Yoga Nidra for Chronic Pain

August 25, 2017    BY Janice Quirt

People’s eyes tend light up when they hear the term yoga nidra (sometimes referred to as “sleep with awareness” or “the sleep of awakening”). They are often enthusiastic about lying down, perhaps because they may be envisioning guided relaxations, such as the one I’m going to share with you, being somewhat like nice, long naps. However, even though the mind and body are at rest, yoga nidra involves conscious attention, which there is none of when we are actually sleeping.

The practice also has healing and transformative powers that can affect mind, body, and awareness. With that in mind, I designed this “yoga nidra for chronic pain” practice to help the many people in my life looking for ways to cope with chronic pain.

Yoga nidra combines breath awareness, guided imagery, and body sensing for the purpose of inducing a deep sense of peace. It can even be used to manifest intentions (sankalpas). At its pinnacle, yoga nidra leads to a state of awareness known as pure consciousness. Whatever the goal of a particular yoga nidra practice, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated is often the outcome.

At its pinnacle, yoga nidra leads to a state of awareness known as pure consciousness. Whatever the goal of a particular yoga nidra practice, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated is often the outcome.

Preparation

Although yoga nidra is a practice of cultivating stillness, while you are lying flat on your back, it is recommended for some gentle movement to precede it. A very short asana practice that brings awareness to the body, breath, and prana (vital energy) would be appropriate. If you experience chronic pain, please consult with your health care practitioner to ensure that you are selecting movement patterns that are right for you, and to ensure that yoga nidra, in general, is appropriate for you.

The following practice is inspired by ParaYoga Nidra as taught by ParaYoga founder Rod Stryker. It clocks in at about 15 minutes.

The Five Foundational Steps of Yoga Nidra

  1. Moving awareness inward by becoming aware of physical sensations and emotions.
  2. Transitioning from using the muscles to hold the body in stillness toward a sensation of allowing yourself to be supported, fully, by the ground. Scanning the body to identify areas of holding can allow for a conscious releasing of tension.
  3. Letting go of directing or manipulating the breath. Instead, effortlessly observe the body breathing and witness the ongoing cycle of inhales and exhales.
  4. Taking up residence within this witness consciousness, not only by becoming aware of the breath, but also by not being attached to, directing, or managing your thoughts and emotions. Spacious awareness dominates.
  5. Embodying effortless breath. The belly is soft, the chest is still; inhales melt into exhales, exhales into inhales.

These essential steps are fundamental to the practice of yoga nidra and are woven throughout this practice.

Yoga Nidra for Chronic Pain

Begin by lying on your back with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Place a small pillow or thinly folded blanket under your head to keep your forehead level or just slightly higher than your chin. You can also place folded blankets or a bolster under your knees for extra support.

First, come into the present moment. Focusing on the here and now, notice any sounds you hear. Then bring your awareness to your body, noticing the touch of the air on your skin, how your clothes feel against your skin. Now transition from the outside world to the inside by focusing on inner sensations, and what it feels like to be embodied. What are you experiencing in your body?

Next, allow yourself to be supported fully by the ground. The body is relaxed and at ease. You are being held by the earth rather than holding yourself. Scan your body for tension; see if you can allow this tension, even if only a small percentage of it, to melt away. Allow this tension to release its grip in its own time.

Become aware of your breath without trying to direct it. Trust that you don’t need to control your breathing, that it will occur naturally without your effort. Let the body and breath unite as you relax and witness their inherent connection, without getting involved. You are not the breather. You are awareness of the body breathing.

Become totally aware of your body, any sensations you feel, your energy level, and the quality of your mind. This is witness consciousness—a state of awareness from which you can observe the fluctuations of your body and mind.

Breathing continues effortlessly, with inhales melting into exhales, exhales transforming into inhales. On and on it goes without direction, leaving in its wake broad and spacious awareness.

Know that these healing images are there for you to use whenever you feel your pain, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional.

Now visualize your chronic pain—as if it had a form. Everyone’s pain will look different. It could be a very realistic, concrete object or a shapeless image representing more of a void, a vacuum, a black hole, an abyss. Once you get a firm mental grasp of this image, imbue it with your awareness without reacting or identifying with it.

Then imagine your pain’s ultimate antidote. Conjure an image of a healing that can eradicate the image of your physical pain. Or if the image of your pain is less concrete, perhaps the healing image will create substance where there was none. Exist in the witness consciousness of the pure healing power of this image, and allow it to remove every trace of the image of your pain.

Now think of a lack of ease—a “dis-ease” in your mental/emotional body. How does this feeling manifest? What does it look like? How does your body experience this mental sensation of dis-ease? Become aware of these details without reacting or identifying with the image.

Now prepare the antidote for this image and feeling—a different one than the one for your physical pain. Visualize the healing imagery and become aware of the associated sensations. Let the healing imagery be stronger than the mental feeling and visualize it sweeping the dis-ease away, over and over, using your awareness to give persistency and strength to this healing image.

Breathe into the imagery and let it soak into every layer of your mind and body. Let awareness exist in the process of healing and know that there is no success or failure, no right or wrong; there is merely abidance in the healing image you have created.

Slowly come back to the body. Take some deep breaths and inspire movement in your fingers, toes, and limbs. Notice the body emerging from the heaviness. As you come back to a waking state, rest in the awareness that the antidote to your pain is always within you.

Know that these healing images are there for you to use whenever you feel your pain, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional.

Gently make your way up to a comfortable seated position. You may wish to meditate and/or journal so that you can sit with, examine, and integrate your experience before re-engaging in day-to-day activities.

Yoga nidra is a powerful practice that can invite a spacious state of awareness. I hope that, over time, this specific practice brings you a sense of peace, and perhaps some relief if you experience chronic pain.

Yours in health and healing, namaste.

Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt first discovered yoga as a child in the 70s, watching her mother flip through a yoga book to try poses in their basement. Following that, her favourite part of playing rugby was leading the team stretch - a flowing sequence of deep holds. Janice specializes in Yoga Nidra, slow flow, yin and restorative yoga, and has studied with Bernie Clark and Rod Stryker. She is influenced by the teachings of Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley. Janice lives her yoga through hiking, photography,... Read more>>

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