Turning On, Tuning In, and Stepping Out with iRest Christopher A. Russell MSW, LCSW
I first learned of Integrative Restoration - iRest in May, 2007 when I read an article in the North Carolina Fayetteville Observer reporting on how the U.S. Army’s famed Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. was treating our traumatized OIF/OEF war-wounded or troops who had been diagnosed with Post- traumatic Stress Disorder with a yoga protocol. The article was most interesting because I had been diagnosed with PTSD following my tour of duty in Vietnam (1970-71), and because I had recently graduated from UNC-F with a MSW degree concentrating in mental health.
The article went on to say that the iRest yoga teacher, Ms. Robin Carnes was accepting apprentices into her program. I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn something about myself while at the same time learning the necessary skills to help others like myself. I called Walter Reed and asked to be put through to Robin’s line and was surprised when I heard her voice on the other end as I had only expected her voice mail!
Robin affirmed that she was teaching iRest to soldiers who had been selected for her program, who were presenting with PTSD symptoms such as re-experiencing combat trauma, hyper-vigilance, irritability, isolation, difficulty concentrating and nightmares, and more. And yes, she was also accepting apprentices. But when I went to ‘sign-up’ as her volunteer, she said that I would have to first graduate from Richard Miller’s Level 1 iRest Yoga Nidra training. I remember saying to Robin, “So who is Richard Miller?” Robin explained the process and gave me Richard’s telephone number to call if I wanted to learn more. I thanked her for her time and information and said that I would be back in touch after I completed the iRest training.
The following Sunday I dialed the telephone number Robin had given me and was excited when Richard Miller Ph.D. answered the ring. After introducing myself and expressing my interest in learning iRest, the evidenced-based protocol in the treatment of PTSD, Dr. Miller invited me to attend his next Level 1 course, which was being offered the following month in Ohio.
With the financial assistance of the Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program I was able to fly out to meet Dr. Miller, Ph.D. and attend the Ohio Level 1 iRest training. That first evening I remember going to see Dr. Miller and explaining how I was recovering from lung cancer caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam. I told him of how I had experienced a near-death experience on the operating table; of how I had “died”, gone to “heaven” met Jesus the Christ who reached out, touched me and instantaneously healed me from stage IV non-small cell lung cancer and sent me back into my body. I went on to say that I was working with only one lung now and that I might not be able to do a lot of physical exercise. Dr. Miller reassured me that the Level 1 did not have a rigorous physical exercise component and not to worry...and he added, “You don’t have to address me as Dr. Miller. Please just call me Richard”.
And so it came to pass that I entered into the Level 1 training in iRest with Richard. I soon learned that iRest is comprised of various elements that were already familiar to me. For instance, it entails a similar approach as found in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), but adapted out of the ancient traditions and practice of yoga. iRest is a yoga therapy approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes and contents through an explicit systematic protocol. It is both structured and integrative: Integrative in that it combines ideas and strategies from more a combination of theoretical approaches and systems of psychology and spirituality. While its approach weaves in psychology, it’s essence is spiritual, and it’s nature is holistic. And when practiced with regularity, it is profoundly transformative as it leads to the awareness of our oneness of Being.
Experientially, the iRest protocol is, at first, a guided meditation where you are invited to get into as comfortable a position as you can (either sitting, standing or laying down), and if helpful, closing your eyes, relaxing, and entering into the ‘temple of your own being’. Once settled, feeling securely tethered via the smooth, calm, reassuring voice of your guide, you gently drift down the stream of your thoughts, images, beliefs, attitudes and emotions, all the while welcoming and exploring and balancing, via mental exercises, your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and emotions. Driven by your innate curiosity, iRest is an exercise of learning to balance the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is an exercise of experiencing, exploring and balancing the seemingly different aspects of ourselves (i.e., hot-cold; angry-happy; euthymic-depressed), the seeming polarities of life that are all contained in the oneness of our Being. You are ushered into stillness while being asked to take a 360-degree look at your ‘self’, with the underlying intention to come to self-realization where you “know yourself to be yourself, yet as one with the whole”; with the understanding of the paradoxical nature of awareness, always being able to witness your ‘self’ through your various states of mind. From this perspective, iRest is a path that leads to self-knowledge via looking within, while welcoming and exploring all aspects of your ‘psyche’. It is a process of personal growth that begins when we begin asking questions such as “Who am I?” “What am?” and “What is all of this?”
Following my Level 1 iRest Yoga Nidra training with Dr. Miller, I again got in touch with Robin Carnes and was able to travel to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to become her apprentice, learning how to teach iRest to our returning OIF/OEF troops who are presenting with signs and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress. It wasn’t long before I was convinced that this practice was for me; and it soon dawned on me that my meeting up with Richard wasn’t by chance or coincidence; I intuitively realized that I was supposed to be utilizing this contemplative practice in my life. It just had that good feeling about it… You know what I mean... It just “felt right”.
Over the next few years I employed the principles and practice of iRest in my own life, as well as continued my studies. I went on to follow-up by taking the iRest Level 2 training, and am currently engaged in finishing up my certification to be a Certified iRest Teacher.
Along the way, I went to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs “Vet Center” program, as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), treating our returning combat veterans with a variety of psychotherapeutic protocols addressing their mental health needs, as well as sharing the iRest protocol with those I’m working with. This, I’ve discovered, is my “calling” that has come with my recognizing and of being in possession of a treasure, iRest, which is meant for the whole world. I’m offering iRest as a way to share tools by which we all might be able to heal ourselves from whatever stress and illness is arising in our lives. Towards this lofty goal I now teach the iRest protocol to groups of combat veterans every Wednesday afternoon and daily to individual combat veterans via one-on-one dyads.
What I’ve found in both my personal practice, as well as my practice with others is the tremendous holistic healing and transformative effects of iRest. With the guidance, encouragement and teachings of iRest I have begun to be more mindful of myself, and my place in the world. My levels of anxiety have greatly subsided, replaced by a calm reassurance. My own signs and symptoms of PTSD have turned from being fear-based sensations into a sense of awe and wonderment arising out of a sense of equanimity, faith and love of life. My tendency to react to ‘triggers’ has turned into my ability to simply and silently witness the images, thoughts, emotions and beliefs stemming from my inner world, while knowing that I am safe and secure. I am able to sleep through the night and feel rested the next day. I’ve transitioned into the realization that the seeming chaos, pain and suffering of the past, is in the past, and the ever-present now is one of order, peace, and patience. I am experiencing an ever-deepening understanding of life, and of myself. My clients report much the same saying that they feel better and more relaxed, while experiencing less pain and anxiety in their lives. Our old experience of hyper-vigilance has dropped the ‘hyper’. And with the recognition that stress will always be in our lives it is now welcomed as a messenger rather than a regarded as a foe. Now, I’m dancing with Peace, Harmony, and Joy!
I wholeheartedly recommend the practice of iRest to everyone for it is a path that leads us home to ourselves, and welcomes us into the knowledge of “knowing ourselves to be ourselves, yet one with the Whole”. I say, “Know Thyself” with iRest.
Christopher A. Russell MSW, LCSW