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.
Much can be said about each step in the protocol and it is best learned through experience. Here’s a teaser from Richard that I’m sure you will enjoy: https://www.irest.org/staying-connected-divided-world-mp3
Finding the Divine in All Things: Working with “Problem” Feelings, Emotions and Beliefs using iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation
9 – 4, Saturday, April 13, 2019
FCJ Conference and Retreat Centre
Click here for more information.