The newest episode of our podcast, Mindful U at Naropa University, is out on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and Fireside now! We are happy to announce this week’s episode features special guest Richard Miller, PhD, spiritual teacher, yogic scholar, and clinical psychologist. Be sure to explore our Bachelor’s of Yoga Studies if you’re feeling inspired by this episode!
“What is the singular thread that runs through every spiritual tradition? Yoga nidra (nidra means “sleep” in Yoga) gives us a framework off of which to hang so many teachings. Yoga nidra is like a tree with many branches that many spiritual teachings can hang off of, and the main trunk is the singularity. Yoga nidra offers many branches to hang Eastern teachings off of, and one can also hang many Western teachings off of it too. We can see every western psychological approach and every eastern approach reflect one another, but we can also see the singularity within them that they all share in common, and so East and West fall away into one singularity of understanding. We can learn how to welcome the fact that all that we are is an expression that comes out of this deep mystery that has given birth to the entire cosmos. Everything, everything is part of that mystery. Every thought, every emotion, every body sensation, every person, every tree, every rock is that mystery incarnate. So, you have to think, ‘What am I trying to get rid of? What am I trying to change?'”
Full transcript below.
Richard Miller, PhD, spiritual teacher, yogic scholar, and clinical psychologist, has devoted 46 years to integrating Western psychology and neuroscience with the Eastern nondual wisdom teachings of yoga, Taoism, Buddhism, and the Judeo-Christian traditions. Developer of the research-based Integrative Restoration iRest Meditation program, Richard is founding president of the Integrative Restoration Institute, co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, past founding president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology, and author of iRest Meditation, The iRest Program for Healing PTSD, and Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga. Richard leads retreats and trainings internationally, emphasizing enlightened living in daily life.Full transcript
“Integrative Restoration, Yoga Nidra” [MUSIC]
Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place of the modern mindfulness movement.[MUSIC] [00:00:44.11] DAVID:
Hello, today I’d like to welcome a very special guest to the podcast and the Naropa community, Richard Miller. Richard is a clinical psychologist, a yoga scholar, an author and a spiritual teacher. He is also the founder of multiple organizations. And it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you today so thank you for coming. [00:01:02.00] RICHARD MILLER:
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. [00:01:04.11] DAVID:
Yeah, and you’re just fresh off of a workshop that you just did here at Naropa. So, it’s just really fun to kind of catch you at the end of it. Your kind of new experiences we can just talk about. It’s really fun to have you. [00:01:15.23] RICHARD MILLER:
Absolutely. I’m ready to dive in. [00:01:19.02] DAVID:
Awesome. So, I’m kind of curious who are you? How did you come to where you are? What inspired you to do the work you’re doing — say for instance, there is a listener out there that doesn’t necessarily know who you are. How did you get to where you are now? [00:01:33.13] RICHARD MILLER:
I love to tell this interesting story. I grew up on the east coast. In Princeton, New Jersey. And, came out to California where I now reside back in 1967 for the first time and loved it so much, when I graduated from college in 1970, I just packed up my car and drove right to San Francisco and when I got to the city, I didn’t know anyone. And somehow, 1970 I decided to take a yoga class at the Integral Yoga Institute run by Swami Satchidananda. And little did I know that the class was going to be taught in silence for 12 weeks.
So, over the course of 12 weeks we came into the building in silence. We did the practices in silence except for the teacher and we left in silence, so I never met a soul. But I like to say at the end of the first class — when the teacher taught a rudimentary – what I now know as yoga nidra meditation I had a life transformative moment.
Where I left the building feeling deeply connected both to myself and a sense of my place in the universe — this sense of unitiveness. And as I was walking home that evening — this kind spontaneous vow rose up to one — what just happened? And what was this practice that we just did? And how can I learn more? Now, back then I was a — graduated as a BS in psychology. And, I was exploring San Francisco in ways that I might learn the art of psychotherapy. And I was volunteering at suicide prevention as — on the phones.
And, I started volunteering at this interesting clinic where I met a woman Laura Cummings who was willing to take me on as a student to learn psychotherapy. She herself had grown up in the far east. She had learned yoga from her mother who was half Chinese and she grow up in a Buddhist community. She had been trained personally by Erich Fromm and an associate of RD Lang.
So, when she took me on and I started mentoring with her she actually would invite into every session she gave and then we’d talk afterwards and debrief what had happened, but then right from the beginning she was helping me understand the integration of yoga, Buddhism, psychotherapy, existential phenomenological from the perspective of Robert Halsh who she had studied with — with RD Lang and humanistic psychology.
So, looking back now — it was a complete integration. I never saw psychology in spirituality as separate. They all felt very unified. Now, also in those days I decided to sit as well as doing yoga — Zen. So, I was sitting Zen and sitting in Mahayana Buddhism because Laura was Mahayana Buddhist. So, all these practices were coming into my life. I met a wonderful remarkable teacher who had come from China. His great grandfather had been the physician to the emperor of China. And I started studying Chinese medicine with him — Daoist yoga. Started practicing acupuncture. And, opened a yoga studio. So, I have got all these balls in the air in learning psychotherapy. I am learning Chinese medicine. I am studying yoga. I am studying Buddhism and they are all coming together in an area what I now see was a unique way.[00:05:43.08] DAVID:
Wow, everything you’ve just said sounds extremely unique and just extremely enriching of so much spirit and thought and body practice and just mindfulness in general. It’s very interesting to kind of hear that story — it almost seems like you didn’t have a direction. And the direction chose you almost? [00:06:02.18] RICHARD MILLER:
You know it’s true because in those days I was trying to feel in what’s my dharma. What’s my work in the world? And going between psychology and yoga and Buddhism there came a moment where I started a clinic — a psychology clinic where I started a clinic — a psychology clinic with Laura and another of her students. But after a couple of years of doing it and I was only in my early 20s — I realized I felt — I didn’t have the maturity to really sit with people in the way that I was being asked to sit with people’s very intimate issues.
So, I decided to leave the field of psychology and dive headlong into the field of yoga and Chinese medicine and so for a number of years — I really just dove deeply into the teachings of yoga and Chinese medicine and all the literature in terms of Buddhism and the different teachings. Also found my way to India with a teacher in India – TKV Desikachar studying yoga therapy. When I came back from India that was 1980, I continued my studies with Chinese medicine having actually taken my needles to India and I worked in a free clinic for three months there but when I came back, I realized I was kind of complete with Chinese medicine and it was really the yoga and the psychology which were now driving me.
And, I soon met who would become ultimately wife Ann. And I remember taking a long walk in the hills contemplating what am I doing and what’s my work in the world and I’m a yogi living out of my studio with basically my loin cloth and a….and I remember taking this walk in the hills of Fairfax and this voice came out of nowhere and it said — it was like God speaking to me, Richard — psychotherapy.
And a week later, I had an office. I had clients. And I still had my yoga studio and I took off in the domain of really integrating now and feeling now I was in my early 30s feeling much more mature and ready to sit with clients.[00:08:23.00] DAVID:
There is so many lenses in which you are able to look through and you’ve studied a lot of different modalities of thought, spirit, healing, energetic liveliness and just learning how to thrive pretty much. And it just seems a very unique perspective in which you hold only or maybe other’s hold too but like you have such a unique approach to this thing that you’re creating ultimately. And it’s just really cool to like witness and hear this story. [00:08:54.03] RICHARD MILLER:
Yeah, for me looking back at times I would feel disoriented or not knowing but it always felt I was looking for what felt right. I wasn’t so much interested in the path say that my parents might have wanted me to be in because I was kind of a black sheep in the family — I used to send them books that I was reading and write them long letters and they send me back the books and they would say Richard you don’t understand we’re dogs, you’re cats and dogs don’t really understand cats. And we would actually joke about it. And actually my — I wrote a letter to my dad one time talking all about what I was doing, and he wrote me back. He said — and I still have the letter. That was the most beautiful letter I think I’ve ever received in my life — I didn’t understand a word you said, but just that you took time to write.
So, for me it was always trying to feel what felt right. And, that really develops within me I would say the inner compass that has through the years has really helped me stay on course.[00:10:03.06] DAVID:
I am starting to realize that everyone has the same mechanisms in which we all have so we are able to understand each other but there might be some layovers and or different ways of looking at it from the natural go to ways. Maybe changing the mind — the neuroplasticity of thought or changing the energetic plasticity of your heart. Or something like that. We all have the same apparatuses, so we can understand each other. The understanding languages. [00:10:32.23] RICHARD MILLER:
I think of them as familial overlays, cultural overlays, overlays from our personal experience, which can obstruct of sensing what’s the right direction and I kept really exploring those kind of cultural morays I grew up in. And the family morays and really trying to discern what was my path and then drawing on the strengths because I grew up in a very loving family — so I drew upon the strengths of those, but I had to in a way set aside a number of the morays that I grew up and I — I did feel at times terror, fear. Because I felt like I was in unknown territory constantly. I didn’t have anything to hold onto that I knew. And yet, I felt the strength of the teachings and the modalities I was immersing myself in — and it felt like they were my safe haven showing me the way.
So, for me it feels like it’s been life showing me what to do and I’ve been getting better and better at following marching orders that I am constantly being given in my life.[00:11:47.01] DAVID:
Well, it seems like you are doing a great job. [00:11:48.07] RICHARD MILLER:
Well, we’re trying the best we know how. [00:11:51.17] DAVID:
Awesome. So, from what I am hearing is there such an inspiration from the eastern way of living and also the western way of living and what I really appreciate about you and your work is you’re doing this bridging kind of effort between both — you’re respecting both, you’re understanding, you’re learning and then you are bringing them together. And my question for you is how does that show up in the way you teach, why bring them together — clinical psychology and yoga. How much more powerful is that to you than just showing as a clinical psychologist? [00:12:27.17] RICHARD MILLER:
I have to give credit and gratitude to that first mentor Laura who helped me make that integration and really inquiry into myself as what’s my path. The eastern teachings for some reason — it’s a mystery kept drawing me to them, but I was well read in eastern and western psychology and the teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir nondualism. So, I felt this kind of early on a split and which would take me and slowly they integrated more and more so they felt like an integrated path.
Now, my dad was a medical doctor. I grew up reading his textbooks at night when he would go to bed. I would sneak down and read all these weird books that he had in his library about surgery. He was a surgeon. And, when I got into psychology of course we were reading deeply into research and how the mind works and all of that. As I got involved in yoga, it occurred to me in my early teachers when I would ask them why are you asking me to do this — they basically say well trust me.
And I had a very untrusting mind. I wanted to know why this was working. So, I started combing the literature for research and there was research coming out of India in those days and some early research out of the Menninger Foundation here in the states. So, I started reading and diving into all the literature and research both on the western side and the eastern side.
Years later in the mid 80s a friend of mine Larry Payne and I decided to come together and form and found the IAYT — the International Association for Yoga Therapy. And, what I realize was on the yoga side — or Buddhist side — people didn’t really have access to the research. I had all this access to the research. So, I thought why not create journal where I could make this research available to people and teachers, students of yoga who otherwise might not know that it exists. [00:14:48.10] So, very early on I started bringing it out in writings to help both myself because it was my interests, but then the people I was working with and of course the journal for the International Yoga Association.[00:15:01.22] DAVID:
Interesting. I just randomly thought of this. Do you feel like the western mind is the — why? Has the like — it doesn’t have the like trust you know and then the eastern mind might be like oh I trust my teacher. I am just going to do what they say and then uncover the teachings in which they are ultimately teaching me? [00:15:20.14] RICHARD MILLER:
No, I reflect what you are saying. I think so. There is — in India you trust the guru. You trust the lineage. You trust everything. In the West, we really have an inquisitive mind. We’re trying to understand the why’s or the how’s. Now, I was fortunate when I went to India and studied with TKV Desikachar. In even our first lesson, he said look I am an eastern practitioner. I grew up in India. You’re a westerner. I don’t want you to take the eastern teachings and impose it onto the western mind. Can we work together to help you understand how to take these teachings from the east into the western world — in the wester mind. So, to make that integration and I took that very much to heart. So, I was fortunate with Laura who came from the Far East. She was very much in the mind of what is your experience? So, both trusting your heart but understanding in a way the why’s and the how’s then Desikachar opened me to that and then later on I met another spiritual teacher Juan Kline and it was fun when I used to study with him, I’d be taking notes about what he was saying. And he’d wander around the room at times and he’d come over and he’d look at my notes and he’d look at me. And then he’d look at my notes and then he’d look at me and then he’d say point to me and he’d said make it your own.
So, I feel fortunate that the teachers I found my way to were helping me from the inside out understand these teachings. They were all supportive of me diving in the research and making this integration of how do we take these precious eastern teachings into a western mind we might say. And use them more as points of self inquiry rather than just digesting a whole new philosophy.
What I came to understand is all the teachings are built on self inquiries that are really designed to help us come upon our own understanding. And so, that’s the way that I’ve integrated, and I try to bring it out when I am teaching.[00:17:48.15] DAVID:
It seems as though through the self-inquiry is where the real teaching — the healing, the developing the energy within the thriving is actually where that happens, and the teachers are there to be a reflection and or someone to provide information. [00:18:05.15] RICHARD MILLER:
Yeah, I think of teachers as sacred mirrors. They’re helping us reflect back to our self and really dive deeply into our self and bring that understanding that is already in there that is innate and bring it out so that we can recognize it and then apply it in action. [00:18:24.20] DAVID:
They make it seem not as scary because if you do it on your own there is some — you’re like oh I don’t know about that. [00:18:31.08] RICHARD MILLER:
Right, or we get lost in different avenues and the teacher if it’s a really good teacher can help us stay more on track. There is another point here, which you’re making me think of which is when I first learned some of these practices and I was invited to teach in the early 70s I was taking the teachings from India and bringing it to my students.
But I began to wonder. I was asking to see certain images, colors, forms that I had learned — certain sounds. I began to be curious what are their images, their colors, their forms, their sounds. So, I started letting go of the eastern teachings, but using the inquiries that I was learning from these east. So, I started asking people when you feel into your body — where is the sensation that’s drawing your attention and when you go here in your body can you describe it and are there any particular images, colors, forms that are coming out of your psyche that are particular to your culture, family, history whatever?
What I found was the practices actually became more powerful. Because people were really excited in their awakening from the inside out rather than from the outside in.[00:19:58.16] DAVID:
I like that idea too because then you are inviting them to feel what they’re authentically having show up instead of inserting this maybe you should see it this way. I was actually sitting in on the last hour of your teaching that you just finished your workshop with and you were like does anyone else have any like colors or ideas and I wrote mine down. And I think of it as an ingredients because we are all mentally cooking something, and you talked about like steeping in the stew and all that and so I think of things that we work with they’re just cooking ingredients. And it’s how we cook it, how we prep it, what ingredients we use that gives us our energetic nutrients and how we move forward and — how we grow our gardens. [00:20:41.07] RICHARD MILLER:
Yeah, you were suggesting earlier which I — I agree with which is all the ingredients are already here inside of this and we’re learning to recognize them, bringing them forward and as you say in your metaphor put them in the stew pot and then they start to cook and we get a really good flavor going and then I think is one of Rumi’s poems he talks about the chickpeas are constantly trying to leap out of the pot before they are cooked and on a good teaching and teacher keeps us in a way stewing until we’re fully cooked. [00:21:13.19] DAVID:
Ok, yeah, I really like that. LAUGHS. Awesome. So, you are a PhD in clinical psychology and you’re also a yoga practitioner, scholar, how does psychology and yoga show up for you together? How do you teach them together and how does that relationship between the two empower your teachings more? [00:21:36.10] RICHARD MILLER:
This practice that I was introduced to in my first yoga session, which I now know was a rudimentary yoga nidra. I really started looking into the Upanishads, the sacred literature, and trying to understand what is this practice?
So, yoga, what I’ve come to understand and really feel is — the embodied feeling of our interconnectedness with our self and our place in the universe. So, we feel at one with everything.
Nidra while it means sleep in yoga, I came to understand is a changing state of consciousness. So, yoga nidra was a form where we were coming to know our interconnected wholeness both as a separate human being but also as a unique expression and at one with the universe. No matter the state of consciousness. So, we come upon this really delicious inner somatic felt sense — it’s a unitive consciousness and we’re able to feel it whether we’re happy, sad, irritated, whatever is going on. Then I started looking at the different elements that made up the practice. And along the way I was picking up the teachings of Samkhya, Patanjali, Advaita Vedanta and the Saivism unqualified nondualism.
But as I said I was also studying into Daoist yoga. I was studying Mahayana Buddhism and Zen. And along the way delving into Zazen and Mahamudra. I began to wonder what’s the singular thread through all these different teachings? I also at one time considered becoming a minister and was headed for the ministry and ultimately came back to the yoga because I realized if I went to the ministry, I’d still be back here doing what I am doing.
I was always interested in what’s the singular thread that runs through every spiritual tradition? And the yoga nidra gave me a framework with which I could began to hang off every teaching I had ever been exposed to. The yoga nidra for me is like a tree with all these branches that the teachings I can hang off of — but the main trunk is that kind of singularity that they all have in common.
So, as I began to either both practice and then teach it — and get reflections from my — while I was teaching and then working within psychology, I began to see both yoga nidra was an ability for me to hang all the eastern teachings off of. But also, then I realized I could hang all the western teachings on it too. And all of the sudden the clarity became so amazing where I could see every western psychological approach, every eastern approach reflecting one another, but the singularity within them that they all shared in common and so east and west for me fell away into this singularity of understanding.[00:24:55.06] DAVID:
They are so compatible with each other. You have such an interdisciplinary way of looking at everything. Before I was 14 years old, I almost became like 6 different religions and then I was 21 I found Buddhism and what I realized with Buddhism is spirit is within. You don’t have to have a community, but it always helps to have a community. And I realized — the thing I was searching for was like already inside of me. And it sounds like uh when you’re searching for the thing to hang it on — the trunk what you’re actually going for is the authenticity based in truth and love. And, all those things are trying to teach you how to be authentic, but they just have the different modality of getting you there. You know it’s like you’re choosing a different route, but you have the same destination in which you’re going to and it’s just all based on finding yourself, finding your higher path and I just love how you’re — you just took them all together and you made your stew. You know it’s like the — the trunk was the pot in which you put all the ingredients in. [00:26:00.19] RICHARD MILLER:
And as you’re saying it, it reflects back to me what I discovered that there are kind of 4 movements in our development. The first really for us — as human beings I think is to become a good integrated individuated human being. Friendly terms with our emotions, our thoughts, our body sensation. So that we can responsible to all of our emotions in every situation that comes. [00:26:29.08] I think there is in where the strength of the western psychology lives.
It really has the tools and offers us the tools of how to be a good integrated healthy ego that feels our self as separate. Then the eastern teachings come in and they really help us how to wake up out of that census separation. Find our place in the universe where we feel a unity with everything. And no sense of separation. And then how do we bring that back down, reembody it in ourselves with our emotions, our thoughts and then take that into our relationships, into our work, our life and all the aspects. Along the way I found at points like I had two teachers in Advaita and at times they both independently because they didn’t know each other told me if you really want to realize these sacred Indian teachings and really become enlightened you’re going to have to leave your family, leave your job, check into a monastery and we’d support you in doing that.
And I thought to myself, I am a westerner. I’ve got children. I’ve got a wife who I love. I’ve got a job that I really enjoy. If I can’t realize these teachings within a western lifestyle their really not going to work for anybody. So, it became my challenge I would say to make this integration of how do I take these very precious eastern teachings, the precious western teachings that I absorbed — bring them together and use them to awaken as a westerner in the midst of circumstances, job, children, family.
And what I came to discover is really nothing needs to get in the way. Everything is in a way manure and fertilizer for our awakening.[00:28:37.03] DAVID:
How else we’re you going to grow that flower? You know what I mean? To get that essence of the pure beauty through the compost. [00:28:43.21] RICHARD MILLER:
Well, that’s my sense that really to become an awake human being operating on all 12 cylinders — we have to be on friendly terms with our body, our mind. We have to learn how to welcome all that we are — and one of the insights I’ve had personally is for me everything I look at — is an expression that comes out of this deep mystery that has given birth to the entire cosmos.
And so, when I look around at everything, I realize everything — is part of that mystery. Everything thought, every emotion, everybody sensation, every person, every tree, every rock is the mystery incarnate. So, what am I trying to get rid of? What am I trying to change? So, my practice has really been of one of welcoming everything as expressions of that underlying mystery that I am. That you are. And, embodying that in every moment — and what I found is that awakens tremendous compassion, love, really grounded sense of deep safety within ourselves and when we see everything as our self actually it brings an end to conflict and war.
Because we become intimately interested in everything.[00:30:16.17] DAVID:
And, it almost seems as though through the relationship building of becoming friends with one self like the heart and the mind channel ways. Once they stop arguing then the ickiness kind of just dissolves. Or realizing it never was there is kind of self-inflicted or just made up. [00:30:37.08] RICHARD MILLER:
Learned habits I would say. And — [00:30:40.00] DAVID:
You just — we need to clear our perspectives. [00:30:42.18] RICHARD MILLER:
Yeah, and I like that image everything loses its stickiness and it just becomes very delicious and even the difficult challenging moments — I mean still as a human being have my preferences. I’d like to feel good. And I’d like everything to run smoothly, but when things don’t — I am able to welcome them in and I use everything as a messenger. So, an emotion, a thought, a difficult circumstance — I’m trying to look at — how can this teach me so that I can feel I am responding in this moment and in harmony with the universe rather than just a separate ego trying to make my way in the world. [00:31:25.15] DAVID:
Yeah, what is the medicine in this moment? [00:31:27.21] RICHARD MILLER:
Nice. [00:31:28.21] DAVID:
And how do we use that? Yeah, one thing that I am realizing in my life is there seems as though there has been a lot of like things I don’t agree with happening in my life, but what I’ve realized is if you show up in truth and love and you make your decisions rooted in that there might be some momentary pain but you ultimately are tending to the garden of your energy and it will only serve you. It will only help you out if you step forward in that in every moment. Which isn’t easy — sometimes, but the more you do it the more you just kind of default to just being really good hearted. [00:32:04.15] RICHARD MILLER:
Life is challenging, and I think these tools that we’re talking about from the east and the west — there the owner’s manual we may not have gotten when we were a kid — and they’re giving us the tools with which to be and grow that garden. And grow that capacity to feel tremendous love and self-kindness and compassion both for our self and the people we are in relationship with. [00:32:30.14] DAVID:
And its ok to update your operating system. [00:32:33.00] RICHARD MILLER:
All the time. [00:32:35.22] DAVID:
Awesome. So, I want to speak a little bit about iRest. Naropa invited you for the weekend workshop for the Breeze of Simplicity and you had like a packed house of people just laying down and through guided meditation and conversation — can you tell us what iRest is. It was — its an organization you started or is it a process or — can you just tell me what that is? [00:32:56.22] RICHARD MILLER:
Well, right now itÕs a little bit of both. Originally, I learned it as yoga nidra. A form of meditation coming out of the yoga tradition. And I taught it as yoga nidra for many years. In 2004, I was invited by Walter Reed Army Medical Center to do a study using the program with wounded warriors coming back from war with post-traumatic stress syndrome. When I started to engage the research — they came to me and they said you know — we’re army. We’re marines. We’re Navy. We don’t do yoga. Yoga is for sissies. Call it something else. [00:33:37.22] DAVID:
You’ll be surprised. [00:33:39.02] RICHARD MILLER:
Well, I thought about it and I thought ok let’s call it integrative restoration. So integrative because I think these practices integrate our psyche and help us become a — a potentially aided fully individuated awake human being. And restorative because they restore this innate sense of wholeness and unity consciousness to the forefront of our awareness. And back in 2004, everything was iPad and iPhone so why not iRest. I for integrative and a small “I” which for me means the ego is helping find its proper functioning which is not the driver. [00:34:20.02] DAVID:
I see what you did there. [00:34:21.00] RICHARD MILLER:
ItÕs just a passenger. And then restoration. So, the — the military came back to me and said we can do integrative restoration. So, we entered into the research and it was so successful to this date any wounded warrior going through their healing process at Walter Reed Army Medical Center can take our program as part of their healing regimen. A couple of years later I got a call from the head psychiatrist and he said you know we love your program. ItÕs been highly successful. We’ve decided you can call it anything you want.
So, we call it — integrative restoration iRest yoga nidra meditation.[00:35:03.00] DAVID:
Whoa. [00:35:03.16] RICHARD MILLER:
And the reason I do that is I go into a lot of homeless shelters, clinics, a chemical dependency units, hospitals, all over the world, VA, DOD sites. I teach then — iRest. So, when I say to someone when they ask me what do you do and I say well, I teach iRest. They are very curious. They go well what’s that? I have an open door now to talk about anything. When I go to a yoga center, I teach yoga nidra. Because that’s the words that they are familiar with. When I go to a Buddhist meditation center, I teach meditation. But itÕs all the same. So, the words I think give us access because long ago when I’d be on a plane and somebody said what do you do? And I’d say well I teach yoga. And they’d immediately say oh I need to exercise more.
So, I decided to say I teach meditation and then they would say oh — I need to relax more. And I realized if I said I teach yoga or mediation I was immediately put in a box.[00:36:13.17] DAVID:
Assumptions show up. [00:36:15.11] RICHARD MILLER:
But if somebody says well what do you teach, and I say oh I teach iRest and they go well what’s that? And now I have the freedom to talk about anything. [00:36:22.22] DAVID:
Interesting because then they — they show up with a question. They rebuttal. They are like well tell me more. And I’d love to/ [00:36:29.11] RICHARD MILLER:
Exactly. And the other thing is when I go into an organization like a homeless shelter or the military. I want to teach it in a very secular manner. So, that they realize I am not trying to impose anything. There is no philosophy I am pushing. I am actually teaching them a series of inquiries — 10 steps within a 38 larger map. That are helping them come to health, healing and for those awakening.
But itÕs a very secular program. Now, when I am here at Naropa there are no holds barred so I can talk —[00:37:08.19] DAVID:
Give it to us, you know. [00:37:09.08] RICHARD MILLER:
…everything. So, I can talk about yoga and nidra and the teachings out of which it comes, but I am also trying to showcase it also as how is it also a secular program so that anybody can utilize it? And, years ago I realized what I would like to have as a teacher is when I am standing at the door after having taught a class. Everybody who is filing out is whispering in my ear — thank you for making the practice just for me today.
Now, one of those is a Buddhist, one is a yogi, one is a Christian, one is a Jew, one is a Muslim, one is a Rosicrucian, one is an atheist — in other words I’ve got one of everybody filing by me and saying the exact thing — thank you for making the practice just for me today.
So, I think we as teachers need to teach in a way that each person in the room is feeling this is the practice, they are making just for me. That’s a skill that I think comes with time, but when we’re speaking to a group where there are all these different people in the room from people with different backgrounds, different cultures — there might be somebody from China. Somebody from India. Someone from Japan and America, Australia. I want to be teaching to them in such a way that they really feel I am teaching particularly to them. So, I think that’s where to make these teachings in a way secular to take a lot of the eastern and western psychological jargon out of it and really use simple straightforward language — but use language in such a way they go that’s interesting — can you say more about that?
So, it really piques people curiosity.[00:39:04.05] DAVID:
Interesting, yeah that there is a lot of power in that. There is a lot of relatability and there is a lot of diversity and it sounds like you’ve done your homework of multiple different perspectives. And so, you’re able to say different words in moments and to feel it out too. So, thank you for sharing all that. [00:39:24.10] RICHARD MILLER:
Yeah, and there is a piece that I will often do when I went to the military I realized if I walked in starting — spouting all sorts of spiritual language they kicked me right out of the room. So, what I started to do and now this is what I do with my students — I ask them to come into their body, have their experience and then describe it to me. So, if someone say I ask them to come to rest back in a moment of just being quiet. And to feel into themselves and come into kind of a relaxed state of being and have them describe it — whether I am in a homeless shelter, a military center, a hospital with oriented or non-oriented people I find they’re telling me the same things like I feel this sense of presence.
Or this sense of peace or equanimity or openness. Now, I love it. They just gave me the words that now I can speak back to them and because they gave me the words — they’ll accept the words from me but if I had come in and said I want you to rest back and feel this sense of equanimity and peace and presence they would have said huh?[00:40:39.06] DAVID:
Yeah, what’s that? [00:40:39.18] RICHARD MILLER:
Toss me out of the room. [00:40:42.06] DAVID:
Interesting they’re internally mapping the landscape for you and then you’re just like ok I am going to read that map. [00:40:49.17] RICHARD MILLER:
And what I come to appreciate of whether I’ve been in China, whether I’ve been in Australia, England — wherever I go and whomever I am with — when I actually have them go into their own experience — they all give me the same words. It’s like cross cultural that is coming out of the depths of our experience as a human being. [00:41:12.22] DAVID:
There is something there. ‘ [00:41:14.10] RICHARD MILLER:
There is something there that we all share in common. [00:41:18.03] DAVID:
We’re quickly running out of time. This so much fun you know and so easy I feel like we can just keep talking forever. But, Naropa University is in the process of developing yoga degree programs. And I’m curious how does therapy and yoga show up for you like why is that a good combination? [00:41:36.10] RICHARD MILLER:
When Larry Payne and I decided to co-found this organization — we actually had an arm wrestling match — do we call it the International Association of Yoga Therapy or the International Association of Yoga Educators?
And back in 1980 when we were having this conversation therapy was gaining momentum. And so much to my dismay we ended up calling the International Association of Yoga Therapy.
But I think really yoga therapy is educational. We’re helping people dive into themselves. Come to their realizations and what we find is healing takes place. And so, we might say then its therapeutic because often times I’m having people rest back really inquire into their body, welcoming sensation, emotions. They will come off the floor and they — what just happened because I’ve had chronic pain for 12 years and its gone!
Or I’ve had this depression and I can’t find it anymore — itÕs like gone. And so, we know that the — the tools of yoga are very therapeutic but we’re not using them prescriptively. We’re using them or the way that I think of yoga therapy is we’re creating portals of self-inquiry. Now, there are tools in our — our arsenal of yoga like postures and pranayama where we can give people interventions.
But when I do — I give it to them as a way of them exploring themself and I’ve come to appreciate when we do that — working together because I think the yoga therapist and the student or client, we’re co-creating the healing. And, itÕs based on the relationship that I am engineering a safe environment of trust where they can begin to explore themselves and I know in any relationship there will be mistakes that be made and itÕs the trust that’s engendered that help us look at what was that mistake?
For instance, when I first Desikachar I had serious neck injury. So, he gave me a series of poses to do and breathings. I came back several days later — I said you know what you gave me is making me feel worse.
And he said isn’t that fantastic. Now, we know what doesn’t work. And I trusted him and slowly we developed together a plan that worked. But I was drawing on his experience, but I was the practitioner who was trying it out. So, yoga therapy for me is educational. We’re giving people interventions, but itÕs also looking at I wonder if this will work?
Now, I’ve been practicing for some 48 years. So, I have I think some very good tools that I can use as a starting point and I’m pretty sure these are going to have a benefit.
But I’m always holding in my mind they may not, and can we have a trusting relationship, so you can come back to me and they say you know what you gave me didn’t work. Now, I can say like Desikachar said to me — fantastic how we know what doesn’t work. And we start to proceed.[00:45:01.03] DAVID:
And that’s kind of a trip to hear. You’re just like all of the sudden what do you mean fantastic — like it didn’t work and you’re like no, no, no. Now, let’s try something that might. You know let’s move on. [00:45:11.13] RICHARD MILLER:
It is a process of elimination. And you know as experienced practitioners we get better and better at guessing at what’s going to work, but we’ve got to still hope and have that openness for exploration and not get held hostage by the things we’ve learned. ItÕs that openness and curiosity that I think is the driving force behind yoga therapy. [00:45:33.05] DAVID:
So, I have one more question for you. And, uh I am also going to just add a little something on the back end of that. So, I am curious — it seems like you — you work on a lot of different things and you’re just kind of always moving. You got a lot of energy and this is beautiful. What’s coming up for you that you’re working on that you’re really excited about and you’d like to say or anything you’d like to share about the work you’ve been discovering? And also, can you just uh let the listeners know how to reach you, how to find you, maybe uh some informational books that you have written. [00:46:04.00] RICHARD MILLER:
I have been doing this work for 49 — almost 50 years. And what’s exciting me now is at a stage of my life of passing on the knowledge that I’ve gained, the experience I’ve gained to my students and the people I am working with. And, I’m engaged with different processes for uh filming what I am doing so we can put it into legacies. But really, itÕs about passing on what I got from all of my teachers and keep that learning going. So, that’s really my passion is, and I’ve got a number of books that I am writing trying to organize the teachings in such a way that they can be passed on easily.
So, over the years uh I had originally a nonprofit called The Center of Timeless Being when iRest really caught hold we changed the name to the Integrative Restoration Institute and we just changed it to the iRest Institute to make it really simple. But on our — on our website at www.irest.org we actually are having two portals. One that go into the secular teachings for healing and well-being and one that go deeply into the nondual exploration of meditation, so people can find access to the teachings that are — are resonating with them.
So, I published a number of books which Sounds True and New Harbinger. I’ve got actually five books that I am trying to write right now.[00:47:38.02] DAVID:
Look at you. Geez. [00:47:39.20] RICHARD MILLER:
And, I am — you know I am excited because I am being invited to places like China and Japan and just feeling the wave of yoga nidra that’s — that’s starting to really grow and crest. So, itÕs a wonderful period in my life to see these teachings of yoga really have taken hold, blossoming and like when I show up here at Naropa and we’ve got 90 people in the room who are just on fire. That — is great. [00:48:14.04] DAVID:
Energetically on fire. Yeah, the — when I walked in the energy was really high and really good, but at the same time it was — it was really low and felt — it felt like a cloud. Like just a really energetic cloud and all — it just held you really nicely because the iRest is very chill. Very relaxing. ItÕs very informative. There is a lot of inquiry in the body and in the mind. And there is a lot of space to do some homework. [00:48:43.22] RICHARD MILLER:
You know I will add one more thing, I think the teachings that I have been given — and helped uncover and this singularity of the thread that I think runs through all teachings — what I find when people come, and this is really exciting to me — from other traditions. They are coming from the Sufi tradition or a Buddhist tradition or a Zen — or a no tradition at all. They are getting excited because they’re seeing teachings that are informing their practice — and helping them understand their own practices in a much more — deeper and authentic way. And, while I am — you might say pushing yoga nidra and yoga teachings in general — I’m really excited how they are innovating other forms of teachings and then people are integrating these teachings into their forms of Buddhism or Christianity. Years ago, I was teaching, and a woman came up to me afterwards and said I’m a fundamental Christian. I can’t find anything to object in your teachings. And I thought to myself — I just got the seal of Good Housekeeping. So, I love that we can move these teachings into any community — no matter their philosophical or religious spiritual background and they go away feeling more informed, more on fire in their own tradition. [00:50:05.14] DAVID:
Very inviting. And you can’t find anything wrong if you’re always stepping forward in truth. [00:50:12.22] RICHARD MILLER:
Yes. [00:50:13.07] DAVID:
Truth is never wrong. So — [00:50:15.08] RICHARD MILLER:
You can’t fight with reality. ItÕs always going to win. [00:50:19.17] DAVID:
ItÕs going to win. Nature just wants to encourage you. That’s all its really trying to do. Well, I really appreciate you speaking with me. I feel — I feel really good. This was a great conversation. You just have so much energy and so much excitement. You’ve been doing this work a long time and you have so much knowledge, but you come at it from a point of view of as a student and a teacher and a knowledgeable person who has done their homework and itÕs just really refreshing and just exciting to witness. [00:50:47.17] RICHARD MILLER:
I want to go to my death bed learning. Every day. Curious and open to what’s new and what’s in this moment that I am opening to. Absolutely. [00:50:59.09] DAVID:
That might be the biggest lesson you have. [00:51:01.12] RICHARD MILLER:
Yes. [00:51:02.00] DAVID:
Wow. So, thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate it. [00:51:04.01] RICHARD MILLER:
Thank you. This has been fun. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. So, I appreciate you bringing me on. [00:51:09.23] DAVID:
So, that was Richard Miller here on the podcast and with the Naropa community he is a clinical psychologist, a yoga scholar, an author, a spiritual teacher and he has founded many multiple organizations. And so, I’d just like to say thank you again. [MUSIC]
On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.[MUSIC]