Accessing Our Essential Wholeness with iRest Meditation: A Q&A with Stephanie Lopez

Some 25 years ago, Stephanie Lopez was out running when she had what she describes as her first transcendent experience. She remembers feeling that she had become one with everything around her—the river, the sky, the other people on her path. This powerful moment inspired her to investigate nondual teachings and practices, which eventually led her to Richard Miller’s iRest® methodology. Based on the ancient technique of yoga nidra, iRest has been subjected to a wide range of studies, and has been shown to decrease stress, boost happiness, improve sleep, and strengthen resilience, among other benefits. Stephanie—now a Senior iRest Trainer, psychotherapist, yoga therapist, and meditation teacher—spoke with us about the principles and practice of iRest. 

How does iRest work? What makes it so impactful?  

Through iRest, we establish a foundation of wholeness, what we call the “inner resource.” It’s not a place that we go to in the mind, but rather a felt sense in the body of being grounded, whole, and at ease. Once that is established within us, it’s unchanging, no matter our life circumstances, and we can always come back to it, like a touchstone, in the midst of any challenges we might be facing. In that way, it gives us a sense of control and self-regulation. The ultimate inner resource is “Being,” which refers to our inherent existence or presence. When we tap into our ground of Being, we recognize the aspect of us that is always whole, timeless, spacious, beyond lack or need. That anchor will always be there—you can tap into it at any time, regardless of what’s happening in the mind. 

The practice is one of turning inward, inquiring into different aspects of the body, mind, and senses. It is a simple 10-step protocol, starting with setting an intention, tapping into the heartfelt desire that gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and touching into our inner resource. We then open into body sensing, breath sensing; meeting emotions, beliefs, and memories; and feeling into our innate sense of joy. The final two steps involve recognizing our ground of Being, and then integrating this understanding back into life. 

The work happens through toning the parasympathetic nervous system, balancing the fight-or-flight response. When we establish the inner resource, we establish the relaxation response. And, eventually, we don’t have to go looking for the inner resource—it will find us. In stressful situations, when you’re angry or frustrated, all of a sudden the inner resource will kick in with a deep sense of okay-ness in the body. When you practice it incrementally throughout the day, over time, you establish a biofeedback mechanism. It’s not just cognitive remembering, it’s visceral—a felt sense. 

Who benefits from the practice of iRest?

Anyone who is open to meditation, from beginners, to those who want to build focus and concentration, to longtime meditators who are looking to energize their practice. Because it’s trauma sensitive by its very nature, it’s been shown to benefit those with PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. It gives practitioners a sense of control, something to come back to that’s unfailing. It’s been used in homeless shelters, in hospices, with kids ages five and six up to end of life. 

Richard [Miller] has created a simple yet profound 10-step meditation practice, in which the steps can be practiced together or individually. It’s very accessible and applicable to everyday life—something that anyone can learn and apply right away. It helps us to build our best selves—kind, loving, authentic, intimate—and, at the same time, deconstructs our sense of separation from the rest of the world. It’s ultimately a way of living life, of navigating challenges and questioning core beliefs of “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not lovable” as you awaken to your essential nature. 

How would you describe that essential nature, in contrast to personality or sense of self?

Our essential nature is spacious, timeless, ever present, and unchanging. It’s the same wholeness that gives rise to everything in the universe—the trees, the clouds, other human beings. We’re not separate, even though we can celebrate the diversity in our personalities. The ego comes and goes, but there’s something here that does not come and go, something that’s untouched by trauma and challenges, that’s complete just as it is—even if your personality finds things to fix and change. The personality, the ego, is a function of our evolution and adaptation as human beings. It allows us to feel safe, to identify with a sense of being a separate personality in the world—but it’s not all of who we are.

How has iRest impacted your life? 

I lived with a great deal of anxiety in my life as a child and growing up. I came to yoga for a sense of balance when I was in my early 20s, and one day I dropped in to a Kripalu Yoga class in Chicago, and the last half of the class was yoga nidra. I had a profound sense of opening into my essential nature. My sense of self felt unbounded, whole, spacious. A few years later, when I met Richard on retreat, it was like someone had said out loud, for the first time, what I had always known in my heart. 

Since then, I’ve worked through my anxiety to the point where I’m able to teach in front of large groups. I’m no longer identified with anxiety, and even if it comes up, I have a ground to return to that’s unshakeable, that’s deeply okay no matter the situation. I have met and healed the parts of me that felt broken, because I’ve rediscovered my essential wholeness.

How could I not be moved to share this with others? I hear again and again, often from people who have experienced challenges and trauma in their life, that they are so grateful to finally be oriented to that place of wholeness within them. At any moment, we have the capacity to open to the truth of who we are. 

Learn more about iRest in a program with Stephanie Lopez at Kripalu.

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