Your brain on yoga nidra:
Richard Miller, PhD, author of Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga, is a psychologist and a teacher of nondualism, honored by Yoga Journal and featured in American Yoga and Will Yoga and Meditation Really Change My Life?, edited by Stephen Cope. Richard is the founding president of the Center of Timeless Being, cofounder and co-president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology, and cofounder of The International Association of Yoga Therapy. Yoga Bulletin editor Tresca Weinstein spoke with him recently about his revolutionary work bringing the practice of yoga nidra to diverse populations.
You recently created and consulted on a feasibility study at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Virginia, looking at the effects of regular yoga nidra practice on active duty soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Can you tell us about the results?
Nine active duty soldiers participated in this feasibility study at Walter Reedmen and women from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We gave them 18 yoga nidra sessions over a 12-week period, and provided them with home practice CDs, so that they could potentially experience as many as 42 yoga nidra sessions during the study. We administered pre- and post-tests and asked them to keep daily journals. They wrote things like, "I'm experiencing life, not just living it." "I now feel more accepting of situations in my life that I cannot control." "It's easier to get to sleep now, and I sleep longer." Paradoxically, as a result of yoga nidra, the soldiers felt more comfortable being in situations that they couldn't control, which ended up making them feel more in control in their lives. As a result of realizing how much the soldiers in the study were benefiting, the head of Walter Reed's Deployment Health Clinical Center decided to hire the woman I had trained to provide yoga nidra. She now administers part of the clinic's ongoing treatment program for soldiers receiving therapy.
Our next step is the implementation of a 100-subject study at Walter Reed that may also entail setting up yoga nidra groups at multiple sites around the United States with subjects from all branches of the military. In order to maintain reliability and consistency with the yoga nidra protocol used in these studies, I've developed a 58-page script for the teachers leading the yoga nidra groups so that they can come in, read from the script, and obtain similar results across all the groups. I've also developed a yoga nidra training program for teachers, with four levels that culminate in certification from our Center of Timeless Being so that teachers can, in turn, become trainers of other teachers [see sidebar]. My goal is to train several thousand yoga teachers throughout North America, some of whom will be teaching yoga nidra as part of multiple studies we're setting up around the country with various populations, and some of whom will be teaching yoga nidra in their own communities. My desire is to train yoga teachers. not just mental health professionals, to be the people delivering this service.
Tell us about the studies you're spearheading that use yoga nidra with many different populations.
Besides our study at Walter Reed, we're setting in motion a study at a chronic pain clinic in Salt Lake City for people suffering from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. In New York City, we're using yoga nidra with asthmatics. Where I live in Northern California, we're working with the Institute of Noetic Sciences and COTS (the Committee on the Shelterless) to bring yoga nidra into homeless shelters. We're investigating bringing yoga nidra into studies with epilepsy and seizure disorders, people who are HIV-positive, and adolescent girls experiencing addiction issues. The National Institute for Mental Health has recently expressed interest in studying the impact of yoga nidra on addiction issues. I'm also in dialogue with a friend who is working with veterans suffering from Gulf War syndromehe's interested in studying the effects of yoga nidra on the brain using fMRI and EEG imaging.
We're interested in studying the effects of yoga nidra with all sorts of populations so that we can show categorically and scientifically its true efficacy. Yoga nidra has no side effects, it's inexpensive to administer, it's complementary to all religions because it's nondogmaticall of which make it a perfect complementary alternative medical intervention. Yoga nidra is helpful for treating addiction, chronic pain, respiratory diseases, cardiac conditions, and all sorts of psychological issues. I've used it with people who are depressed, psychotic, dissociating from abuse, suffering from insomnia or anxiety, and a host of other issues. It's a wonderfully simple yet extraordinarily effective approach. Yoga nidra empowers people to be their own authority. We're teaching people a tool they can apply to every situation and circumstance they find themselves in for the rest of their lives.
What exactly is happening in the brain during yoga nidra that is potentially so beneficial?
Theoretically, yoga nidra induces what's called a left lateral phase shift in the brain. It produces actual physical changes in the frontal lobes, amygdala, and hippocampus, among other structures in the body. Typically, when we try to change ourselves, resistance and reactions arise. Yoga nidra teaches us how to welcome everything we're experiencingsensations, emotions, thoughts, images, even our reactions and resistance, even awareness itself. Yoga nidra helps us disidentify from our changing states, introduces us to ourselves as non-changing awareness, and reveals the secret of how true transformation can, and does, unfold spontaneously. Yoga nidra is not simply a technique for deep relaxation, but a tool for psychospiritual healing as well as a profound meditative inquiry that ultimately reveals and awakens us to our true naturethe ultimate goal of yoga.
When did you first experience yoga nidra?
At my very first yoga class in 1970, our teacher led us through savasana, during which I had a profound spiritual awakening. I later came to realize, through the writings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati (author of Yoga Nidra, Nesma Books, 2003), that she had led us through a rudimentary yoga nidra. This began what has now become my 36-year love affair with yoga nidra. Over the years, working with thousands of people in retreats, workshops, classes, and private sessions, I've honed and developed a protocol for yoga nidra that's uniquely suited to Westerners. It blends Satyananda's initial Eastern insights with tried and tested Western psychological and physiological principles such as Jacobson's progressive relaxation, Benson's response, Schultz and Luthe's autogenics, as well as research drawn from cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), rational-emotive therapy, and laughter therapy. Our protocol also strongly emphasizes the role of self-inquiry and nondual awareness and the principle that anything that is welcomed into awareness, without intention or egoic manipulation, spontaneously transforms.
I've also drawn heavily from my studies of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra and his principle of working with opposites (pratipaksha bhavana)that every emotion or thought always co-arises with its opposite. We work with opposites of emotion, beliefs, and images during yoga nidra in a unique manner that opens portals to new intuitive insights wherein change arises spontaneously. Yoga nidra offers us an exquisite tool to explore and heal our psychological and physical issues, as well as realize and awaken to the extraordinary understanding that we are all one.
For more information about Richard Miller and his work, visit www.nondual.com.
Yoga nidra resources
Trainings at Kripalu
Yoga Nidra: Transformation Without Trying with Tarika Diana Damelio, January 5 to 7, 2007, and June 8 to 10, 2007. Experience yoga nidra, study its origins and the theory behind it, and learn to recognize the distinct stages of the practice. www.kripalu.org.
Yoga nidra workshop with Richard Miller at KYTA Conference 2007, August 24 to 27. Watch for details in the Yoga Bulletin and online at www.kripalu.org.
Level I Yoga Nidra Teacher Training with Richard Miller, August 27 to 31, 2007. Experience yoga nidra's power to create personal transformation and awakening, and learn how to use the practice with individuals and groups in private, clinical, hospital, and class settings. www.kripalu.org
Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. The founder of the Bihar School of Yoga explains the theory of yoga nidra in both yogic and scientific terms; class transcriptions of the practice are included. www.nesmabooks.com
Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga, book and 2-practice CD by Richard Miller. Guidance for practitioners of all levels, through the traditional techniques of inquiry and meditation, toward realization of our true and natural state of nondual, unqualified Presence. www.nondual.com
Transform, Relax, and Rejuvenate: A Deeply Restorative Relaxation Guided by Vandita Kate Marchesiello. Includes a 40-minute guided relaxation plus 23 minutes of chanting, with musical accompaniment by Mark Kelso; purchases benefit the Teaching for Diversity Fund. Kripalu Shop online
Relax with Rhoda: Four Guided Meditation and Relaxation Experiences led by Rhoda Miriam. Includes a half-hour yoga nidra that brings together breath and body awareness with focused intention and affirmation. www.rhoyoga.com
Guided Relaxation: Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Reis. Offers three options for relaxation experiences, using a body scan, visualizations, and breath awareness; insert lists the benefits of yoga nidra. sacredfireyoga.com
Wholesome Relaxation and Wholesome Energizers, Julie Lusk. Guided imagery to release stress, refresh your outlook, and leave you feeling calm and balanced. www.relaxationstation.com