Yoga Nidra Relieves Pain

Dr Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Yoga nidra relaxation therapy has been successfully applied on patients suffering from chronic medical problems, report doctors at Davis Sacramento Medical Centre, University of California, USA. They have adapted the technique so that it can be easily and effortlessly practiced by hospitalized patients, and have found it effective in relieving many of the special problems associated with chronic illness. They reported success in the following areas:

  1. Relief of insomnia and sleep disturbances.
  2. Holding moderately severe pain out of conscious awareness, allowing patients to fall asleep.
  3. Providing partial relief from the feelings of hopelessness and depression so commonly associated with chronic illness.
  4. Lessening the requirements for hypnotic and sedative drugs in hospitalized patients, thereby reducing the dangers of long term drug dependence and undesirable side effects.

The patient is led into a state of deep systematic relaxation of body and breath. Then he is instructed to allow his mind to wander to a restful and pleasant memory, He is next encouraged to experience the memory as fully and completely as possible. This brings about an effortless attention without any sense of striving for concentration. In a report published by the American Journal of Psychotherapy they presented case histories for a number of challenging patients who proved amenable to this therapy.

  • Case 1: A sixty five year old man hospitalized with increasingly severe intermittent chest pain of over twenty years duration. He was subsequently diagnosed to be suffering from oesophagitis (inflammation and irritation of the lower end of the oesophagus). He was instructed in yoga nidra and found it very useful both for general relaxation and for relief of moderate pain. Over a six month period he acquired the ability to stop the pain or to forget about its presence, and found he could drop directly into sleep after ten to fifteen minutes practice at night.
  • Case 2: A twenty two year old man hospitalized for three months following extensive bullet wounds to the abdomen and hip. He suffered severe and continuing pain which only responded partially to sympathectomy (surgical severing of the pain fibres that travel with the sympathetic nerves). Due to continual pain he was anxious, depressed, irritable and occasionally panicky. His appetite was poor and he steadily lost weight. Using yoga nidra he was able to sleep in spite of his pain, and his general mood and appetite improved markedly.
  • Case 3: A fifty three year old man with widely disseminated lung cancer requiring narcotics for pain relief was anxious, depressed and had difficulty sleeping. Using the preliminary muscular relaxation procedures of yoga nidra, he was able to sleep without the use of a sedative hypnotic preparation, provided his pain was controlled. His mental attitude improved markedly.
  • Case 4: A fifty year old man who had previously suffered a myocardial infarction and since that time had presented himself almost weekly for the past year at the emergency department complaining of chest pain and fearing a further heart attack. However, repeated electrocardiograms showed no changes. He was taking 120mg. of diazepam per day and suffered from severe sleep disturbance. He was ultimately referred for psychiatric evaluation and introduced to yoga nidra. He responded well, acquiring the ability to relax when he felt an oncoming 'heart attack' and his panic stricken visits to the hospital ceased.


This study indicates that pain is a complex matter influenced by our expectations and approach to life. Many people react to pain in a neurotic way making it much worse. A positive patient will suffer from and complain of pain far less than a patient whose overall attitude is negative. Yoga nidra progressively releases mental and emotional tensions from the mind and changes our unhealthy and unhappy outlook on life. Through this practice, the very pain of life here exemplified in the form of chronic intractable pain clue to illness, is lessened, and living, even in the face of tragedy and death, becomes more acceptable and fulfilling. Yoga nidra changes our way of life making us more positive and open towards our varied experiences - and pain is, after all, but another experience.


*1. Alfred P. French, MD and Joe P. Tupin, MD, 'Therapeutic Application of Simple Relaxation Method', American Journal of Psychotherapy.