As the popularity of Yoga swing continues to expand, more and more people are being drawn into practices beyond Yoga asana (posture), into breathwork, into meditation, into the subtler aspects of the tradition. One of the practices that is becoming increasingly lauded is Yoga Nidra.
I first came across Yoga Nidra back in 2003 when learning to teach at the Ashram Yoga School in Parnell, Auckland. Ashram Yoga, a Satyananda style inspired Yoga school, included Yoga Nidra as part of the program.
I remember long relaxation sessions where everyone was happy to be “simply” lying down, guided into magical visualizations and into a deeply restful experience.
I loved how peaceful I felt afterward.
Soon after completing the course at Ashram Yoga I came across the work of Dr Richard Miller. As well as being a Doctor of Psychology, Richard has been practicing, studying and teaching Yoga Nidra since 1970 (46 years), and has brought together and adapted these ancient teachings to create a contemporary approach to Yoga Nidra called iRest.
“Yoga Nidra” – it has an almost mystical ring to it! But what really is it, and how can it help you?
The purpose of this article is to attempt to somewhat de-mystify Yoga Nidra and show how this contemporised, ancient practice can be an incredibly practical tool to help us live our life with ease, resiliency, equanimity and authenticity.
We will look at the iRest Yoga Nidra protocol in some depth & offer Yoga Nidra resources and practices.
The Sleeping Yogi
Nidra essentially means “sleep”. To be a Yogi is someone who is “Awakened” (awake to their True Nature). In a sense then Yoga Nidra is a play on words, to be awake and asleep. Indeed, many times as I practice iRest Yoga Nidra I find myself right on the edge of falling asleep. I feel deeply relaxed, yet awake to the experience.
Most of us can recall a time when we are waking up in the morning, yet still in a place where we are simply resting. Like being half-asleep. It can be a very receptive place to be in and often my most creative ideas and solutions come to me at this time.
In iRest Yoga Nidra we deliberately enter into and maintain similar states of profound resting, and while there we create a space in which we investigate and enquire into aspects of our life and experience.
What is iRest Yoga Nidra?
Perhaps the iRest website describes it in the best way:
iRest Yoga Nidra meditation supports psychological, physical and spiritual health, healing and awakening.
iRest is an accessible meditation protocol that is integrative, as it heals unresolved issues and traumas, and restorative, as it aids practitioners in recognizing the underlying peace of mind that is always present amidst all changing circumstances in life.
Due to its effectiveness and ease of use, iRest has proven to effectively support the healing process across a broad range of populations, including those with PTSD, chronic pain, sleep issues, high stress, depression, and anxiety.
Richard called it iRest 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 the US State Department at the time, so ‘iRest’ (Integrative Restoration) was created (everything in those days was iPod, iPhone etc). Richard and his colleagues have been involved in many (29 to date) clinical research projects to prove the efficacy of iRest Yoga Nidra to help people suffering from PTSD.
The research demonstrates the effectiveness of the iRest approach to a wide variety of groups – people like you and me, and also people perhaps in greater need, army veterans, the homeless, people who have suffered family violence and many more.
There is a clear therapeutic aspect to iRest … and a focus on people experiencing their own essential wholeness. As students of an authentic yoga trapeze, we do well to remember that this is really what the Yoga tradition is about – practices and tools to empower us to see and live from our original wholeness and our true nature.
Non Dual Kashmir Shaivism
iRest Yoga Nidra has a somewhat different approach from the first practices I learnt back in 2003. While iRest does draw from the same sources that inform Satyananda’s Yoga Nidra, at its heart is the nondualism of Kashmir Shaivism – Tantric teachings from over 1000 years ago. Some key Yogic texts to understand Kashmir Shaivism are the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (See Lorin Roche’s The Radiance Sustras) and the Yoga Spanda Karika, among others).
The iRest Protocol
At the core of iRest is a 10-step protocol. It is important to note that this protocol should not be seen as a fixed and only way to practice – it is more like a map that guides us along this path of meditation. The protocol is fluid and while of course we may practice all the steps together, it is equally possible to focus on certain stages.
While grounded deeply in ancient practice, Richard developed (and continues to develop) the iRest path of meditation as a practice that is accessible to a more western orientated mind – without dumbing it down in any way – indeed I feel it enhances these teachings by making them more understandable and tangible. And it is always being refined in response to the latest research being gathered around aerial yoga hammock meditation and mind and neuroscience.