We all want to be happy and peaceful. And yet these
qualities are elusive for many, and transient even for those who generally themselves
as possessing them. Regardless of creed or station in life, we all encounter
problematic situations and may come to associate some of them with certain people.
These circumstances range from mere annoyance to catastrophic disaster. They
disturb our happiness and peace. We tend to see in black and white, good and
bad. And our reactions are tempered, if not regard entirely shaped, by these
So how to we become happy and peaceful? I believe we
cultivate these qualities in the process of developing equanimity.
Equanimity probably is one of the loftiest emotional and spiritual attainments, a “state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. The virtue and value of equanimity is extolled and advocated by a number of major religions and ancient philosophies.” (Wikipedia, accessed 2019-03-16). It is not a dry or dissociated, apathetic state but one that stems from unity with something deeper than changing circumstance.
In the Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot plainly states, at
the end of a reverie on flagging motivation and disenchantment, “For us, there
is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
Other than beating up on ourselves for not automatically seeing good in things or loving all people, or dissociating, becoming apathetic, spiritually by-passing or dropping all our boundaries, how do we develop the balance and composure of equanimity?
Different spiritual traditions and psychological schools have offered a variety of paths to foster equanimity. Of the methods I’ve tried, I am partial to the integrated, understandable, effective, and practical paradigm and protocol offered by iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation. It can be used by people of any faith or inclination.
As yoga continues to extend its reach into mainstream use, more people are finding their way to practices beyond yoga asana or posture, into breath work, meditation, and the subtler aspects of the tradition. Yoga nidra is one of the practices that is gaining considerably more attention, and for good reason.
I can’t quite recall my first experience of yoga nidra because I sense that it made its way into guided meditations and end-of-class relaxation sessions given by my initial teachers. But I received a lovely and fairly thorough introduction to iRest Yoga Nidra by Kathleen Ludwig in my yoga therapy training at Mount Royal University in 2009, which was complimented by more training with Amy Weintraub, founder of Life Force Yoga®, in 2013.
I remember leisurely relaxation sessions in which everyone was content to be “simply” lying down, guided through magical imagery and into a deeply restful experience.
I marveled at how peaceful I felt afterwards.
I knew something of the philosophical and psychological underpinnings from my training up to that point. But in 2014, Anita Sielecki, president of the Yoga Association of Alberta at the time, convinced me to attend a week-long yoga and meditation retreat led by founder of iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation, Dr Richard Miller. My time and energy were stretched but I consoled myself with the thought, “oh well, what can I lose by laying around and relaxing for a week?” I was in for a surprise; the retreat was that and so incredibly much more!
In addition to being a Doctor of Psychology, Richard is a true yoga master. Among other studies, he has been practicing, studying and teaching Yoga Nidra since the 1970s, and has compiled, integrated and adapted these ancient teachings to create a contemporary approach to yoga nidra called iRest.
Since attending that retreat, I have attended three more week-long retreats as well as Level 1 training with Richard and Level 2 training with a senior iRest trainer. Currently, I am qualified as an iRest Level 2 Teacher. I continue to study with a supervisor and am registered to attend Richard’s Advanced Practitioner Retreat at Santa Sabina this summer. This is a deep body of work that never ceases to amaze me!
I’d like to de-mystify yoga nidra and demonstrate how this modernized and secularized ancient practice can be an invaluable practical tool to help us live life with ease, resiliency, equanimity and authenticity.
The Sleeping Yogi Nidra means “sleep.” To be a yogi is to be on the path of “awakening” (awake to one’s True Nature). In a sense then, yoga nidra is a play on words, to be both awake and asleep. In fact, many people often find themselves right on the edge of falling asleep when they practice yoga nidra. Personally, I feel deeply relaxed, yet awake to the experience most of the time.
A majority of us can recall times when we were waking up in the morning yet still in a simple resting state, like being half asleep. This state is known to be a particularly receptive place and, among other things, can be evocative of creative ideas and solutions. In iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation, we deliberately enter into and maintain similar states of profound resting, and while there we welcome all experience and use effective tools to investigate and enquire into aspects of our life.
What is iRest Yoga Nidra? Perhaps the iRest website (accessed 2019/01/07) describes it in the best way:
iRest is a meditation practice based on the ancient tradition of Yoga Nidra and adapted to suit the conditions of modern life. When practiced regularly – a little and often – iRest enables you to meet each moment of your life with unshakable peace and wellbeing, no matter how challenging or difficult your situation. iRest was developed by Dr. Richard Miller, a spiritual teacher, author, yogic scholar, researcher and clinical psychologist, who combined traditional yogic practice with Western psychology and neuroscience. It is practiced and taught by thousands of people worldwide in a wide range of settings, including health centers, schools, community centers, yoga studios, correctional facilities and military hospitals. Based on current studies with iRest in the military, the Defense Centers of Excellence has approved iRest as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine warranting continuing research for its use in the treatment of PTSD. In addition, the U.S. Army Surgeon General has listed Yoga Nidra (based on research with iRest) as a Tier 1 approach for addressing Pain Management in Military Care. iRest has been shown to be effective in scientific trials for conditions including chronic pain, sleep problems, depression and anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). iRest is simple to learn and easy to practice. It can be practiced by anyone, regardless of physical ability or experience with meditation. Once learned, iRest becomes a set of tools for life.
In the early 2000’s, Richard called it iRest (short for Integrative Restoration) as he was conducting clinical research on the effects of yoga nidra on people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), particularly army veterans. The term “yoga nidra” did not appeal to government or medical people at the time, so “iRest” was created (corresponding to the trend to call innovative offerings “i____”, like iPod, iPhone). Richard and colleagues have been involved in many clinical research projects that show the efficacy of iRest Yoga Nidra in helping people who suffer from PTSD.
Research demonstrates the effectiveness of the iRest approach to a wide variety of groups – average people and also people in greater need such as army veterans, the homeless, people who have suffered family violence and more.
There is clear therapeutic benefit from iRest. Further, there is a focus on facilitating people’s experience of their own essential wholeness. Students of authentic yoga do well to remember that this is what the yoga tradition really is about – practices and tools to empower us to see and live from our original wholeness and true nature.
The iRest Protocol At the core of iRest is a 10-step protocol, a fluid and agile map that guides us along this path of meditation. We may practice all the steps together but we equally may decide to focus on certain stages.
While grounded deeply in ancient practice, Richard has studied and distilled and expanded its elements into the coherent iRest path of meditation. Driving that process of evolution with continued investigation and research is a desire to make it iRest most accessible to a more western orientated mind without losing any of its sophisticated elegance or philosophical vigour.
The 10-Step iRest Protocol: 1. Connect to your Heartfelt Longing 2. Set An Intention 3. Invite the support of your Inner Resource 4. Feel Your Body A response to Body Sensing is that the body tends to release into a deeply relaxed state. The thinking mind slows down, the body softens and relaxes. 5. Sense the Breath 6. Welcome Emotions and Feedback Systems 7. Welcome Thoughts and Beliefs 8. Experience (Uncaused) Joy 9. Find Lasting Peace 10. Reflect on the Journey and Integrate into your Life
Experiencing Incarnated Immanence One of the aspects I find most formative and exquisite about iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation is its emphasis on working with the often-gritty experience of being incarnated, embodied. The protocol consistently encourages me to feel sensations, to improve my kinesthetic and proprioceptive abilities, to feel the pulse of life. At the same time, the protocol doesn’t shy away from letting me sense the larger reality of Essential Nature and that it and I are the same. This ability to pause and fully notice the felt sense of circumstances in the midst of Essential Nature allows me the possibility to welcome and respond rather than react to experience.
Richard Miller and every senior iRest Yoga Nidra teacher I have encountered are fantastic mixes of compassion, embodiment, wisdom, knowledge and generosity.
Frequently Asked Questions Is it OK if I fall asleep during iRest Yoga Nidra? Absolutely. We may intend to remain awake and alert during practice, but if we fall asleep we want to welcome it. It may be just what was needed! There is evidence that we continue to derive meditative benefit from the practice even if asleep. Do we go through all 10 steps of the iRest protocol every time we practice? Not necessarily. The protocol is a fluid map of meditation. We could spend most of a session simply being with one’s Inner Resource or a long, detailed body sensing over 35 minutes may feel like the perfect practice for a particular time. Ideally, we practice in a way that meets our needs at any given time. Do I always lie down on my back for iRest Yoga Nidra? Savasana, or relaxation, pose is the most common position yet it is valuable to experience the practice while sitting especially if one is sleepy, and even standing and walking. Experience ease of being in many different positions and scenarios is a useful way to take the practice into more daily situations.
At least every once in awhile, every long-time yoga student will stall on registering for a “regular weekly class.” And the newcomer or dabbler in yoga probably hesitates even more.
I know. I struggle with this, too.
There’s the putting aside time every week. Getting to the class with all the busy-ness in life, sometimes children or spouse or some other person’s care to consider. The money involved. The resistance to some of what is being offered by the teacher. Perhaps feeling inferior to other students. The opportunity cost: what we could be doing instead. And the popularity of yoga has meant that there has been a proliferation of opportunities from which to choose: so many that we may be paralyzed by the sheer immensity of choice.
The choice of which yoga class to attend is affected by a multitude of factors. We know that convenient location and time are paramount, but serious students may let themselves be significantly inconvenienced to spend time doing what is important to them. For some, the workout quotient is an important factor, while for others it is the relief of pain, the release of tension, the learning or mastering new material, the charisma of the teacher, the spirituality of the place, or the fit with the clientele, or some combination of these.
Some time ago I ceased to attend weekly yoga classes. Part of the decision was due to the shift in the way the more senior teachers with whom I wanted to spend my time were offering their talents: intensive workshops on a less frequent, periodic basis. Another reason was I thought that, surely, with decades of experience under my belt, I didn’t need to be spoon fed the material any longer.
I started to choose occasional events from a multitude of local and international trainings and retreats. That has been a good experience and has broadened my view in a number of ways. For instance, I can see how some styles of yoga suit some personalities and issues better than others, and I have been able to adopt tools and paradigms I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.
Increasingly, though, I found teachers and people immersed in their special interests, some of which are discordant with my own situation.
I also discovered that I needed a grounding, integrative place for all of that somewhat random experience to come together. That’s were a regular class of some sort really has a role to play.
So, while I don’t attend a weekly class, I do attend periodic weekends with my primary teacher and I have tried to attend the regular weekly classes of another mentor when the timing works for me. For me, the cost isn’t really a factor (although some may think it should be – it adds up!). I choose these teachers’ options because I feel safe and at home with, and yet gently challenged by, them in the places where they practice and with the people who are attracted to what they are offering. And I am allowed to work on my own practice, too.
But the time away, the opportunity cost, and occasional resistance to being in a community are the growing edges against which I still flounder a little. A growing edge is uncomfortable but required for my evolution as a human. And so it is . . .
If you’re willing to butt up against your growing edge, take a look at the classes I am offering here.