Over the past few years, more and more veterans have been practicing yoga to heal both physical and emotional wounds from war. Trainers in iRest, a yoga nidra technique developed by psychologist and yoga scholar Richard Miller, hope that this protocol will soon be part of Veteran's Health Administration programs as a complementary healing modality for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, insomnia and substance abuse.
Yoga nidra, a guided meditation practice done lying down, is often called yogic sleep. The iRest technique further puts special emphasis on helping to resolve pain and suffering through intention-setting, breath and energy awareness, neutralization of negative beliefs and emotions, and guidance to experience peace and well-being.
Last week, Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) visited the first test site of the iRest program, at the Sepulveda VA hospital in Los Angeles, where the second of two eight-week runs of the protocol are just finishing up. Organizers hope to earn government funding to expand the program beyond California.
“This practice is proving to be a powerful healing experience,” says Nikki T. Baker, Associate Chief, Public and Congressional Relations of the VA Greater Los Angeles. “The veterans have communicated how much they enjoy the practice, and that they are using it in their daily lives.”
Kelly Boys, who administered the iRest training to staff at the Sepulveda VA, says that the practice takes people into a deep state of relaxation in which they feel more connected to themselves, and experience feelings of peace and love. From there, healing from trauma can begin.
“We’re delivering meditative teachings of yoga, but we’re doing it in a way that is easily accessible and focuses on veterans’ first-hand experiences,” she explains. "We help them find a place within themselves of inner resource and wholeness, from which they can address their addictions, anxiety and other troubles."
Baker says the Sepulveda VA is already planning to add more iRest courses for veterans, and is considering new ways to apply the practice, such as working with newly returning veterans in the primary care clinics.