Psychologist Naser Al Riyami admits that some of the therapies he offers can sound a little unusual. One of those is Yoga Nidra, which involves lying flat on your back and practicing expansion and body awareness while in a state of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness.
“It’s an abstract concept,” he admits.
For years, the 33-year-old Emirati fully expected to follow family tradition and become a pediatrician. “It didn’t work out,” he says.
He switched to psychology, got his degree in New Zealand and returned to the UAE to take up a post at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Ajman as a psychologist in 2013. While building up his roster of patients prior to getting his full license, he began exploring hypnosis as a therapy.
“I read lots of articles that suggested you could take care of a phobia in 20 minutes, which I found ridiculous because there is no resolution in such a short length of time. But it did pique my interest,” he says.
Finding Yoga Nidra
He took a four week course in hypnotherapy in Dubai and then teamed up with Kasey Conrad, a fellow hypnotherapist and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming or psychology) instructor, to work on case studies together, which led to them founding Change Works AD, which Al Riyami describes as “a conglomerate of hypnotists, coaches and yoga instructors, all focused on the art and science of change.”
He has been running it for seven years now. “The goal is to cement Change Works AD as a hub for wellness and education. I want it to be an institution where people can develop their skills in all forms of therapy that we can offer,” he says.
Al Riyami encountered Yoga Nidra during his training to become a Laughter Yoga teacher, but health professionals started studying Yoga Nidra back in the 1970s. Recent studies have measured its effectiveness for a range of issues, including symptoms of depression, helping people heal from intimate partner violence and relieving stress in the workplace.
Inside a Yoga Nidra session
In a Yoga Nidra session, a teacher talks students through the process of achieving awareness of various parts of the body, the breath, feelings and sensations, using a combination of visualisations, mantras and repeated resolutions. It is, says Al Riyami, very similar to hypnosis or guided meditation.
“The facilitator gives out the instructions and you carry them out in your mind according to your abilities to hopefully build up skills to help you relax, focus and ultimately sleep better.”
Although Al Riyami doesn’t suffer from poor sleep, Yoga Nidra has helped him reset his body clock.
“I used to go to bed really late, around two in the morning, but when I did my laughter yoga training in India, which incorporated Yoga Nidra, it optimised my sleep,” he says. “You have to understand, laughter yoga, over a nine-hour day, is strong cardio exercise, but the Yoga Nidra portion is energizing and transformative.”
And one of the best things about Yoga Nidra is that it’s super accessible, says Al Riyami. “It is so easy to do. You don’t need any equipment or prior experience.”
As part of Sleep Week, Naser Al Riyami will lead two online Yoga Nidra sessions for Livehealthy readers:
Tuesday, March 16 @ 9pm: Live Yoga Nidra session in Arabic
Wednesday, March 17 @ 5pm: a pre-recorded Yoga Nidra session in English
This article is part of Livehealthy’s first Sleep Week. Starting on March 13 and running up to and including World Sleep Day on March 19, we have seven full days of coverage on everything to do with the one-third of our lives we spend in – or trying to get to – slumber.
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.