Do people feel less stressed after Yoga Nidra?

Summary

After six weekly lessons in Yoga Nidra (a type of deep relaxation) plus optional home practice, 16 study participants with Multiple Sclerosis or Cancer reported lower stress levels.

Name of paper  Impact of Integrative Restoration (irest) Meditation on Perceived Stress Levels in Multiple Sclerosis & Cancer Patients.
Authors  Mary Pritchard, Patt Elison-Bowers & Bobbie Birdsall
Journal Wiley Interscience (on-line journal) 13/10/2009

What the researchers wanted to find out

Previous research has shown Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (a technique developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn) reduces stress. Research also shows Yoga Nidra reduces anxiety. In this study, researchers investigated whether Yoga Nidra could reduce stress levels in people with disorders like multiple sclerosis and cancer.

How they did it

12 multiple sclerosis patients & 10 cancer patients did six, weekly classes of Yoga Nidra. They were asked to practice daily at home using CDs.

What they found

Participants had to attend at least 5 of the 6 classes to be included in final results. 16 achieved this. Their perceived stress levels were measured prior to the first class and after the last class using Perceived Stress Score (PSS), a widely used measure that comprises 10 self-rated questions. The Perceived Stress Score decreased in both sets of patients (In those with Multiple Sclerosis from 17 to 12 and in those with cancer from 21 to 13) which means they felt less stressed at the end of the course.

Limitations

  • This was a small study with no control group. The study is easily replicable and the authors have recommended repetition of the exercise with a control group.
  • The main researcher is a level 1 Yoga Nidra instructor.
  • Patients were not followed up post-study so we don’t know if their Perceived Stress Scores stayed low, or if they continued with home practice. (MBSR meditation studies have shown 88% still using technique to their benefit a period of time after formal study concluded)
  • The study didn’t measure how decreased stress impacted on the patient’s quality of life so we don’t know the practical implications for the patient.

Practical Application for Teaching Yoga for People with Pain

  • Pain is a common side effect of cancer and MS that may be exacerbated by stress. Yoga Nidra seems to reduce stress so may help with pain.
  • Yoga Nidra is a relatively simple and cost effective technique to teach
  • You lie still so the method is suitable for those who can’t move
  • For those who can’t lie on their backs, the position can be adapted to sitting or standing
  • Yoga Nidra can involve exploring opposites (such as hot and cold, or anxiety and relaxation). This could help people with chronic health issues to accept both the perceived positive and negative benefits of their condition and future prospects
  • RSS (the measurement tool used) may be useful to help yoga students track their progress

This summary was developed by Rosemary Harding (yoga teacher in Bunbury) and Rachael West (Yoga for Pain teacher and trainer). It is provided for information and shouldn’t be regarded as medical advice. Please read the full paper in the link above for a full understanding of the topic.

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