By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger
Richard Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, yogic scholar, spiritual teacher, and the keynote speaker for this year’s conference. He has devoted his life and work to integrating the nondual wisdom teachings of Yoga, Tantra, Advaita, Taoism, and Buddhism with Western psychology.
I had the privilege of speaking with Richard by phone last week, to learn a little more about his practice of Integrative Restoration, or iRest meditation, a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra.
What is iRest, and how did it come to be?
I was introduced to the practice of Yoga Nidra in 1970 and explored it over the decades with the help of many extraordinary teachings and teachers, including Swami Satchidananda, Stephen Chang, TKV Desikachar, and Jean Klein. As I became deeply involved in the practice, I began to develop it as a secular practice so that people in a wide variety of settings (such as homeless shelters) could receive these teachings.
When I began to work with the military in 2004, they asked me to change the name. They said, “We’re military, we don’t do yoga.” So I came up with “Integrative Restoration,” because the practice helps us to integrate our emotions, thoughts, and psychology, as well as restore us to our true wellness as human beings. I call it “iRest” for short, because the practice also helps to relax the “I,” the ego; it returns the ego-I to its correct position, as one function among many, rather than as a predominant thought.
Is iRest strictly a form of meditation?
Dr. Miller leads an iRest meditation.
I view the practice as a comprehensive path of meditation that helps us awaken to who we truly are, in all aspects: emotional, cognitive, psychological, and spiritual. At the Northwest Yoga Conference, I’ll be showcasing a number of different practices (Yoga Nidra, body sensing, breathing, working with our thoughts) as a comprehensive way to live our lives, in all of our interactions with ourselves and with the world.
What are some of your latest areas of iRest research?
I’ve consulted on a variety of studies that show how iRest supports well-being. For instance, a study has just completed showing how iRest enhances the relationships of couples in the military. We’re also completing a study in Washington, DC with the Veterans Administration on the integration of iRest with acupuncture to relieve chronic pain. I’m also working with a medical doctor to develop research on the use of Yoga Nidra as a non-pharmacological solution for sleep-related issues.
We have also studied its application to trauma—addressing PTSD, TBI, and chronic pain in veterans, as well as with survivors of sexual abuse. In all, we have completed over 20 studies to date, and iRest has shown extraordinary results across the board.
After completing an iRest training, what kinds of changes have teachers experienced?
In the Western world, Yoga has become associated with Hatha yoga, the physical practice. But we know that the teachings of yoga are vast and broad. Yoga Nidra helps keep us in the domain of Yoga’s comprehensive offerings of physical, psychological, and spiritual teachings.
The way I present Yoga Nidra gives teachers a framework for understanding this comprehensive body of yogic teachings. I have developed a 38-stage “map” for meditation that encompasses the practice of Yoga Nidra, which I will be sharing at the conference. Every teaching of Yoga—whether it’s Hatha, pranayama, or meditation—can be assigned to one of those 38 steps. This gives teachers a better understanding of how they can teach to individual students or groups.
You will also be teaching a workshop on Mindful Movement, or Source Yoga. How does this differ from a typical Hatha practice?
Mindful movement—Source Yoga— is derived from the ancient nondual tantric teachings and addresses how to sense and welcome ourselves, rather than fix or change ourselves. This practice is one of radical acceptance, where we learn to truly welcome our body, mind, emotions, thoughts, and nondual presence of being
Yoga isn’t a form of inner competition … it’s teaches us how to be, and be at home with ourselves.
How would you describe nondualism in a nutshell? How did you first discover these teachings?
The core principle of nondualism is that within ourselves is an essential essence of being that’s already healthy and whole, that isn’t in need of healing, that can never be harmed, hurt, or destroyed.
When teaching nondualism, I introduce this core principle or final teaching first. Some people are ready to hear the good news; and then I teach them how to integrate this understanding into their daily life. Others aren’t ready, and so I give progressive teachings that help unfold this understanding. But in every moment, I’m always trying to showcase this final teaching.
You can recognize this principle in every spiritual tradition: in contemplative Judeo-Christian teachings, Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga (Advaita, Kashmir), Sufism… there isn’t a spiritual tradition in the world that doesn’t have nondualism as a core aspect. But people often can’t grasp it. It’s a diamond that is offered to us, but we don’t see it. So we put it in our pocket or throw it on the ground, looking for something else. The mind is used to complexity, but this understanding is radically simple.
Jean Klein is the teacher who brought this home to me. He took all of the teachings that I’d received up to my first meeting with him, wove them all together, and helped me integrate them into this final understanding. Jean was my “sat” guru, the teacher who helped me realize my essential nondual nature.
What do you hope to share with conference-goers?
One comment I often hear from veterans, when using Yoga Nidra to work with deployment trauma, is: “I feel like I just came home.” The practices of Yoga Nidra bring us back home to ourselves. And then, these same teachings help us, in every moment, live from our true “home” as we move in the world.
My desire is to help everyone I meet have this immediacy of insight. Not at the cognitive level, but at the heart level—a recognition of who they truly are. That’s my intention and my heartfelt desire in sharing these precious teachings that have been so instrumental in my own life. I’m paying forward what I’ve been so fortunate to have received during my life.