Amongst the many recovery tools utilized within the performance communities, iRest is one of the leading self-guided and researched backed tools to aid in sleep recovery, body relaxation, attention and mood, nervous system down regulation, and neuroplasticity. Furthermore, iRest is also changing the paradigm of how our tactical communities find rest.
What is iREST
iRest, or Integrative Restoration, is a form of guided meditation that is practiced laying down. Developed in response to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, iRest was formulated for treating the tactical community suffering from post-traumatic stress and PTSD. Unlike other forms of guided meditation, iRest utilizes techniques and language for individuals experiencing traumatic workplace stress.
During the practice, an individual is self-directed to shift their attention to sensations within the body and away from the “thinking mind.” The goal of the practice is for the practitioner to be in a deep state of conscious awareness where the body and mind are at rest. The practice utilizes meditation, with progressive relaxation body scans, mindset cultivation, and breath techniques (specifically long slow exhalations) in order to induce a deep state of nervous system relaxation.
Common components of an iRest practice that an individual might experience are:
Orientating to Environment/ Present Moment – this is done with eyes opened or closed. The individual is guided for the first part of the practice to visualize in their mind the room they are in (including doors, walls, windows). They are instructed to notice sensations of temperatures, sounds, and smells.
Developing Anchor – Individuals are guided to bring to mind what they are seeking from the practice. This could be a word, or a phrase such as “I am here to find ease”. It is also fine if nothing formulates in the moment and the individual is just open to the moment. One of the best parts about iRest practice is there is no way to do this practice wrong. You get to choose what you take or leave from the practice. The idea is to allow space for whatever is arising within the mind to be present.
Developing the “Felt-Sense”- This a mindset component of practice in which the participant is guided to imagine a place where they feel secure and at ease. Utilizing the “thinking mind” and its five senses to experience the mind and body connection of what it would feel like (the “Felt Sense”) to be in this place. It’s a resource for the individual to come back to or stay for the rest of the practice.
Progressive Relaxation Body Scan – The individual’s attention is directed around the body to observe and feel sensation
Awareness to the Present Moment’s Thoughts and Sensations
iRest practices typically range from 5-60 minutes in length. Research has found that when individuals practice for 20-30 minutes a day either midday or prior to bed, 3-5x a week, they see improvement in stress reduction, decreased anxiety, improved cognition and focus, and improved capacity to fall asleep. Non sleep deep rest practices like iRest and Yoga Nidra have shown a change in brain wave states in participants from beta waves correlated with states of alertness, to theta and delta waves which are correlated with deep sleep states.
New research from the Journal of Cell Press is also showing that non sleep deep rest practices (which includes iRest) can also have an impact on accelerating learning and neuroplasticity.
It’s Important for our tactical communities to remember that benefits of iRest can still be achieved even if one is not able to meet the length and duration measured in the research. One of the amazing hacks about iRest is there is no way to do the practice wrong. So whether you fall asleep during the practice or practice for 10 minutes in the morning prior to starting your day, there is no wrong time to practice this. The practice is customizable to your needs and how you’re feeling.
iRest is proven to be a powerful tool to boost focus, productivity and reduce stress amongst our tactical community who experience stressful situations in their everyday work. When incorporated into one’s health and fitness routine, the benefits of iRest can have a profound effect in leading an individual to be 1% better in their work and life balance.
5-minute iRest Practice for Breath and Body Awareness
Take a moment to come into a really comfortable position. Maybe rest your back in a comfortable seat or lay down on your back. Allow the body time to settle in here. Wiggling and shifting out any part that needs to move before inviting the body into stillness.
You may allow the eyes to stay opened or closed here. The choice is yours. Invite the eyes to whatever position they fall into. So for the next few minutes, the focus turns inward to the body.
Allow the body to take a full deep inhale. Let the breath completely release. Take another long deep inhale. Slowly sign the breath out and allow the body to breathe by itself.
Take a moment to visualize the space around you. Noticing the walls, ceiling, and door(s) of the room around you if you’re inside. Notice any objects that reside here and keep your body resting in this space.
Now direct your attention to the sense of sound. Maybe you begin to notice sounds around you in your space. Labeling each sound as they come to you and flow away from you.
Now guide your attention to the sounds outside of your space. Perhaps you notice the sounds of traffic or ambient noise from your HVAC system. Take a moment to notice how the thinking mind can search out and focus here. Our minds are powerful. We can direct our attention to anything we choose.
Now direct your attention to all the sound in your space. Allow all the sounds both near and far from you to flow to you and flow away from you as you give your thinking mind a rest.
Take a minute to observe the physical body, noticing the parts of the body resting on the surface beneath you. Explore the feeling of the densities and sensations of the body as it meets the surface it rests on.
Invite your attention up to the body’s torso. Feel the sensations of the breath as it moves in and out of the body. The breath should feel like a wave rolling in and rolling out. Connect to the sensations and feelings when the breath feels the fullest and leaves the body. Notice and welcome all the sensations that arise and fall within the body. Nothing to change or fix here. Just simply witnessing and connecting, as the body rests.
Now I invite you to bring your awareness to the observation of the breath. You might notice where the breath originates in the body- the upper or lower chest or maybe even in the neck. Without judgment, witness where your breath begins. You might begin to observe the breath more prominently on one side of the body rather than the other. Allow time here for the thinking mind to witness the nature of the breath, including every inhalation that the body fills and expands. With every exhalation, the body softens as air flows out, allowing the body to come closer to the earth.
Follow this rhythm for the next minute in silence. Taking note of every inhalation that makes the body lift and expand. With every exhale, the body softens and deepens. Energy from the breath begins traveling up the body. Every exhalation of energy releases from the ribs to pelvis.
Begin noticing your entire physical body resting here. Both front, back, and sides of the body. Take a moment to connect to the space that you created here within your body. Allow this feeling to be felt within the entire body and mind. Know that this space that you created within your body, you can always come back to.
Slowly begin to bring awareness to sounds in this space. Gently noticing familiar noises both close and far from you.
Now slowly come back to a slightly more aware state. Maybe you begin to slowly blink open and close your eyes a few times. When you’re ready, allow the eyes to open as you fully orientate back to your body and the present day.
Livingston, E. (2018). The Effectiveness of Integrative Restoration (iRest) Yoga Nidra on Mindfulness, Sleep, and Pain in Health Care Workers. Holistic Nursing Practice, 160-166.
Seithkurippu R. Pandi-Perumal, D. W. (2022). The Origin and Clinical Relevance of Yoga Nidra. Sleep Vigilance, 61-84.
Walker, M. (2002). Practice with Sleep Makes Perfect. Seep-Dependent Motor Skill Learning. CellPress, 205-211.