Yoga Nidra and Creativity

Dr Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Creativity is a commonly used word. Mostly we limit its use to express an ability to create something very beautiful and artistic or to imagine vividly. No scientist, philosopher or expert has been able to define creativity accurately. As a result we have many definitions of creativity. Simply speaking, creativity is the ability to see a common or a difficult situation from an uncommon perspective or to imagine extraordinary things and ensure they come to fruition. The end product of creativity is bringing forth something original and useful.

Creativity – nature or nurture?

We are all creative by nature. We experience creative thinking in our lives in the form of sudden insights or extraordinary leaps of understanding. It usually comes when we least expect it, after a long period of hard work when we let go of our efforts. When we do our best and then either consciously allow the higher energy to do its share, or relinquish our efforts by accepting the situation, then suddenly, creative suggestion dawns from somewhere within us after a gap of time.

We lose much of our creativity during school years through neglect and cultural conditioning. Young children are constantly told what to do and what not to do, what is right and what is wrong. Many times adults are so involved in their own lives that they have no time to share the child’s experiences and excitements. The child is overburdened with the load of formal education. Some urban children miss out on a natural environment. All types of adult behaviour at home and at school suppress or kill spontaneity and originality in the child’s personality. In spite of this, we retain the potential to reactivate our creative ability.

Thinking pattern in creative people

There are two ways in which our mind tends to think: linear or lateral. In linear or ordinary thinking we seek a single correct answer by using a one-pointed mind. We tend to think only in one direction by ruling out other common possibilities. It is conscious thinking, executed by exercising one’s will, which mainly uses the left brain. In most of our day-to-day dealings and problem solving, we apply this mode of thinking. Yogic practices of pranayama, pratyahara and dharana enhance this human ability by calming the mind and preparing it to apply itself to any given task with full awareness.

In contrast to linear thinking, with lateral thinking we try to collect as many possibilities, including the absurd ones. There is no effort on the part of an individual. Lateral thinking is subconscious or unconscious thinking supported by a relaxed state of mind which uses the whole brain. One needs to get in tune with one’s inner self. When the brain activity shows alpha waves, the state of mind is more conducive to creative or lateral thinking, e.g. just before falling asleep or when in an introverted state of mind. Yogic practices of relaxation, such as yoga nidra, internalisation, and mind quietening practices like mantra japa, chidakasha dharana and bhakti yoga, enhance the ability to think in lateral mode by training an individual to relax at will, making the mind quiet to establish contact with one’s own inner core.

Creative thinking involves conscious, focused or alert thinking, followed by trance-like unfocused thinking. The latter state can be induced by relaxation in order to recall specific memories or visualise something vividly. In this state things are sorted out mentally. Children and some adults can often adopt this state and become oblivious to everything around them. ‘Going inside’ is one of the main foundational skills for creativity. We are able to switch rapidly from one level of consciousness to the other. Even during a conversation, we may go into a very brief period of inner reflection or memory recollection. All the practices of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana enhance this ability to dive inside.

Personality type of creative people

Physical stress and emotional disturbance take away one’s ability to think with one-pointed concentration as well as to dive within. One can effectively manage the physical and mental stress with asana and pranayama practices. Yama, the practice of a social code of conduct, improves one’s dealings with other people, thus reducing the chances of emotional disturbance. Niyama, the practice of self-discipline, helps one to find and maintain balance in situations evoking emotional disturbance. The concept of a middle path or moderation in yogic lifestyle also keeps these stresses to a minimum.

People with a flexible nature and an attitude of looking at the brighter side of a situation have more creative ability. They usually see problems and setbacks as challenges and opportunities. They tend to reflect a lot on their goals, the reasons for their success and the lessons they learn when they do not succeed. In other words they recognise, analyse and utilise or correct their strengths and weaknesses.

Swadhyaya or self-study is one of the niyamas for the practitioner of raja yoga. Swami Niranjanananda recommends SWAN sadhana in order to practise swadhyaya. In SWAN sadhana one watches and analyses one’s S-strengths, W-weaknesses, A-ambitions and N-needs. The changes that are necessary in attitudes and personality are then brought about by practices of awareness, witnessing attitude (sakshi bhava), developing opposite virtues (pratipaksha bhava) and discrimination (viveka).

Work situation and creativity

Interest and motivation in the work is a prime factor in creativity. The Bhagavad Gita’s concept of total attention and dedication to the action being performed (Yogah karmasu kaushalam) inspires motivation in one’s work. We can mould our personality by adopting a proper lifestyle and consciously practising the behaviour and thought patterns we want to perfect.

There is a period of optimal behaviour or mastery, called the state of flow, during which a person achieves a high level of output and pleasure in any job with little conscious effort. It is accompanied by a sense of well-being and high self-esteem. This state happens at a point when the level of a perceived challenge is balanced by a person’s perceived ability to carry it out. If the challenge is perceived as greater than one’s capacity, then anxiety will be the outcome. If the challenge is perceived as too trivial as compared to one’s abilities to deal with it, then boredom will be the result. The state of flow happens in a path steered between boredom and anxiety. Creative products often materialise in this flow period.

Creativity decreases when a person is being observed, expected to perform or produce results or under an authority.

Yoga nidra and creativity

The practice of yoga nidra is very familiar to yoga practitioners all over the world. It is not only a practice of relaxation, but also a practice of pratyahara and dharana. In the first preparatory stage of this practice, physical and mental relaxation starts. Brain waves start slowing down and the senses begin to withdraw from the external environment, preparing the mind to be receptive. The second stage of taking a resolve does not directly influence creativity. The third stage of rotation of consciousness around the body parts deepens physical as well as mental relaxation and introversion, discouraging the mind from going into slumber. The fourth stage of breath awareness further intensifies relaxation and introversion. In this stage dharana begins. These stages together prepare the ground for the creative potential of the brain to manifest as the normal preponderance of logical left hemisphere is replaced by activation of the whole brain. The fifth stage of experiencing feelings and sensations helps in purging emotions and finding emotional balance. The sixth stage of visualisation allows stored material in the subconscious and unconscious mind to come to the conscious level in the form of images and symbols. It is a stage of extrasensory perception. Hidden or submerged knowledge can surface at this time. In the fifth and sixth stages there is right brain preponderance that is directly responsible for creativity. Yoga nidra puts us in touch with our psychic personality which is responsible for all that we think and do. It provides us with an opportunity to receive and fully assimilate information. The seventh stage is repeating the resolve made in the second stage. The last stage is externalisation and ending the practice. Thus the whole practice of yoga nidra awakens and enhances one’s creative potentials.

Research study

Sri Shirish Kumar Gupta (MSc Applied Yogic Science, 2003–2005) conducted an experiment into the effects of yoga nidra on the creativity of school children. We present his findings below.

Aim: To study the effects of yoga nidra on the creativity of children.

Method: This study was conducted for one month from June 10th to July 10th, 2004 on 60 students from classes V and VI (aged 10–12 years) at a school in Satna, M.P., India. The experimental and control groups consisted of 30 students each, 15 students from class V and 15 from class VI. Allocation to either group was done randomly using the lottery method. The experimental group received 25 minutes of yoga nidra every working day for one month, while the control group had their normal games and sports class during the same time period. Yoga nidra consisted of stages 1 (preparation), 3 (rotation of awareness), 4 (breath awareness), 5 (pairs of opposite sensations), 6 (visualisation) and 8 (externalisation). Only one parameter, consisting of ten sub-tests, was studied before and after the experiment. A panel of three teachers was selected to mark each subject in Ten Creativity Tests for Children (TCTC).

Parameter: Ten Creativity Tests for Children (TCTC). The TCTC, developed by the researcher, is modelled on existing creativity tests. It consists of ten tests measuring ten dimensions of creativity.

Name of creativity test Dimension of creativity
1. Object-Idea tes Object-idea association ability
2. Geometry Figure test Creativity with geometrical shapes
3. Consequence test Ability to think/imagine about the consequences
4. Problem searching test Ability to foresee/indentify problem
5. Changing the Drawing test Ability to think/express alternatives
6. Story completion test Sequencial imagination
7. Game invention test Ability to solve a mechanical problem
8. Tool invention test Ability to solve a mechanical problem
9. Figure-thought test Ability to convert abstract thought into an expression/figure
10. Inquisition test Ability to express curiosity


Table 1 shows the mean readings of the experimental and control groups in all ten creativity tests before and after the experiment. In both groups the post values are higher, showing the effect of familiarisation. However, the rise in value is greater in the experimental group for all tests. In all the dimensions of creativity, children who were given yoga nidra performed better (Table 1) than those who did not receive yoga nidra. All factors being equal, the experiment indicates a high correlation between yoga nidra and creativity due to awakening the potential of the whole brain, not only selected areas of the brain.

Table 1: Mean values of Ten Creativity Tests for Children of the Experimental and Control groups
  Experimental Control
Name of creativity test Pre Post Pre Post
1. Object-Idea tes 10.333 12.433 9.8 11.367
2. Geometry Figure test 10.433 13.3 10.4 12.033
3. Consequence test 9.667 12.533 10 11.433
4. Problem searching test 10.3 13.133 11.233 12.367
5. Changing the Drawing test 3.933 4.7 3.5 3.95
6. Story completion test 10.8 13.367 10.533 12.733
7. Game invention test 4.183 5.183 4.133 4.5
8. Tool invention test 4.633 5.517 4.267 4.6
9. Figure-thought test 11.5 14.633 11.5 13.367
10. Inquisition test 10.933 13.633 11.4 12.77
Total score 86.717 108.433 86.767 99.05


Harry, Alder, CQ – Boost your Creative Intelligence, Kogan Page India Ltd, New Delhi, 2003

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Nidra, 6th edn, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, 2003