Richard C. Miller, PhD
Founder of iRest Institute Richard Miller, PhD is a clinical psychologist, author, researcher, yogic scholar, and spiritual teacher. For over 40 years, Richard Miller has devoted his life and work to integrating the nondual wisdom teachings of Yoga, Tantra, Advaita, Taoism and Buddhism with Western psychology. Among his mentors were Jean Klein, T.K.V. Desikachar and Stephen Chang. Richard is the founder of iRest Institute, co-founder of The International Association of Yoga Therapy, founding editor of the professional Journal of IAYT, and was a founding member and past president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology.
Author of Yoga Nidra: The iRest Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing and The iRest Program for Healing PTSD, Richard serves as a research consultant studying the iRest Yoga Nidra protocol that he has developed (Integrative Restoration ~ iRest, a modern adaptation of the ancient nondual meditation practice of Yoga Nidra) researching its efficacy on health, healing and well-being with diverse populations including active-duty soldiers, veterans, college students, children, seniors, the homeless, the incarcerated, and people experiencing issues such as sleep disorders, PTSD [Posttraumatic Stress Disorder], chemical dependency, chronic pain, and related disorders. In addition to his research and writing projects, Richard lectures and leads trainings and retreats internationally.
Interview by David R. Kopacz, MD (August, 19, 2022)
"I think as human beings, we need both a progressive path that helps us anchor and feel step-by-step how are we progressing, but at the same time we need direct teachings that keep pointing us to an ultimate truth."
David R. Kopacz (DRK):
Thank you for joining me today. We first met in 2015 when you were in Seattle for a conference and we met at a café for a chat. I was interested in the background resources that iRest grows out of and you gave me a number of references. I was also curious about using iRest with veterans, particularly the concept of the inner resource―a sense of inner support that many traumatized people lose connection with. Since we last met, I attended a retreat you gave in May 2022, and I’ve completed the iRest Teacher Certification program.
To start, could you give a description of what iRest or Integrative Restoration is and what yoga nidra is?
Richard C. Miller (RCM):
Integrative because I feel it helps integrate a person’s psychology so that they become friendly with their body, their senses, their emotions, their thoughts. They’ve learned the tools of how to meet every emotion or thought, or both personal and interpersonal situations they may find themselves in as a human being.
Restoration because it restores us to an innate inner felt sense of being that transcends the personality and gives us a solid foundation from which to meet each moment from a place of equanimity, an innate sense of peace, and an indestructible sense of well-being and joy.
Back in 2004, when the military asked me to name the actual original protocol, I came up with Integrative Restoration and iRest as a short acronym, where the small “i” or the ego and the sense of Self is in its proper position. So I like to call it Integrative Restoration or iRest meditation. So then I can go into a VA [Veterans Affairs] setting and call it iRest. I can go into a Buddhist setting and call it meditation. And I can go into a yoga setting and call it yoga nidra. This gives me an access point for any population.
It originates from a very ancient teaching that’s called yoga nidra.
Yoga in the sense that we understand both our sense of connection with ourselves and the world around us―that we’re not separate. We’re an integral interdependent aspect of everything that we see and touch and feel in the world around us.
Nidra means a state of consciousness. Technically, from Sanskrit, it means “sleep,” but it means a changing state of consciousness. So yoga nidra would be an application of meditation where we are able to feel that unchanging aspect of being and well-being with a sense of equanimity and joy. No matter the circumstances we may find ourselves in, whether we’re in comfort or discomfort, we might be in chronic pain and illness, we might be facing really challenging situations. And yet we feel that innate sense of ground within us from which we can meet the situation. And that’s really how the teachings arose.
Back in the 1970s, as I was introduced to these very ancient wisdom teachings, I began to look at how I could bring them, in a very secular manner, to the people I was working with―because I was working with a lot of different populations. I have found it accessible whether I’m in a homeless shelter, or a VA setting, a chemical dependency unit, or at a Buddhist, yoga, or just regular Christian Center. So, I’ve been able to find a way of adapting these ancient teachings into a simple 10 Step program, that’s easy to learn. It does take, obviously, a lifetime to really put the tools into place. So while we can learn them in a weekend, or a week-long format, we want to keep practicing them and really integrate them and they become just natural tools we have in our arsenal, we might say, as a human being.
In talking with veterans, when I say iRest, so many of them have insomnia, and nightmares. And so they think, “Oh, eye rest―I’ll get some sleep with this.” So I like that term. And I like the idea that the “i”, the small “i” is putting the ego in its place.
You also bring up―there’s a misnomer in meditation―that one has to stay awake. But actually meditation is learning to surf the different states of consciousness, and one of them is sleep. So actually, in iRest, we’re inviting people to, if it if it comes naturally, to fall asleep in the practice, but eventually, to learn how to access that state of awareness and consciousness that actually is awake, even as the body and the mind are sleeping. What people find is they get a deeper rest by processing the emotions, before going into sleep for the night. Then they aren’t carried into sleep. And that’s, as you know, so important for veterans with PTSD, because they’re on a high alert system. And so then as they start to fall asleep, their limbic system lights up and doesn’t allow them to go to sleep because sleep creates a vulnerability. So I help them through iRest to process their emotions, their situations, memories, experiences before they go into sleep. Now they’re not using sleep to either defend against that vulnerability. Or when we do know in REM, we do process, leftover unmetabolized emotions. So they go into REM sleep now, without having to process those, and they get a deeper rest, a deeper restoration, a deeper sense of sleep.
As I’ve practiced iRest, that in between space has gotten larger and easier to get into. In the beginning, I would hear somebody snoring and think, “well, who’s snoring? I’m in this room by myself.” Then I realized actually, I’m snoring, my body’s falling asleep, but I’m aware of my body, in that sleeping state.
And that’s really a moment of transformation. I would say when a person is able to feel themselves as an awaring presence, and then realize their emotions, their thoughts are unfolding in their awaring presence, but they don’t necessarily have to be involved in them. They’re not separate from the emotions they’re still feeling them, but they can have a deeper quality of rest and inner resource as awareness from which they can meet these difficult challenging emotions or situations.
You mentioned several times that it’s an innate quality or an innate state. That is a difficult concept philosophically―our culture doesn’t think of people an innate sense of well-being, or like you describe the “inner resource.” I was excited to learn about the concept of the inner resource. Although, I find it’s a difficult thing for many veterans to connect to, some of them will say, “Well, I never had that.”
I find the access point when I ask veterans―and I haven’t found anybody yet, who couldn’t connect to the inner resource. It may take time to help them understand it, but when I asked them, “So if you take a moment, and you don’t have anything to do, you don’t have anywhere to be, and you’re just in a moment settled into being.” If I can help them find that place of simply being, there is an inquiry that I bring to them, which is, “Are you doing being or is being doing itself?” And they’ll immediately recognize they’re not doing it, and that they could be walking, talking, eating, and still feel that sense of being, they can begin to feel it, that it’s something that has been with them all their life, they’ve ignored it, but it’s an innate quality.
And I do the same thing with joy, I’ll say, you know, think of something that has brought you joy in your life, feel it in your body. Now let go the memory, can you feel joy independent of something? And they’ll all say, “Well, yeah.” So I can slowly build them into an introduction, that these are innate qualities within us. We simply have ignored them. And we’ve associated them with states, I get a new car, I’m happy. Well, if you forget about the car, and you just relate to the feelings of happiness, can you feel that happiness is independent of the car? So we can really help very quickly people understand there are these states of joy, well-being, being a sense of presence. I mean, nobody can deny that they’re alive. And nobody can deny that they have a sense of presence. They just have never investigated it. So we can introduce people to these concepts, and help them recognize their importance. It does provide, as we’re saying, this inner resource of stability and ground. They realize they can feel this independent of the current state that they’re experiencing. And then really, their job is to go out and kick the tires of this car and see, is it true when I’m in pain? Can I still feel it? Yes. When I’m sad? Yes. When I’m angry, yes. And then it gives them the ground from which to meet the anger or the sadness or the pain.
You know, it brings me back to something you’ve probably heard me say, which is one veteran in our Miami study said, “You know, every intervention I’ve had always started with what was wrong with me, but iRest starts with what’s right with me.” It was connecting to this innate sense of being and well-being he said, that has made all the difference.
So I think that’s a really important aspect when we start a program whether it’s psychology, psychological or spiritual, or whatever, from what is already innately okay about us and has never been injured, doesn’t need healing can’t be hurt. Because if a person can really sense that ground, they have a phenomenal place of start from what doesn’t need healing. They can differentiate then. That difference there makes all the difference.
As I’ve gone through the iRest Teacher training, I would wonder sometimes, is iRest an educational organization, a health care organization, or a spiritual organization? How would you describe iRest as an organization?
All three combined. We’re founded as a nonprofit educational institute. So we think of ourselves as a university, people can come to us if they want to learn how to train and teach iRest, they can come to us if they want to learn it for their own life, as you would go to a university and lifelong learning.
Then we’re setting up graduate courses, so for a person who works in a healthcare industry, we’re going to have graduate courses that show the research and programs we’ve designed in healthcare. On another graduate level, we’re starting to work in the cybersecurity industry in Australia, and we’re looking at the United States. So, a person can come to us who’s trained, and we can educate them into the whole field of cybersecurity, what’s the language, the lingo. And then here are scripts that we’ve designed specifically for using with workers or leaders in the cybersecurity industry. We’ve got another graduate program, we’re developing specifically with trauma, people who want to work with trauma, depression, and anxiety. Another one we’re developing is for sleep. And then others that are just about well-being.
And for those who are saying, “Well, it feels like there’s more to all this,” I say, “Yeah, we’ve got another course in the back room that is about awakening and enlightenment.”
So, we do think of ourselves as educational with both undergraduate and graduate level courses for people who want to come and learn iRest, both to teach it as well as integrate it into their life. In-house, we think of ourselves as a university.
That’s a good perspective. When you are doing something holistic, everything connects.
I was at this last retreat that you did with Ford Peck and you mentioned Krishnamurti. I hadn’t heard Krishnamurti mentioned in relation iRest. You said he was one of your teachers. I’m curious what was Krishnamurti’s influence on you and the development iRest.
I began studying with Krishnamurti back around 1970 and went to a number of his talks in San Francisco and Ojai. When I was in India, I happen to be at his last talk he gave in Madras and I was also in Ojai when he passed. He was very instrumental in my early years because he was so iconoclastic in his view. He was very direct and precise. And I liked that he emphasized inquiry independent of an authority, so that we became our own authority.
And at the same time, I was working with a mentor from the Far East, Laura Cummings, who had studied in existential Buddhism, and mentored with Erich Fromm and Robert Hall, an associate of R. D. Lang. She had a very interesting mixture of phenomenological, existential, humanistic, Buddhist perspectives, but had also been taught yoga as a child and raised in a spiritual community in the Far East. So with her really emphasizing becoming your own expert, and with Krishnamurti, who was really showing me different methodologies for inquiry into what is the nature of thought or what is the nature of emotions or suffering―what is an observing presence―it really helped me grow into inquiry as a way of meditation, understanding through firsthand experiencing. And so both my mentor was emphasizing firsthand understanding, not intellectual, as was Krishnamurti.
To this day, I still listen to Krishnamurti’s talks, and enjoy his very precise, kind of razor edge way of examining something. The deficit, I did feel with Krishnamurti is often people couldn’t relate, because he was so precise, and intellectual, and philosophical. He often didn’t really show you how to work depth with an emotion, for instance. So, as I was working with my original mentor, who was training me in the field of psychotherapy, in the psychological perspective, and I was able to look at the spiritual perspective that Krishnamurti was offering, and really begin to make that integration that I find is so important. Otherwise, we can lapse into a spiritual bypass where we bypass the psychology or we do a psychological bypass and I was interested in how do these two come together in a very integrated way. So that we really do become fully present in our capacity as a human being.
When you mentioned Krishnamurti, I thought of one of my favorite things about Krishnamurti―his speech “The Dissolution of the Order of the Star.” After being made the head of the organization, at its inaugural meeting, he disbanded it, saying, “I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…Truth being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path,” (Krishnamurti, Total Freedom: The Essential Krishnamurti, 1). And yet, it seems like an organization kind of built up around him eventually. What are your thoughts on his statement?
If I bring that over to my organization, I’ve always had the adage “Make these teachings your own.” So utilize the tools to inquire into yourself, come to your own firsthand understanding. And I’ve wanted to make the organization about the teachings not about a personality. So, I’ve tried to stay out of it as best I can. I think of iRest as 10 tools of self-inquiry to discover the truth for ourselves and come to our own right action, independent, you would say of having an authority.
It’s interesting, because I know Krishnamurti, I have friends who are very much involved with him personally. He studied yoga, he studied Sanskrit, he studied the use of sound, he studied all of these. He integrated them into his own life. But he saw the deficits when we get trapped in a particular teaching that’s too hierarchical. Interestingly, I like the path of yoga nidra as the teachings it’s come out of because it has both a progressive format, where we can kind of inquire step-by-step: what is our body, our senses, our mind, how does the ego work to come to a progressive understanding. But it also offers us a direct path and immediacy of feeling into that quality of being that isn’t intellectual, that helps us come to a deeper essence, that is outside of the thinking mind, which is what Krishnamurti was always encouraging people to do. But recognizing it’s not something you can achieve, because it’s already present. It’s more of a recognition, so a direct and immediate recognition. Krishnamurti understood that conditioning often stood in the way of that recognition.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how can we address conditioning sufficiently, so we’re not trapped in it, we are in a way free of our conditioning, we can observe it and be present as an awaring presence, and then feel back into this underlying quality that is beyond the mind. It is beyond our conditioning. And it does, as he says, resolve the separation of the observer and the observed into the field of observing itself, and takes us beyond the mind into a deeper recognition of what we ultimately are.
I think as human beings, we need both a progressive path that helps us anchor and feel step-by-step how are we progressing, but at the same time we need direct teachings that keep pointing us to an ultimate truth.
I think Krishnamurti emphasized more the direct path, and didn’t give people enough of a kind of a hierarchical progression. So they often got lost in the intellectualization of what he was offering.
I can definitely see that. The first book I read by Krishnamurti was Think on These Things. I thought it was really profound. It really makes you question yourself and your conditioning. But I could see getting lost wondering, “Now what?”
It seems like there’s a universal dilemma in being a teacher. A teacher wants to teach and maybe then creates an organization. But in spiritual teaching, the organization needs to try to deconstruct the organized conditioning of someone’s mind. So on the one hand, you’re organizing something, on the other hand, you’re trying to un-organize something.
I think we need to be clear in the languaging, because I think of teaching―arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry. I can teach that. That’s a skill. I can teach how to tear apart an automobile engine and put it back together. But when we come to psychology and spirituality, I don’t think it’s about teaching as much as helping a person discover tools of self-inquiry, where they’re inquiring for themselves and coming to their own understandings. I can’t teach presence. I can’t teach being I can’t teach these innate qualities. But I can provide pointers if a person is sufficiently oriented. And I have found that some of these inquiries, these tools that are embedded in iRest, are very simple and easy to utilize. In arithmetic, two and two equals four. Now, when we get the quantum, two into may no longer equal four. But we’ve paved the way, understanding that cycle psychologically, and spiritually. I don’t think it’s the teaching. I think it’s a providing tools of inquiry.
I like that distinction.