Into the Heart of iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

My personal experience with iRest® began in 2013 when it’s founder, Dr Richard Miller, and his team of assistants came over from the US for the first wave of trainings in this part of the world. I owe a debt of gratitude to Fuyuko Sawamura-Toyota for having the foresight to encourage them over to Australia forever impacting my life and those of so many other students who have embraced the practice.

I’ve since become a Certified iRest Teacher (one of only two in NZ) and now have the privilege of assisting at iRest trainings and attending many silent retreats — and I see over and over how the simplicity of this meditation protocol allows people to rediscover themselves after years, sometimes a lifetime, of searching. It offers practical ways of “coming home” to our authentic, unshakeable ground of wellbeing. And truly is a practice for every moment of life.

So what exactly is iRest?

1.It’s a Comprehensive Path of Meditation. The iRest protocol consists of ten “steps” or points of inquiry that allow us to investigate the entirety of the human experience. First, we establish a solid ground of safety, intention, and connection to life’s purpose and meaning. This embraces questions that, for many of us, we’ve asked throughout our entire lives: What do I want for myself? How can I live my best life? How can I meet life’s challenges and not be overwhelmed? And with iRest we learn how to immediately begin tapping into the ground of wellbeing that supports us when we feel ready to make these inquiries. These are the keystones that help us channel our energy and focus for the practice, for life.

We also learn how to meet, greet and welcome the physical body and breath, and how to be with difficult emotions, thoughts and beliefs and not become identified with them. We explore the baseline of joy and peace that are always here but usually concealed by thought/emotion, and the sense of I-ness which claims all our experiences.

iRest can be anything from a “study” of how to become a more fully-functional, resilient human being who knows how to meet life authentically, to a complete path of meditation for enlightened, awakened living. How you bring the practice to life is entirely up to you.

2. It’s also an Evidence-Based Meditation Protocol. The iRest protocol has its origins in research conducted at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre (WRAMC) in 2006 on the efficacy of iRest yoga nidra meditation for treating soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). iRest is based on ancient yogic meditation practices but was modernised and secularised into this 10-step protocol by Richard Miller, who is himself a clinical psychologist, researcher and yogic scholar.

This initial study at WRAMC was so successful that it’s now part of the weekly treatment program at the Deployment Health Clinical Center at Walter Reed. It has since been endorsed by the US Army Surgeon General as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and, to date, there are nearly 30 research studies on the effects of using iRest in healing trauma, chronic pain management, sleep intervention, depression, and more.

iRest offers a unique combination of ancient teachings that have very successfully been modernised upon the latest understandings from neuroscience and psychology. Thanks to Richard Miller, the practice continues to evolve and subtly adapt as new understandings within science unfold.

Here’s a complete list of iRest Yoga Nidra research.

3. iRest is Trauma Sensitive. As mentioned above, Richard Miller developed a protocol that has been proven to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD. Part of what makes the practice trauma-sensitive is the focus on developing a strong sense of inner resource — a ground of safety and security that we learn to nourish and come back to whenever it’s needed. This inner resource is grounded somatically until it becomes part of our everyday life, readily accessible. With this in place, we may then be ready to meet what feels broken and in need of healing.

iRest teachers are also trained to use trauma-sensitive language that is very permissive for the student or client. Instead of telling a student what to focus on or what emotion/belief to explore, the student themselves decides what they will greet and welcome, and only when they feel ready to make that inquiry. While the teacher may at first seem to be guiding the practice, it is more accurate to say the teacher safely holds the space while the student or client takes the wheel.

We can often feel out of control in life, especially after suffering trauma. The entire iRest protocol helps us re-establish a proper relationship with our feelings, emotions, thoughts and beliefs so that we keep them in healthy perspective as messengers telling us when we are on or off course — in or out of harmony with ourselves.

4. iRest is Mindfulness++. Of course, when you’re meditating, feelings, emotions, and thoughts have a way of flooding into the foreground. It can feel like they’re “getting in the way” of the practice. With mindfulness, we learn to acknowledge these movements, noticing them without judgement, witnessing them as phenomena within Awareness.

But sometimes noticing and coming back to breath, for example, just isn’t enough. Isn’t it true that some emotions and beliefs seem to be lifelong companions? And in iRest we open to the view that maybe, just maybe, these visitors have something they need to impart — some message perhaps about how we’re living our lives, how we may be off course or off-centre, and pointers to Awareness itself.

So we learn how to proactively engage with these messengers in ways that welcome them fully into the practice — into our lives as our friends who may need an ear. We learn how to use opposites as a way of embracing the entirety of experience — the full range of emotion and cognition acknowledging their existence along a continuum of expression. We skilfully and compassionately invite these visitors in for conversation. There are a range of tools on offer for use when or if the student senses this is the right course for them.

5. Connecting in Co-Meditation. What does this mean? In simple terms, during trainings we learn how to safely and skilfully meet another human being, moment to moment, in one-on-one practice. Applying the protocol, the practitioner becomes the container for the unfolding of the client/student’s meditation experience. We become the listener, the witness of their experience, offering potential avenues of exploration that they might use if they decide it’s in service of their practice.

I can honestly say that for me this is the most powerful aspect of my work with iRest in the community. This way of using the protocol has profoundly impacted my ability to meet another’s difficulties from an inexhaustible ground of wholeness. The simple act of being fully met, seen, and heard without judgement or agenda often has a profound impact on the people who come to see me in this capacity. And, in a sense, aren’t we always in co-meditation with ourselves? So this is an essential part of learning to meet ourselves in this same way — freeing ourselves from guilt, blame and self-judgement.

6. High Degree of Training. The iRest Teacher Certification Program is, on average, a two-year process. So whenever you attend a class or course run by a certified teacher, you can be confident that they have undergone a supervised training process that ensures a certain standard of embodied understanding of iRest.

There are two levels of training as well as writing, teaching and reading assignments, and a minimum attendance of two retreats/immersions over the course of study. There are only a handful of senior iRest trainers worldwide, and they have all spent many years fully steeping in this meditation practice.

Becoming a certified iRest teacher was one of the best decisions of my life. More than just study, it provided a constructive path to embrace self-compassion and release judgment. It led me to an embodied understanding of living meditation in everyday life — a complete perspective change that lets me live and breath in a way that’s much more harmonious with my authentic self.

In the Community

iRest is very new to New Zealand. Together with Neal Ghoshal, I co-host iRest events throughout this beautiful corner of the world. The researched-based background of this protocol has made it a very successful meditation system in the US . It’s used extensively in the military, correctional facilities, hospice environments, schools — generally helping with cognitive intelligence, empathy, self-compassion and wellbeing. The research has shown that it helps alleviate symptoms of sleep disorders, chronic pain, depression and chemical dependency. iRest has also recently been brought to victims of human trafficking in India and Nepal and the Integrative Restoration Institute (IRI), the not-for profit organisation behind iRest, now has a Director of Human Trafficking Relief.

And as much as it helps those suffering under such extreme difficulty —it is also a meditation protocol for everyday living, teaching us how to respond authentically and resiliently to the demands of life.

The potential for positive social impact in our own community is enormous. Together we can make a difference. Are you interested?

For more information on iRest in NZ:

www.findingcentre.co.nz

www.yoganidra.nz

Email Una for classes, upcoming events and general queries: findingcentre@yahoo.com

iRest® Yoga Nidra Practice with Richard Miller