Yoga nidra is an effective way to manage back pain. Yoga nidra is a style of yoga that focuses primarily on entering a state of semi-consciousness to help the body relax. The experience is similar to that of being halfway between waking and sleep. In Sanskrit, “nidra” literally means “yogic sleep.” On a physiological level, the effects of a yoga nidra practice are similar to that of a restorative yoga practice. Like restorative yoga, yoga nidra switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows the body to enter the “rest and digest” state which allows for healing and the integration of nutrients into the body.
How Yoga Nidra is Different From Other Styles of Yoga
The most popular styles of yoga are all hatha based. “Hatha” describes the physical nature of these practices. Think stretching and strengthening. Hatha yoga practices are all about the body. Yoga nidra, on the other hand, is more of a meditative practice. A session is usually done entirely in savasana, or corpse pose. Props can be used—such as a bolster under the knees to take pressure off the low back—to make the body more comfortable in this supine position. The instructor guides a meditation that involves students scanning through their bodies. As each part of the body is mentioned, students are instructed to bring awareness to that area and let it relax.
Why Yoga Nidra is Good for Back Pain
In addition to the benefits that come with entering a state of deep relaxation, yoga nidra also brings awareness to the specific areas where back pain exists. As mentioned in a previous post, our minds have a lot to do with how we feel pain. Sometimes the mind will go so far as to create pain in the body as a way of avoiding psychological or emotional stress. By spending time scanning through the body and consciously acknowledging pain, it becomes more clear what the source of the issue is. This can help identify the problem area(s) and can be a useful way to check in with how back pain is changing over time. Another back pain benefit of yoga nidra is teaching the body to relax areas of the body that are unnecessarily tense as a result of back pain.
Starting a Yoga Nidra for Back Pain Practice
Like other styles of yoga, it can be beneficial to start practicing yoga nidra under the guidance of a qualified yoga nidra teacher. While the physical practice is quite simple, meditation can be a challenge of you are new to it. Yoga nidra is actually an excellent way to get into meditation as well. This is because it is a meditative practice that uses the body as a focal point. A mindfulness meditation practice, on the other hand, may just involve observing one’s thoughts. Which might seem simple enough but it can be quite difficult to focus if you are someone with an active mind.
Practicing Yoga Nidra for Back Pain at Home
While having the guidance of a teacher can be helpful, especially if you have questions about the practice, there are plenty of options to start a home practice. The benefit of this is that you can do it before bed to help you get to sleep and have more restful sleep. There are a lot of yoga nidra recordings you can download and listen to. Another option is to learn the basics of yoga nidra and guide yourself and your back pain to a place of deep relaxation. Here are some pointers to help you begin.
This is probably the only yoga practice you can do in bed. If you are on your yoga mat, use plenty of props to cushion and support your body. Remember to cover yourself in a heavy blanket to add to the feeling of relaxation.
Start with Your Breath
Inhale and exhale through the nose and take slow deep breaths. Think of relaxing the part of the body you are focusing on when you exhale.
Scan Through Your Body
Start at the top of your head and check in with your scalp. Move your awareness down to your face, your eyes, your jaw, your neck, your throat. Continue to slowly work your way through your entire body, right down to the soles of your feet. If you come to a particularly tense area, spend some time letting that part of your body relax.
Check in with Your Back
When you get to your back, work in sections. Start with the back of your neck. Notice tension, pinching, pins and needles and/or pain. Move your focus to the upper back between the shoulder blades. After that, move to your mid back; the area below your shoulder blades to where your back starts to curve. Once you have scanned that area, check in with your low back. As you become aware of pain in your back, try not to avoid it. Instead, think of observing it with a “soft” focus. Notice how the pain feels; how deep it is; how far it radiates outwards; if it is constant pain or variable. With every exhale, think of letting that area of your back relax a little bit more.
Other Benefits of Yoga Nidra
It is common to fall into a deep, relaxed and restful sleep while doing a yoga nidra practice. If this happens or if you go to bed right after a session, notice how your back feels in the morning. Hopefully, over time, this ancient practice helps you manage your back pain better or help it go away entirely.