The Best Yoga for Hepatitis C Patients

by Dawn Raffel Health Writer

Want to give yourself a healing treat, one you can try at home? Meet yoga nidra, the art of conscious relaxation. It's an excellent way to combat the effects of the stress that can come from Hep C or any chronic medical condition. When you grapple daily with everything from side effects of medication (including fatigue and insomnia) to anxiety about the future—not to mention bills and paperwork—effective relaxation is essential. This simple practice is accessible to everyone, regardless of age or mobility—so if yoga makes you think of human pretzels, fear not: There’s nary a twist in sight.

Yoga nidra is actually a form of guided meditation, and it’s a great alternative for anyone who gets antsy trying to sit and "just breathe." By putting you into a state between waking and sleep, it’s simultaneously soothing and empowering. A typical session lasts 20 to 30 minutes and is done either lying on your back on a mat, or, if that’s uncomfortable, seated in a chair. While it’s ideal to go to an in-person class, you can stream a free session via YouTube or SoundCloud. Every yoga nidra session involves a series of specific steps. Here is what you can expect.

Connect With a Desire

First you'll settle into a lying or seated position and close your eyes. You’ll be asked to mentally scan the phase of life you're in now, and identify one aspect of your lifestyle that you'd like to improve. Then you will set a sankupla–a short, positive phrase that embodies that desired change. An example might be, "I am HCV-free" or "I am healthy." You'll mentally repeat your sankupla three times.

Send Awareness Throughout the Body

Next, the teacher will help you bring your awareness to each part of the body in succession (the right thumb, first finger, second, finger, etc.). The philosophy is that sending consciousness (energy) to each body part helps to nurture it. This portion of the practice may include not only the limbs but also the internal organs. For extra care, you can envision sending healing white light to the liver.

Focus on the Breath

Now the teacher will ask you to become aware of your breathing—specifically, your belly rising and falling. You will begin to count the breath backward, often from 27, although the number can vary (many practitioners choose multiples of 9 because that number has significance in the Vedic tradition). This is deeply relaxing while also requiring some effort to stay awake. By now, you might well be in the restful and profoundly creative alpha brain wave state, in which you are relaxed but alert, in between “normal” daily awareness but not in REM sleep.

Balance the Mind

Next, you'll be asked to harness the imaginative power of the mind to experience some opposite sensations—for example, first your body is very heavy and then very light; or chilly and then warm. Mentally experiencing these dualities is a way of balancing the mind.

Invite Happiness

Here's where the practice becomes pure pleasure, as you vividly recall a time when you were extremely happy. That time can be recent or from the distant past, and you'll be guided to imagine it in detail so that you feel happiness in the body. Sometimes people who are very stressed have trouble remembering any time when they were happy, but with practice, it comes.

Take a Mental Journey

The teacher will then guide you on a mental "journey." While the previous steps of yoga nidra rarely vary, the journey depends on the teacher and can change in each session. Often, you'll envision yourself on a beach, or in a garden, woods, or another place of serene beauty and inspiration.

Cleanse the Mental Palate

You'll be asked to imagine a series of random objects (a seashell, a stiletto, a peach, etc.) in quick succession. (Yes, admittedly it’s a little odd, but go with it.) To boil down a complex philosophy: It's like cleansing the mental palate, clearing away any stressful residue. The last item you'll be asked to contemplate is a mirror, in which you will see yourself.

Just Rest

For two or three minutes, you'll simply rest in silence, trying not to think of anything at all. If thoughts arise, you can simply observe them in a detached manner and let them pass. If no thoughts arise, you can enjoy the peace of the mind. The succession of previous steps has prepared you for this step.

Seal the Practice

Before the session ends, you'll recall your sankupla—the short positive phrase with which you began the practice—and mentally repeat it three times. At this point, the mind has been primed to fully receive it. Finally, you'll have a full-body stretch and take a moment to reflect on how body and mind feel different before opening your eyes. Don't be surprised it you sleep surprisingly well that night. The more you practice, the more consistent the benefits. Once a week is great—some people even do it daily. While it won't cure your hep C, it will support your body and mind to help you heal.

Dawn Raffel
Meet Our Writer
Dawn Raffel

Dawn Raffel is the author of 5 books. most recently The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies. She also teaches yoga and yoga nidra, and finds them hugely beneficial.