Jane Mackarness 2022

 “Our essential nature is boundless consciousness.  We are rooted in it when the mind focuses and settles.” 

Yoga Sutras 1.3