Yoga nidra makes me happy (or just less sad) – plain language summary

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

I’m going to admit, I’ve been struggling to find both brain power and motivation to do any reading that requires my brain to work. I was getting ready for another week of low-brain-power blogging (or even no blogging at all). And then I somehow stumbled on a new-ish yoga nidra paper. Somehow, I had missed this one coming out (do psychology papers not get listed on PubMed? I guess not). I had to read it. And after reading it, I was keen to write about it too. It’s all good news my friends, all good news.

I’ve written before about the potential mental health benefits of yoga nidra, as well as the positive impact elsewhere that is also likely linked to the mental health changes (eg women’s health). So why bother writing about another study looking at the benefits of yoga nidra in mental health?

There are two interesting things about this study

  1. It actually has a decent sample size! The total number of participants was over 700, split among those who practiced yoga nidra and those who did nothing (they were actually told that they would have to wait to receive the intervention, so they are what is known as a ‘waitlist control’)
  2. They tested a shortened version of yoga nidra (11 min) – yoga nidra is quite a long practice, and so understandably to increase compliance, they decide to shorten it so as to fit it more easily to people’s lives. The practice was shared in an audio file that participants could listen to whenever was most suitable. Basically, just making it as easy as possible to practice!

Yoga nidra helped, across the board, although the effect was small

Overall, compared with controls, participants who practiced yoga nidra:

  • Felt more positive about life (known as positive affect) and more satisfied with life
  • Felt less negative about life (and in fact the decrease in negativity was higher than the increase in positivity, which is an interesting finding in itself)
  • Were less stressed
  • Slept better
  • Were more mindful (yes, there are questionnaires for mindfulness, including statements like “I notice that I’m lost in thoughts about the future or the past” or “I notice that I listen to someone with little attentiveness while I do something else at the same time”)

These changes were sustained 6 weeks after the study was completed (although important to note that some participants continued with the practice so that might partly explain that).

Additional comments included feeling more relaxed, more body aware – but also bored and finding it difficult to integrate the practice in their lives.

But, if I may be a little controversial (and maybe philosophical)…

I do think that it’s great to find ways to make practice as easy and as accessible as possible. I myself struggle to practice yoga nidra as often as I would like. I had a goal of 3x per week but these days it’s more like 1x every couple of weeks. Some days I struggle to even practice my short morning meditation.

But, is it still yoga nidra if it only has a body scan and breath awareness? How is it different to mindfulness? Does it matter?

Am I getting stuck in semantics? Perhaps. Perhaps I am influenced by this other yoga nidra paper I read today!

What do you think?


Some other bits about the study

  • This was a randomised controlled trial, which is the gold standard of evaluating interventions
  • 341 participants practiced yoga nidra and 430 acted as the control
  • They used a waitlist control though, and ideally you would want to also have an active control (eg relaxing music) to know if there is something specific about yoga nidra that has these effects
  • Participants practiced yoga nidra using an 11min audio file for 30 days; although they were asked to practice daily, most went for every second day
  • Measurements about how people were feeling were taken before the intervention started, at completion (30 days) and six weeks later

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