Vikram Zutshi is making a feature documentary on the transformative effects of Yoga and Meditation. Every issue of Sutra Journal will profile one of the film's characters. For our second issue he chose Dr.Richard Miller, renowned Yogic scholar, accomplished clinical psychologist, and an esteemed teacher of Yoga Nidra and non-dual Tantra. Richard's answers are straight from the heart and based on direct experience. Without further ado, here is the conversation.
Sutra Journal: What is Yoga Nidra and how did you discover it? How did it become an integral part of your life?
Richard C. Miller, PhD: Yoga Nidra is an ancient and comprehensive approach to meditative self-inquiry, awakening, and enlightenment that leads to the
fundamental realization of our essential nondual nature that we share in common with all of life. The aim of this practice is to enable us to realize, or
awaken to the Mystery that all life - sentient and insentient - arises from and into which it dissolves and remains not-separate.
Traditionally, Yoga Nidra is based on the sheath (kosha or maya) model, where each sheath represents a realm - a changing state of consciousness - with
which we’ve come to identify ourselves, i.e., body, senses, thoughts, well-being, and ego-I, whereby during the process of Yoga Nidra meditation we inquire
into each sheath so that we may realize our essential non-changing nature, or Mystery, in which these changing states arise and dissolve.
I first discovered Yoga Nidra in 1970 during my first-ever Hatha Yoga class, when the instructor taught a rudimentary Yoga Nidra practice at the end of
class. I walked home that evening, feeling myself in harmony with and not-separate from the entire universe, feeling that I’d just come home to my true
A spontaneous vow arose in me, to understand what had just transpired within myself, and what this practice I’d just engaged in was, and how to invite this
realization into every waking moment of my daily life.
Over the next decades, I deeply explored the teachings of various spiritual approaches including Yoga (here the practice of Yoga Nidra), Advaita, Kashmir
Shaivism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Sufism, and other approaches to meditative self-understanding. Over the years I kept returning to the practices
inherent in Yoga Nidra, which encompasses the teachings of Samkhya-Patañjali, Advaita, and Kashmir Nondualism, as they represented, to me, the underlying
principles that all spiritual practices share in common.
In 2004, I was invited to engage a research project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) to study the effectiveness of the Yoga Nidra protocol I’d
developed to help wounded warriors heal from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms they were experiencing from their wartime exposure. During this
first study, the military asked me to rename the Yoga Nidra protocol I’d developed, saying, “We’re military. We don’t do yoga!”. So I renamed Yoga Nidra
‘Integrative Restoration’, or ‘iRest’ for short. The military replied, “Hey, that’s great! We can do Integrative Restoration - iRest!”
This study was so successful that WRAMC immediately implemented my iRest protocol at their Health Deployment Clinical Center so that all wounded warriors
could engage iRest Yoga Nidra as part of their healing regimen. More than 22 research studies followed, examining the efficacy of iRest Meditation with
such issues as PTSD, chronic pain, TBI, depression, anxiety, sleep, and well-being.
As a result, iRest is now being taught at over 12 Military bases, 41 Veterans Administration facilities and 36 organizations working with active duty
service members, veterans and their families, as well as at hospitals, clinics, yoga and meditation centers and other facilities in the US, and in
facilities in Europe, Australia and other countries around the world. In addition, in 2010, both the US Army Surgeon-General and Defense Centers of
Excellence (DCoE) confirmed iRest Yoga Nidra as a complementary practice (CAM) for the treatment of PTSD, and recommend iRest as a CAM for the management
of chronic pain in Military and Veteran settings.
Currently, my non-profit, The Integrative Restoration Institute (IRI), runs trainings, workshops and retreats on iRest Meditation, as well as a three-level
certification program for those wishing to become certified as an iRest meditation teacher. To date we’ve trained over 2,000 Level I teachers-in-training,
with 150 certified teachers, 178 in certification, 15 trainers and 12 supervisors, all of whom deliver the iRest Program in locations throughout the world.
Sutra Journal: You are a scholar of Yoga, Tantra, Taoism and Buddhism. What led you to the academic study of these disciplines? Can you describe your areas
Richard C. Miller: I first became involved in these teachings in 1970 as a way of both understanding myself, as well as furthering my grasp of how we
each function as a psychological-physiological-sociological-spiritual human being. Along the way of my own psycho-physical-social-spiritual healing, I
discovered what all these traditions ultimately aim to impart - our essential nondual nature - the Mystery and the very essence that has given birth to
each of us, and to this entire universe.
While I have explored and experienced multiple spiritual and religious paths, I realized many decades ago that, for me, it would be best to dig one well
deeply, rather than dig many shallow wells. The path of Yoga, I would say, chose me as that well to dig all the way to water, and this is what I have done.
While digging this well, I’ve had the privilege to study with extraordinary teachers, both in the US and India, as well as discover the common thread, that
I believe all spiritual paths share.
Along the way I contemplated how I could bring this understanding that I’d discovered, not only to the folks who would naturally attend my regular
offerings, but also to those who might otherwise not have access to these precious teachings. I’ve been fortunate to share this dream by bringing iRest
Meditation into homeless shelters, VA and military settings, into prisons, and to pre-school through college youth, as well as to women who have been
rescued from human trafficking in the US, India and Nepal. So one specialty that I engage is helping people heal through their pain and suffering and
reclaim their human dignity and well-being.
My primary interest and therefore specialty remains the same - to bring an end to human suffering and help people awaken to their essential nondual nature.
My desire is that everyone with whom I work brings an end to their perception of separation and suffering, and realizes that fundamentally, every sentient
and insentient being and object, including themselves, is an expression of the Mystery - the essential nature that underlies all of life.
Sutra Journal: You are a clinical psychologist as well as a religious studies scholar. Was it a spontaneous decision on your part to take a
multidisciplinary approach to healing? Did you have to reconcile widely divergent worldviews in order to do so?
Richard C. Miller: Early on in my training as a psychologist, I was fortunate to meet a mentor who had recently arrived in the US from the Far East
who helped me understand and integrate the essential teachings of Western psychology and Eastern spiritual teachings. Thus, from the beginning of my
training, I knew no separation between these seemingly different fields of understanding. This mentor came into my life in an unexpected way where, through
her guidance, I felt that life was choosing me for this work. I’ve come to recognize that my life and work are mission-driven.
I’ve come to realize that I’m not living life; life is living me!
When I adopted this understanding and came into harmony with what life wanted of me, deep peace spilled over into my daily life and my work in the world.
With regard to reconciling divergent views, I’ve realized that at their root, seemingly divergent positions convey the same message. Western and Eastern
perspectives are both concerned with deep healing, peace, freedom, and awakening to our fullest human potential.
Sutra Journal: Have you had powerful experiences at an early age that pointed the way to your future direction? Could you attempt to describe them?
Richard C. Miller: Several experiences come to mind. The first occurred when I was around 2 years of age. Suddenly, my sister appeared in front of me,
as well as the walls and interior contents of the room in which I stood. Years later, I came to realize that in that moment, my sense of being a separate
self came on line. Before that moment I knew no separation.
A second event occurred when I was thirteen, while visiting my grandmother during spring vacation. Lying down one evening, pondering the night-time sky, I
began to wonder where the end of the universe was. Suddenly all sense of separation dissolved and I found myself being the entire universe - not separate -
experiencing a felt-sense of the underlying Mystery that underlies everything. While this experience slowly faded into the background, it left an indelible
impression that followed me into my adult years.
These two experiences presaged the awakening I was to have in my adult years, first during the Yoga class I took in 1970 where all sense of separation fell
away and the spontaneous vow arose within me to spend my life inquiring into this sense of no-separation; and second when all sense of separation fell away
some years ago. Since then, to this day, while my senses and mind perceive borders, boundaries, and separate objects, something within has been restored
that knows no sense of separation. I’ve come to realize the self as simply a function, one among many, that arises within, and is not-separate from the
Mystery that is truly who I am, and everything is!
Sutra Journal: Who do you consider your main teachers and what are the biggest lessons they have for us? Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with
Richard C. Miller: I’ve been fortunate to have many exquisite teachers in my life. In the order that they came into my life, they are: Laura Cummings,
J. Krishnamurti, Joel Kramer, Da Free John, Stephen Chang, Swami Bua, Nisargadatta, Dada Gavand, TKV Desikachar, Jean Klein, Ramesh Balsekar, and Suzanne
Segal. I have also been greatly influenced by the teachings of so many sages who had long passed on before I came to know their teachings, including Ramana
Maharsi, Shankaracarya, Abhinavagupta and Lakshmanjoo. Of all these teachers, Jean Klein was my sat-guru, the one who helped me realize the truth of our
essential nature and the Mystery of non-separation.
While Jean helped me realize the ultimate understanding, all of these teachers, in their own way, conveyed to me the same message: know thyself! They all
gave me the incredible gift of being exquisite vessels for the truth of non-separation and the Mystery from which we all emerge. I also respect that none
of these teachers tried to hold me captive. They were only interested in helping me realize true freedom: from myself, from them as a teacher, from the
teachings, and from searching. They were all interested in finding truth!
Sutra Journal: What are the results of the medical and scientific research you have conducted on the effects of Yoga Nidra on traumatic disorders, brain
injury, chemical dependency and others? Can you give us a couple of examples that stand out?
Richard C. Miller: There are so many results that I’ve seen from the research with iRest that it would take pages to describe all that’s been
discovered. I point readers who are interested to my website where I list the results of research studies that have been done with iRest (www.irest.us/research). That said, several important themes stand out. To date, all the populations and issues
we’ve studied have been helped through the iRest Meditation program. All the trend lines we look for have been in the right direction, i.e., decreases in
PTSD, depression and anxiety symptoms, increases in restful sleep, increases in well-being, and so on.
Among all of these, one significant result stands out prominently in my mind. Countless times I’ve been with attendees at homeless shelters, VA settings
and other sites where, after receiving iRest for the first time, people say to me when I ask for their reflections, “I feel like I just came home!” When I
hear this, the hair on the back of my neck stands up, as I feel the impact that the practice has brought to their lives.
Sutra Journal: As a Yogic scholar familiar with Hindu and Buddhist terminology of skandhas, samskaras, chitta, manas, buddhi and ahamkara, as well as a
clinical psychologist trained in western psychoanalytic theory, have you drawn parallels between the results of your treatment on patients and what the
ancient texts describe? In other words, what is happening to these people from a Vedic/Tantric perspective and how does this tally with your training as a
Richard C. Miller: Vedic/Tantric and psychological traditions are interested in freedom, but from different perspectives. Western psychology
emphasizes individuation and self-actualization as a separate self.
The Yogic traditions recognize the self as a function; one among many that is genetically engineered into the body (which modern day neuroscience
validates). The Yogic traditions realize that while the five senses and mind work together to provide a sense of separation, we have within us, innately,
another function, that for most people remains asleep, as a vestigial organ. Eastern teachings emphasize that this function can awaken so that we are
restored to the tacit and intuitive realization of our non-separation; that each of us is a unique but not-separate expression of the underlying Mystery
within which all of life arises.
I have witnessed a slow shift in psychological theory since I first began in 1970, whereby the field now recognizes what ancient Yogic practitioners have
known all along: that spiritual experience is a part of the continuum of human experience. May I dare here to venture my opinion that in the years to come,
mainstream psychological theory will embrace and incorporate the understanding of non-separation and not-self as an aspect of our human potential!
Sutra Journal: Is there a fundamental divide in how western science views the 'Self' and how it is viewed in the Dharmic worldview?
Richard C. Miller: Absolutely. Within both Western science and Eastern perspectives we see this divide. On the one hand we have the Western
materialists whose view is that consciousness is derived from matter. On the other hand we have Westerners whose view is that matter is derived and
not-separate from consciousness. We see these same two views in traditional Eastern perspectives, as well.
Interestingly, the Western materialistic view is being thoroughly challenged by neuroscience and quantum research, which are revealing two distinct ways
the brain perceives reality: 1) from a dualistic time-space, separate self-material perspective, and 2) from a non-local, no time-space, no-self,
no-separation perspective. We could say then, that both perspectives are real. That said, while the non-dual perspective does not negate duality, the
dualistic view does negate non-duality. From my perspective and experience, both views are! The Mystery that gives rise to both views, welcomes both views,
and knows that both are expressions of this underlying Mystery that lies beyond all objective and subjective, and dualistic and nondual views.
Sutra Journal: What is meant by somatic healing and transpersonal psychology, and how do they differ from the more conventional modalities?
Richard C. Miller: The mind and body are one, not two. True healing occurs at three levels: the physical - somatic - as well as at the psychological
and spiritual level. The mind is part of the somatic, so true healing is always experienced at a somatic, felt-sensed level.
When psychological and/or spiritual healing takes place, we register it at a somatic level where something now ‘feels right’, where before something felt
‘off’. Until the somatic - body - is included, true healing hasn’t truly taken place.
Transpersonal psychology, by definition, goes beyond traditional, conventional, personal and individual levels of understanding. It recognizes experiences
in which the felt-sense of separate self-identity extends beyond (trans) individual or personal identity, and encompasses wider aspects of human potential.
Transpersonal psychology often falls within a dualistic framework, as it posits a reality that’s ‘beyond’ (trans) and different from ordinary reality. The
perspective I have experienced and teach is one where the Mystery is not something ‘other’ or ‘trans’, but is here, now, in this and every moment, and is
not apart or special from everyday life. We can experience both the personal and the non-personal (or trans) in this moment. Life will always be
experienced as a paradox!
Sutra Journal: Can you name a few books and authors who have made a big impact on you and perhaps changed the way you see yourself and the world around
Richard C. Miller: Wow! What a request! My mind swims with the books that have impacted my life and perspective. Of course, I’d have to first mention
the books by my teacher, Jean Klein, especially The Ease of Being and The Flame of Transmission. Beyond these, I think of The Teachings of Sri Ramana
Maharshi, and I Am That (Sri Nisargadatta). I love Linda Graham’s new book, Bouncing Back, that integrates insights from the perspectives of psychology,
spirituality and neuroscience; Hood’s book, The Self Illusion, which examines how our social brain creates a sense of identity as a separate individual
where, in fact, no separate self exists. I also love Almaas’ latest writings, Runaway Realization, where he posits enlightenment as a drive, much like our
drive for safety, sex, and food. I’ve received great joy in reading Brazier’s book, The Feeling Buddha, which shows the human side of Buddha, as well as
Rahula’s book, What the Buddha Taught, which I’ve read cover to cover countless times over the years. I’m constantly recommending Jaidev Singh’s books on
Kashmir nondualism, especially The Vijñânabhairava and The Siva Sutras, which also makes me think of The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche. I could go on and
on, as I’m a constant reader of old and new books, with three or four by my beside that I’m reading. There’s no end to learning. What I love about the
Mystery… it’s always new, always fresh, forever changing and deepening, yet always recognizably the same. Life is a paradox! Thanks for asking!