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by Swan Michelle

Trauma has been described in our trauma informed portion of our Yoga Teacher Training as “the inability to be present.” Through numerous evidence based studies shown in a Yoga Nidra “Irest” conference at the Sivananda Ashram, I learned trauma has substantially measurable effects on the brain’s function, particularly the brain stem, called the limbic system.

How is this of interest to you and what is the limbic system?  In our Yoga Nidra Teacher Training, we went through the ways that repression and suppression are held in the brain, affecting its function, regulating shut down, spike or depletion of neurohormones, random memory recalls or black outs, and the constant firing off of the sympathetic nervous system. When the fight, flight or freeze button is constantly on, this affects and depletes with time all of our hormones, systems, vital organs and brain storage, as well as our creativity, current memory, and focus quality.

A clear sign these neuroanatomy’s damaging affects may be happening to you could be as simple as your mental critique on overdrive or one that can’t be quieted down, or you getting pretty bent out of shape by things that normally roll right off you. And this is only the minor descriptions. If you lose your loving kindness and are ruled by a jagged edge of bottled up destress or uncontrollable outbursts, something deeper might be going on that is impacting your day to day duties. This essay is for you. It’s an essay to more intelligently understand it is real. It’s also an essay to offer you the chance at some self-compassion. There may be tools accessible to you. For me, Yoga Nidra has been a game changer. It works for me.  Look for what works for you.


I began understanding Yoga Nidra’s efficacy once I was shown images of PTSD in brain scans. It was enough to draw total compassion and a vivid reality to the facts of a brain on trauma. The truth is trauma might be coming out in all of our experiences, your yoga classes, your relationships and your overall resiliency or adaptability to change and to live.

Yoga Nidra is a delving deep into the subconscious held in the body, without moving, in a calm and peaceful, simple setting, while lying down. Like Yoga, Yoga Nidra is hundreds, if not thousands of years old, which to me means something about its ability to work. Yoga Nidra was popularized in the West for different reasons than Yoga. Yoga Nidra was brought here through the world of psychotherapy and hypnotherapy, quite popular in the 80s and 90s, not as a form of fitness, but to learn to work with survivors and veterans of war with PTSD.

Upon having my own experiences with Reiki, Ayurveda, and Yoga Nidra, I too witnessed the vivid patterns of inner oppressive recalls and flashbacks that were exhausting my energy level and wearing on or possibly even high jacking my emotional state by the way I held my body’s health, how I breathed, felt, and thought.

What arose in my deep Yoga Nidra session was the answer to where it’s held and sometimes even “why” it’s happening. Through this ancient lying down, lucid conscious body scan to recalibrate the energy channels and body’s systems, I was shown where I hold past memories that haven’t been digested fully, and unprocessed emotions I thought I were over.

In Yoga Nidra, taking on the identity of the witness, while providing great care and concern to the somatic scan of anything that was still lodged within the energy channels of my body, I could observe with less reactivity, fear, or shame and instead use a more refreshing neutrality. It also helped me to understand that many things that I say, react to, get heightened by emotionally, magnetized toward or am impulsive about were all byproducts of a reaction to traumas, or, the past. Before, knowing this may have caused me to hide by doing things not to feel past pain, but far more in my body during Yoga Nidra,  my current safety and embodiment I knew my body wasn’t lying, free of shame. I felt safe, more energized, and awakened.

What I appreciate about Yoga Nidra is that no one, not even your ego, gets to hypnotize you or lead the experience, This is important because when you have been through a trauma and are trying to heal, you need to know that while someone may guide and hold space for you, you remain in control of your environment. In this practice, you are not forced to look at anything. Healing does not come by force nor control. You are also not touched, which can be triggering or healing, depending on the severity, and the healing that is needed.

Proactive and deeply immersed in your inner Universe, Yoga Nidra promotes you remaining wide awake and totally aware. This is quite literal in that moment, but also an embodied philosophy for life.  Lying down while awake is not easy since typically for many of us, lying down means sleeping. yet if we really check in, we might find that we are somewhat asleep while also driving, talking to others, working, and eating. Yoga Nidra is the practice of being all in and checking in. Once the session is over, every experience has the chance to regain presence and an end, no longer drawn to reverting to the past coping tendencies or autopilot of escape by running or checking out.


In the practices of Yoga, Yoga Nidra is the stage and practice before meditation in the 8 limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Called “pratyahara,” or “the withdrawal of the senses,” it is what you would do before meditating as sitting in a classical lotus position to meditate for long periods takes a pretty self ruled mind and a body free of agitation. Yoga Nidra, has trained me to be more at ease and wide open in my body.  This has later affected the way I also meditate by being sure to check in with my body in the meditation from the inside out, instead of bothered by each discomfort and further continuing to just sit in it. Before practicing Yoga Nidra, meditation had left me feeling just in my head. Unless I am already settled in the body and mind, meditation is sometimes still not accessible to many of us.  Aware of my entire body as a vessel, I can more deeply embody my body as a component of consciousness and mindfulness.

Yoga Nidra has had both other worldly celestial affects on me and literal physical pointers to where suppressed pain or emotion is still held that often I was not aware of. It’s been a compass to get me less distracted or pulled out of much needed  inner nourishment and sensitivity to the whole.

The Yoga Nidra approach is called a holistic or homeopathic one in Ayurveda, meaning, it is a medicine to get to the source and cause of the disconnection proactively and lucidly as a full body experience. Many forms of medicine or any reactions and vices we ourselves utilize as coping or numbing mechanisms are allopathic in nature, meaning, we shut off, down or focus on the symptoms, not necessarily getting to the cause or to the source of the pain held within us. This simultaneously can end up being our driving force and reason for everything that we do because in some way it’s still there and deep down inside, we know this. This then affects everything that we do, including our emotional, mental and physical health, all one package.

Bound emotions and repressed memories are energetically expensive, accelerate our aging process, compromise our immune system, and they put the body into a constant state of flight or fright. Fight, flight or freeze is the specific function of the sympathetic nervous system within the autonomic nervous system. We need this automatic reaction for literal survival. We need to know when our safety is compromised or under attack. We might think tigers or a perpetrator when we hear this, but anything triggering us also affects our biochemical levels, even something “small,” such as a fight with our children, or difficult news.

Anything that may seem small now that happened in the past was probably something that was at one point big, but we just got used to it. When this is happening and we haven’t processed it fully, the sympathetic nervous system is still constantly firing off, and we might not even know it until we are worn out. Yoga Nidra invites a landscape of discharge instead of getting used to adrenal fatigue and moodiness.  Anything intense can trigger us as a subtle reminder to a past memory, and most commonly through the senses, like  a familiar smell or  loud noise.


The Sympathetic Nervous System


Physical signs that the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) is on overdrive may be increased cortisol levels, which compromises and overuses the kidneys and adrenals, compromised circulation, increased or irregular heart rate, breath rate increase compromising the lungs, rest and digest disharmonious, and the amygdala, in charge of emotional arousal.

If we let repressed distress go long enough, consciously or unconsciously, either disassociation or depersonalization can be trauma’s result, inside or outside. Yoga Nidra’s mantra, which is recited repeatedly is “I will remain awake and aware.”  In Classical Yoga Nidra, we are not looking for cool trips to some island to escape what is held within us, but to more deeply attend to anything left unprocessed or unresolved inside by going right into it with an identitied with the power of interconnection. 

While most humans are not fully aware of their bodies, imagine how shot all of the systems of the body must be when a trauma is held within or how flashbacks affect our sense of reality. This is a common side effect not always understood at the time of occurrence but it certainly pulls us out of presence.  What is worse about an ongoing firing off of a trigger is that it feels like it never ends.  

Yoga Nidra is highly suggestible to changing one’s mind for this reason, quite literally, as there is a witness. We reinforce training ourselves as witness to keep track of real time, in a real and present body, where the past and the present can be differentiated and memories aren’t fragmented, which can be confusing and again pulls us out of our body.  Feeling out of body or not feeling our body is commonly a result of trauma. Feeling the body’s orientation in space is called proprioception. When it’s shut down, we are far more susceptible to triggers.  Sometimes, as a true healthy form of survival, we have gone numb, outside or in.  A common result of no longer knowing how we feel inside is also a common side effect of unprocessed trauma. Called “interoception,” this is awareness of the internal stimuli of the body and being able to feel and relate to it. Yoga Nidra is just that. It is both. It invites us to unite the communication system of feeling on the outside to feeling on the inside, getting us to intimately yet softly and patiently connect the separations as a re-uniting of our original nature and Spirit.

Theta Wave

The wave of the brain that is the most highly suggestible is the Theta brain wave. This is the most emphasized wave in Yoga Nidra as the tool to changing the inner landscape, although all of the brain waves are activated and brought into homeostasis. This wave, Theta, is the brain wave bandwidth where we can insert new ideas, thought forms, or, as psychotherapists have often experimented with, reduce or get to the source or reason for addictions, phobias, fears or inflicting pain on oneself in order to feel.

 General Neurotransmitter Imbalance List

          •  Loss of memory               
          • Impaired mental focus
          • Impulsive decision-making
          • Excessive fatigue
          • Excessive weight gain or loss
          • Metabolic syndrome
          • Insulin resistance
          • Mood swings
          • Sensitivity to light, changes, circadian rhythms or seasonal changes
          • Depression, anxiety and panic attacks
          • Hormonal imbalance
          • Addiction, compulsion and craving
In one very deep Yoga Nidra session that I had when I did a 10 day Yoga Nidra Retreat, I had the distinct feeling for the first time, in my case due to my scoliosis, that the right side of my brain was receiving less circulation and had an atrophy of use due to a tighter right side of my overall body and spine. In addition, I became aware of an arousal of stress that I couldn’t seem to fully discharge and had instead been endlessly accommodating to. It was a far out deeply sensitive self realization to go into my brain and to start feeling around as for what was not firing off and what was worn out or overused. It was true neuroplasticity at work. I could literally feel new neuro-pathways firing up and the quality of my grey matter coming alive.

The synapses of anyone’s brain’s nervous system are subject to weakening over time, which can affect poor decision making, brain fog, impulsivity or frozen flash frames of the past. Yoga Nidra is a steeping into awareness. It may not be accessible to everyone according to their severity, but there may be a chance to many due to it’s simplicity in changing ones mind.

In Your Right Mind


The right brain hemisphere is the creative potential, imagination, innovation, compassion, new ways of being and loving side of our mental faculty. Often when exposed to hardship, in a way we often see children do, a healthy imagination and sparked innovation assists in waning off emotional or physical paralysis and discomfort. With the constant high jacking of debilitating past recalls or mental activity, there is no room for a mental resiliency, let alone creativity. Creating new neuro-pathways is a sign of a well nourished right hemisphere brain function.

Difficulty to filtering through what is present or short term memory recall  may be signs of a brain not only on overload or under stress, but traumaticdistress. These may be red flags that the left hemisphere, and what is logical along with it, is now compromised.

A healthy right brain is not insular. Neither is the body nor the brain. That is why inhabiting the body fully, deeply examined in Yoga Nidra, is an important process to healthy, functional feeling and healing. Trauma often makes us feel pulled out of our body, as though something is not registering.

The brain, found throughout the body, needs the sharpness, sequence, enumeration and logical abilities to act and understand real time and to name real pain, which will only enhance a healthy instead of a perpetually sick imagination. Elucidation comes from inhabiting our body completely.


The Limbic System

Within the limbic system is a group of systems that surround the brain stem. The limbic portion of the brain’s function is emotion, motivation, memory, fear, and aggression. Grouped as one body, this means any aroused emotion could trigger a shut down.

The amygdala, known as the emotional part of the brain, could heighten a response of a past frozen fear with an ongoing sense of lack of security, which affects the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, all of which are within the limbic system. Numerous studies have shown that if the amygdala is damaged or even smaller, there is increased trauma activity along with it. This is your brain on trauma. It is very real.

Many studies have also shown the possibility of recovery with guidance and proactive tools of felt sense in safe environments. There has been remarkable recovery with many forms of psychotherapy and Yogic practices beyond just talk therapy, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping), Yoga Asana, especially when offered with trauma awareness, and Yoga Nidra.

“Alexithymia” which is defined as “a subclinical phenomenon involving a lack of emotional awareness or, more specifically, difficulty in identifying and describing feelings and in distinguishing feelings from the bodily sensations of emotional arousal” (Nemiah et al, 1976is a common word in studying PTSD that I was introduced to in my Yoga Nidra studies. This is deeply relevant to Yoga Nidra, as Yoga Nidra is a recovering of our ability to name how we feel inside and out.


Stress and Distress

We learned in our Yoga Nidra Training that it is important to differentiate between stress and distress, noting how the differences play out in a body and in a mind. We were taught that some stress is healthy for the body to feel as it creates an adaptability to life, not an adaptation to past trauma.

Healthy stress challenges strength building, maturity, and growth. Yoga asana puts some stress on the body. It tears muscle fiber and puts weight bearing on the joints and connective tissues on purpose, yet, the pose does end. Distress is not healthy for the body to feel and especially repeatedly or seemingly endlessly.

I’ve experienced some disturbing attachments through such a still practice. Yet, Yoga Nidra’s very nature is to work in a non-linear, biocentrism atmosphere, reducing the irregularity of any biomechanics, mental or emotional patterns and imbalances within the vessel we inhabit. It’s helps me to unwind, not relive, where I was afraid to look.

This vessel is indeed a storehouse of all things past, and can also be an empty vessel of potential, creating a new dream in the present. Memories do not have to override our presence. Freedom is inhabiting our body, mind and presence completely.

May you learn from your past stories with compassion, awake and aware. Water and attend to your mind, which is in this body.

Namaste,  Swan Michelle


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