Yoga Nidra brought significant changes in the brain`s functional connectivity during the practice, a first functional MRI (fMRI) study exploring the neural mechanisms underlying Yoga Nidra, showed on Thursday. 

The study by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, AIIMS Delhi, and Mahajan Imaging Delhi, also showed how Yoga Nidra practice brings deep relaxation and increased awareness.

“According to Yogic texts, Yoga Nidra helps bring the ‘samskaras’ buried in the deep subconscious minds to the surface and eventually helps release them, thereby promoting health.

“The activation of brain areas involved in processing emotions is a very interesting finding in this context,” said IIT Delhi’s Prof. Rahul Garg.

Yoga Nidra practice often referred to as `yogic sleep` or `non-sleep deep rest (NSDR)`, is designed to induce a state of deep relaxation while maintaining heightened awareness.

Practitioners use it to deepen their meditative states, and several research studies have demonstrated its significant benefits for mental health.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, included two groups — 30 meditators (householders with an average of 3000 hours of experience in meditation and/or yogic practices) and 31 matched novice controls.

The researchers found that the Default Mode Network (DMN) behaves differently (less connected) in experienced meditators compared to novices.

This difference in brain communication patterns helps us understand how Yoga Nidra modulates our brain functions, promoting a state of deep relaxation while staying aware, the researchers said.

DMN is a group of interconnected brain regions that are active when an individual is not focused on the outside world. It`s like the brain`s “background mode” that operates when someone is daydreaming, thinking about themselves, or just letting their minds wander.

DMN connectivity refers to how well these brain regions communicate and work together. The researchers also found a strong link between the amount of meditation and yoga practice participants had and the reduction in DMN connectivity during Yoga Nidra.

According to them, the more hours participants spent practising meditation and yoga, the more noticeable the changes in their brain activity during Yoga Nidra.

In addition, the study mentioned that while listening to the guided instructions during Yoga Nidra, both experienced meditators and novices showed activity in several parts of their brains involved in processing language and movements as expected.

“However, what was more interesting was activation in regions associated with processing emotions, and in the brain area Thalamus, which is involved in controlling sleep,” the researchers highlighted.

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