Yoga Nidra for Fibromyalgia is one of the most vital tools in my toolkit. It helps with multiple areas, especially the central nervous system dysfunction – or our stuck fight or flight mode.
In this post I share what it is, the benefits, some research (without boring you), my experience as a person with fibromyalgia and as a yoga and meditation teacher. Basically – why you need to try it.
This is an excerpt from my brand new book and has an accompanying video.
One of the core yoga tools, Yoga Nidra is also known as “yogic sleep”. The brain waves during Yoga Nidra mimic those in sleep. For some of us, it is the only way to reach some of the deepest stages of restorative sleep. There is a common belief that a session feels like three hours of sleep.
Yoga Nidra is like meditation on steroids.
Kamini Desai PHD, in her book Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep (2017), describes Yoga Nidra as being used as a nap and says that, “Using Yoga Nidra as a nap is like using a jet plane to drive to the grocery store. You can do it, but it is a gross under-utilization of it’s potential.” (p7)
How you do Yoga Nidra
Nidra has a specific sequence. It begins with grounding into the moment (focusing on sounds, our breath). Setting an intention (or san kalpa) is an important part of it. This is a positive, present tense focus that you usually use until you see fruition. You then move through a body scan. Spend time witnessing thoughts and playing with the sensation of opposites. There is a period near the end where you are able to rest in the moment. This is my favourite part. Often by this point, I am so relaxed that I am able to enjoy a quiet body (limited sensations) which is a relief for someone with a loud body at all other times. At this point, for experienced meditators, it can feel like you have drifted off to sleep. If you wake as soon as the teacher guides you out, then you were not asleep, but were in deep meditation.
I teach this in my special program Yoga Nidra for the Chronic Life and even have a lesson on setting intention or san kalpa. You are invited to come and check it out today. This is the most important program I have ever made. The one I recommend whatever your mobility levels. If you want deep rest, this will help with that.
An important note here is that most teachers will ask you to set the intention to stay awake and aware. However, I believe the biggest benefit Yoga Nidra offers us is the chance for some deep rest. If you can catch a nap at this time, take it.
The connection between Yoga Nidra and Fibromyalgia
As I mentioned earlier, a theory about Fibromyalgia is that the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) may be stuck in overdrive. Meditation promotes a calming of this system, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to activate. Yoga Nidra takes the benefits of “normal” meditation a step further with it’s sequencing and movement through brainwave patterns.
Yoga Nidra offers the following benefits:
- Helps with chronic insomnia
- Calms the central nervous system
- Can improve the immune system
- May help with depression and anxiety
- Reduces pain and fatigue
- Relieves stress
This paper from 2020 on the effectiveness of Yoga Nidra states: “Empirical studies on Yoga Nidra confirm positive effects on various physiological and psychological criteria such as insomnia, addictive behavior, chronic diseases, pain therapy, pregnancies, geriatrics, asthma as well as disorders of the cardiovascular system (e.g., Satyananda Saraswati 2009). Not only based on self-reports, but also by imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and electroencephalography (EEG), sustained changes in the activation of the brain were recorded (e.g., Lou et al. 1999; Mandlik et al. 2002;).” (See bottom of post for reference. My bold) Research is still limited, but it is bearing out my experience.
After a 20-minute session, my pain levels can drop to as low as 3/10 and decrease my fatigue levels to a similar place. The effects help me get through the busy evening period with my kids. Without this proper rest break, the afternoon does not feel good. I feel lethargic, exhausted and like I need about five hours of sleep.
It’s not easy to carve out these uninterrupted minutes. However, it is such an important tool for management that I prioritise it as much as possible.
Best time to practice Yoga Nidra
- First thing in the morning if you don’t feel you’ve slept well (most of the time with fibromyalgia?)
- During a flare
- In place of a rest/nap (especially useful if you cannot nap but really wish you could)
- After work
- When you need to destress, take time out or calm down
- Before bed
- During the night (it is great for those painsomnia nights)
- Basically, whenever suits you
Try all four of my favourite yoga tools (including yoga nidra) free
Yoga Nidra and Me
It took me a while to appreciate meditation – years, in fact, for me to consider giving up precious reading time for it. (When I first started improving, I was so happy to be able to read, which meant it was hard to give up).
In 2014, I read a book about mindfulness meditation and found a YouTube video of a Yoga Nidra session – it’s called Yoga Nidra – Deeply Restorative Guided Relaxation/Meditation – that I particularly liked (avoiding the spiritual/religious aspects of it) and then I was away running. I’m not sure what made me choose Yoga Nidra as opposed to the many other wonderful meditations to try on YouTube, but I am forever thankful I did.
I have meditations, body scans and Yoga Nidra of varying lengths that I switch between as I like. I also use the body scan technique most nights to relax into sleep. The focus on the breath is like second nature to fall into. Now, when I am stuck awake in the middle of the night (usually after the kids have woken me) instead of tossing and turning in frustration, I do a body scan meditation. Not stressing about not sleeping combined with the effects of the deep rest are both restorative and usually lead back to sleep.
When I was pregnant and desperately tired and sore, meditation made a huge difference to my quality of life. Sometimes, I would even catch 5-10 minutes of sleep after the meditation finished and feel uniquely restored. On days when I have not slept well, it is deeply soothing to be able to rest completely without wishing I could nap.
Summary of my experience
The benefits of meditation have pervaded all facets of my life – I no longer get anxious without due cause. I feel profoundly calmed by the fact that I can attain deep rest in the face of constant fatigue and chronic insomnia, and I adore that this coping mechanism is freely available to me any time, any place.
I love meditation so much that in 2021 I completed my 200-hour Certified Meditation Teacher program (in addition to a few Yoga Nidra specific training completed earlier). It’s become my dream and my pleasure to share the tools meditation (and yoga) offers to others who need some good rest too.
Yoga Nidra is also one of the first things I suggest when mentoring other people with chronic illness. It doesn’t require energy, mobility or to be flare-free. In fact, it will likely help with all three.
Affiliate notice: Please note that some of my links are affiliate links and if you make a purchase using my link, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep by Kamini Desai (2017)
Moszeik, E.N., von Oertzen, T. & Renner, KH. Effectiveness of a short Yoga Nidra meditation on stress, sleep, and well-being in a large and diverse sample. Curr Psychol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01042-2
Yoga Nidra: The iRest Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing Richard Miller (2022)
Daring to Rest: Reclaim Your Power with Yoga Nidra Rest Meditation by Karen Brody (2015)
Yoga Nidra for the Chronic Life – your complete introduction to getting started practicing this tool for profound rest.