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IREST: Walter Reed using practice to treat PTSD

Jessica Belasco- Express-News

Take a minute to think about your mouth. Is it wet? Is it warm?

Now bring your awareness to your nose. Feel the air as it moves through your nostrils. Is it warmer or cooler when you exhale?

Close your eyes and let your awareness travel across your body as you feel the tension melt.

Instructor Mary Ellen Rose leads students through such acute body and breath awareness to induce full-body relaxation. It's all part of Integrative Restoration, a guided meditation based on the ancient Eastern practice yoga nidra, or "sleep of the yogis."

"It teaches how you can learn to be more in touch with yourself and teaches you how to quiet your mind," says Mary Ellen Rose, who teaches Integrative Restoration, or iRest, at the Synergy Studio.
"What I find people are doing (after practicing iRest) is listening, being present with what's going on. They're focusing on one thing at a time. They're moving with a purpose."

Dr. Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Integrative Restoration Institute in Larkspur, Calif., began using the technique in his practice in the 1970s and adapted the protocols for a Western audience, "taking out the Eastern archetypes that are embedded in it," he says.

Unlike passive forms of meditation, iRest is "proactive in its approach, providing people with tools they can use in their regular life," Miller says.

For Meredith Ames, 31, combining iRest with her yoga practice helps her handle the stress of raising two young children.

"When I'm practicing consistently it helps to make me more patient and less reactive. My husband calls it 'Zen Mommy,'" Ames says. "I'll stop and remember, 'Just breathe, just focus on the breath, in and out.' That helps me a lot to calm down in stressful situations, like when my son has scribbled on the wall in permanent marker."

An important part of the iRest protocol is the cultivation of an "inner resource," which Miller likens to "taking a vacation to Hawaii while you're in the dentist's chair."

During an iRest session, students visualize a location in which they feel safe and secure -- a serene meadow, their bedroom, a chapel.

Later, when they're in a stressful situation, they can recall that safe place and the feelings and bodily sensations associated with it. The technique can be helpful in treating trauma survivors.

Miller tells the story of one of his students, a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who was unable to undergo an MRI because the small confines of the machine threw him into a panic.

After practicing iRest, the veteran was able to complete the MRI by recalling his inner resource, calming his body and mind.

"He said, 'I felt victorious. I was in control of my PTSD, it wasn't controlling me,'" Miller says.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Deployment Health Clinical Center in Washington, D.C., now includes yoga nidra in a specialized care program designed for service members suffering from PTSD.

Another key aspect of iRest is learning to accept negative emotions (such as anger or grief) as well as negative beliefs (such as "I'm helpless").

"People try to get rid of emotions, which only inhibits the healing process," Miller says. "We have found through research that when people fully welcome and accept their emotions, only then can they heal through and go beyond them."

In pilot studies, iRest has shown promise in treating chemical dependency, among other issues, Miller says; more studies on its benefits are being conducted or are in the planning stages.

Rose will soon begin working with researchers at Brooke Army Medical Center to measure the effectiveness of iRest on healthcare providers who care for injured service members.

The staff also hopes to study iRest's ability to decrease stress among service members and their spouses and improve their relationships.

More than 450 people in the U.S. have completed training in iRest, many of whom are now teaching in veterans' centers, homeless shelters, yoga studios and other facilities.

In San Antonio, iRest classes have been held at Alamo Colleges, the Sol Center, SAMMinistries' Transitional Living and Learning Center for the homeless and Alpha Home, an alcohol rehabilitation facility for women.

Rose provides CDs for her students so they can continue their practice at home. Miller's iRest CDs also are available for sale.

"I've been told people are falling asleep to my voice all over the world," he says.

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