Relieving Stress and Increasing Well-Being with iRest Meditation

Anxiety has become pandemic in our world today, impacting adults and children at exponential rates as the stresses and demands of daily life increase. Children are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders at younger ages and often treated with medications.

At the same time, meditation is increasingly being incorporated into a number of healthcare and educational settings, as a way to increase relaxation, increase resiliency, and improve an overall sense of well-being. The potential benefits of meditation as an effective non-drug, mind-body approach to addressing anxiety and other psychological conditions—including insomnia, PTSD, depression, and substance abuse—is supported by an ever-increasing body of research.

One such research-based, transformative practice of deep relaxation and meditative inquiry is iRest Yoga Nidra, which is being utilized in Veterans Affairs hospitals, military bases, hospitals and clinics, hospice, homeless shelters, community programs, and schools. A growing body of research shows that iRest effectively reduces PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and chemical dependency, while increasing health, resiliency, and well-being.

The 10-step protocol of iRest addresses anxiety in a variety of ways. As one is led through the practice, iRest provides the tools to proactively address feelings, emotions, and beliefs that may contribute to one’s sense of tension and anxiety; and enables a person to feel into their underlying sense of wholeness and calm even in the face of difficult circumstances. Through cultivating an inner resource as a foundation of the practice, it reminds the student/client of the feeling of safety and well-being that has been overshadowed by life’s challenges. Also, iRest develops the capacity to welcome sensations in the body. In the simplicity of rotating attention around the body in a systematic way, relaxation naturally occurs without “trying” to relax.

Many practitioners have seen, firsthand, the benefits of iRest in both children and adults. One of the greatest initial challenges many overcome is insomnia. When sleep improves, there is a natural cascade into benefits across a number of areas in one’s life, including decreasing anxiety, improving mood regulation, and developing a general sense of well-being. As one relaxes the body, it opens the door to access and address the feelings or situations in life that are challenging, helping to develop the skill of being responsive to life rather than reactive. Even veterans who have struggled with the invisible wounds of war for decades have shown a decrease in the symptoms associated with PTSD, measured not only by their self-reports but also by decreases in cortisol, which is correlated with the stress response in the body.

While iRest is most often taught in a group setting, it can also be utilized with individuals to address specific concerns, and incorporated alongside other interventions by psychotherapists, yoga therapists, or other health professionals. For instance, the protocol may be woven into individual sessions that include diverse evidence-based practices for anxiety, such as Systematic Desensitization, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,  EMDR, Progressive Relaxation, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and yoga asanas, mudras, mantras, or pranayama.

The practice of iRest helps individuals deal with difficult emotions and beliefs by reconnecting with their deep, innate sense of wholeness and essential well-being that remains untouched by life’s events and circumstances. Many people report that they experienced a sense of increased relaxation in their very first iRest session. Once learned, iRest is a cost-effective intervention that can be practiced regularly at home with the use of recordings, and is a tool that can be used independent of the health care system.

Find out about upcoming programs with Karen Soltes.

This article was originally published in Natural Awakenings magazine and at irest.us