iRest®, which is short for Integrative Restoration, was created by clinical psychologist, Richard C. Miller, PhD, and is an adaptation of yoga nidra.[i] Yoga nidra (meaning “sleep of the yogi”) is a form of meditative self-inquiry based on ancient teachings of yoga. During iRest yoga nidra, simple instructions are provided regarding where and how to direct your attention.[ii] During the practice, the body and mind enter a deeply receptive and relaxed state, and insight into the true nature of being is possible.
Unlike many forms of meditation, yoga nidra can be practiced in any comfortable position. Because of this, iRest yoga nidra is accessible to anyone, including those with injuries or health conditions.
Since completing a level 1 teacher training program in iRest last October, I have ended all of my yoga classes with a short iRest practice, and I have received very positive feedback from my students. I also practice iRest regularly and have found it very beneficial in my own life.
iRest differs from traditional yoga nidra in a few ways. For instance, some of the more esoteric language and imagery have been removed, so that the iRest practice is more relatable and applicable to a modern, Western practitioner. Also, iRest yoga nidra has been systematized into a 10-stage, reproducible protocol that has been evaluated in research trials and found to be effective in many clinical settings, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), insomnia, chronic pain, chemical dependency, depression, and anxiety. iRest yoga nidra calms the nervous system, decreases negative mood states and perceived stress, and enhances the ability to act effectively under stress.
The ten stages in the iRest yoga nidra protocol are: discovering and affirming your heartfelt desire, mission, or purpose; affirming your intention; affirming your inner resource, an inner refuge of ease and well-being; practicing body awareness; practicing breath awareness; welcoming opposites of feeling and emotion; welcoming opposites of thought; welcoming joy and well-being; experiencing being awareness, which helps you witness your thoughts, emotions, and circumstances from a broader perspective and connect with your higher self or true nature; and experiencing your wholeness.[iii]
Dr. Miller has identified several core principles that are important to the effectiveness of iRest practice. All of these core principles also can be applied to other types of mindfulness practice, including yoga, to help your practice become deeper and more transformative.
The first core principle is “learn to be welcoming,” which helps you become able to respond rather than react to your experiences, including sensations, emotions, thoughts, and situations. This ties in nicely to the Buddhist idea that our suffering stems from wanting things to be different from how they are.
The second core principle is to “stop judging yourself.” This concept is key to practicing mindfulness, which Jon Kabat-Zinn has defined as paying attention “on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”[iv]
The third core principle is “know that everything is a messenger.” This involves the attitude that everything we experience--every sensation, emotion, and thought--is a messenger. This brings to mind the well-known Rumi poem, "The Guest House," which ends with the line: "Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond."
The fourth core principle is to “accept what is.” Closely related to viewing everything as a messenger, accepting what is involves not arguing with reality. When we accept what is, we are better able to respond appropriately and process the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and situations we experience. Conversely, trying to push away or suppress our negative thoughts and feelings makes us more likely to unconsciously react in habitual, unhealthy ways.
The fifth core principle is to “know that you’re always doing your best.” We all are subject to biological and cultural conditioning and prior experiences and circumstances. Blame, shame, guilt, and self-judgment are not helpful in developing the ability to respond more appropriately to our present moment experience.
The sixth core principle is “understand the law of awareness,” which Dr. Miller defines as the idea that “transformation happens easily when you’re willing to be aware of and be with ‘what is’.” Identifying with ourselves as pure awareness in iRest practice expands our sense of perspective, helping us to not overly identify with our personal circumstances and helping us feel more connected to our true self, to others, and to life itself.
The seventh core principle is “discover your non-separate wholeness.” According to this principle, we become aware of the self as a field of energy that is not separate from the energy that makes up the world around us.
The final core principle is to “practice little and often.” Practicing consistently, for a small amount of time every day, is ideal for reaping the many benefits of the practice.