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Just Breathe

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The minute the gong sounds on my favorite Yoga Nidra iPad app, I start relaxing. With the first Padi Om Tat Sat, I am already settling into my yoga mat. By the time my 10-, 20-, or 30-minute session is over, I am relaxed, rested, and ready to face my day.

Now don't freak out, boys. It's not some new aged sissy yoga thing. Even soldiers are doing Yoga Nidra these days -- and with great success.

What is Yoga Nidra? Similar to mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Yoga Nidra is a state of meditation and complete relaxation where meditators withdraw into the sensory world. The goal of this type of meditation is to observe sensations without responding to them.

Yoga Nidra begins with a comprehensive body scan that can be done in any physical orientation (sitting, lying down, or standing), which has been recommended as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. Following the body scan, meditators are encouraged to explore sensations, emotions, and thought patterns, moving back and forth between feeling and witnessing, allowing both to reside simultaneously in awareness. Yoga Nidra has been shown to reduce anxiety and hostility as well as stress levels in chronically-ill patients, veterans, and even school counselors (http://www.irest.us/).

What does it do for me? In a nutshell, it calms me down. Having suffered from anxiety most of my life, I am constantly looking for ways to reduce anxiety that don't involve popping a pill. Suffering from anxiety is kind of like being a hamster on one of those little spinning wheels. Your brain never seems to slow down. As a result, your body never slows down either -- it's constantly in fight-or-flight mode. While that might actually be helpful in a life-or-death kind of situation, few of us actually find ourselves in one of those these days. Instead, our minds and bodies are constantly gearing up for the "big threat" that never actually comes. Not too good for the body. Or the mind. Yoga Nidra can stop anxiety in its tracks by stopping the fight-or-flight response. A big plus for an anxiety sufferer.

Yoga Nidra does all that for me and more. The really cool thing about Yoga Nidra is that the effects last. That's because it can actually alter your brain -- in a good way, not in an illegal-substance altering kind of way. For those of you who ruminate on negative thoughts -- you know, worrying about something you said to someone that might have been taken the wrong way, worrying about improbable future events -- it can help transform those negative thoughts into positive ones.

Even if you don't suffer from anxiety, the benefits credited to Yoga Nidra practice are lengthy and include both psychological (e.g., relief from insomnia, anxiety reduction, elimination of phobias, general improved well-being) and physical (e.g., lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improvement in immune system function, pain relief, asthma relief, and reduction in insulin dependence in diabetics).

Don't see anything you need on that list? How about just a 10-minute break from the stress of day-to-day life? We can all benefit from that.

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