This clinical psychologist, and researcher has used yoga to dramatically improve the lives of those suffering from PTSD.
photo by: Spirit-Fire
When I ran across the work of today’s guest, Dr. Richard Miller, much was familiar. I’ve practiced yoga for a long time, and although I’m not a yoga scholar, or practitioner of Richard’s caliber, I understood where he was coming from. But Richard Miller is pulling yoga and psychotherapy together in a new and powerful way I never seen before. As I say in the interview, I was drawn to him because I listened to 5 Questions As Being and was amazed at the effect it had on me.
Another exciting thing about Richard’s work is it seems to be piling up a lot of points from the medical/scientific community as well. Of course, if mind=brain, there’s no way a simple meditation technique should pile up points scientifically, but that’s another show for another time. Let’s get on to my conversation with Dr. Richard Miller.
Alex Tsakiris: When I was watching one of your presentations you said to your audience that not sharing this protocol with them would be like medical malpractice. That is, as a clinical psychologist you are so confident in the effectiveness of this protocol that you feel obligated to share it. That’s awesome in terms of getting it out, but it also hints at just out of alignment we are in medicine and in clinical psychology.
Dr. Richard Miller: This is a direct quote from a veteran who took part in one of our studies in Miami. He said, “Every intervention I’ve had to date to help me heal through my post-traumatic stress has always started with what’s wrong with me, trying to show me what’s wrong, and how to fix and change what’s wrong with me. You’re the first protocol. You’re the first intervention that has started with what’s right about me. And now that I know what’s right about me, I’m wiling to face my worst nightmares.”
Read Excerpts From Interview:
Dr. Richard Miller: As a scientifically oriented westerner, “trust me” doesn’t really resonate with me. I wanted to understand how does this actually work. So I started reading into the literature in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then in 2004 the military called me and asked if I would be interested in partaking in a study of my protocol with veterans and active duty coming back from the war front with PTSD. I said, fantastic. We entered into a study and the results we got were so effective they hired the teacher that I had trained who was teaching in the study to teach the protocol to all returning wounded warriors through Walter Reed Army Medical Center (if they opted for it as part of their healing program). A particular study [that was] launched what I would never have imagined as a series of studies. To date, we’ve got over 25 research studies that have been done from Walter Reed, Miami VA, Brooke Army Medical Center. Now we’ve got one [about] to start at Chicago VA. We’ve had them at universities and different private settings. So we’ve been studying how this protocol actually affect things like post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, sleep disorders; as well as propagate a deep sense of well being. I’m glad to say I can now answer the question. Don’t just trust me, here are the results we have that are statistically showing that this particular approach to meditation does work and here’s what it does, and can do. To date, I’ve trained over 3000 teachers worldwide who are now bringing this into their different settings in North America, Australia, England, Germany. So it’s quite amazing to see how the science has propagated and help support the coming home of this protocol in so many locations.
Alex Tsakiris: Richard, let’s interject that is through this organization that you’ve founded that people can find called iRest. That’s where the training has funneled through and where you’ve brought all of this technology to a focal point.
Dr. Richard Miller: Within about 20 minutes [my client] was sitting in a place within herself where she felt “not broken”; not “something wrong with me.” Then we started addressing her depression and what were the underlying symptoms that might have been causing–or the underlying causes that might have been giving rise to her symptoms. The thing that was most interesting to me, she came back for a second session and said I want to let you know when I was working with you in that first session, I really did feel that sense of something within me that’s not broken; isn’t depressed and never has been, even as I’m feeling this depression. When I left your office, it gave me hope. It reinstalled a sense of hope in me that I can actually work and overcome my depression. We worked together very successfully for over a year and a half. Her depression did clear up. But we always started each session from this place of wholeness [that] really let her know she wasn’t broken. She wasn’t depressed. But feelings of depression and sensations of depression were present in her body and her mind that we began to seriously address. It’s a very different starting point. We don’t work to heal into wholeness. We work from wholeness in whatever healing we need to do.
Alex Tsakiris: Fantastic. Let me get at this a slightly different way. I want to get into the philosophy of science a little bit. Let’s talk about consciousness and materialism. I was reading an excellent interview you did with Vikram Zutshi of the Sutra Journal in which you said, the modern materialistic view is being thoroughly challenged by neuroscience and quantum research, which are revealing two distinct ways the brain perceives reality. Then you list those two ways: one from a dualistic, time-space, separate, self-material perspective (which you’re really saying, that’s science as we know it). Then you said they’re also viewing it from a non-local, no time-space, no self–this non-dual, spiritually enlightened path that we kind of hear about but a lot of people don’t even make that connection. I have to say, a lot of people listening to this interview are not necessarily making the connection between what they’re hearing about quantum physics, quantum mind [idea] and the non-dual [idea]. But I want to get to that second. First, I want to challenge that notion that modern neuroscience is really ready to let go of materialism. I don’t see it at all. I think that sometimes we do a disservice to people; like the people who walk into the office of their local clinical psychologist after experiencing a spiritually transformative experience.
Dr. Richard Miller: When I look at you or I look at a tree, I see a separate object that has borders, boundaries, and limitations. That’s built into us. [It’s] genetically encoded. We cannot not see separate objects. But from the other standpoint we see that neuroscience is showing we can also step out of that into another region of our brain, which doesn’t know time; it doesn’t know space; it doesn’t have a sense of being localized or bordered or boundaried. It feels itself as this un-boundaried, infinite, outside of time, outside of brokenness. And what the protocol that I teach does, it opens both of these–we’ll call them channels–so that they’re equally viable and operating at the same time. Most people have collapsed into one side–the more materialistic, time-bound, limited sense of self. They haven’t explored this other region, which we might say meditation and different approaches do. What I found in that first experience I would say [of] yoga back in 1970, which I didn’t understand then and now I do, in that moment I opened to this non-materialistic side of my brain and nervous system. I had a glimpse of what I would call stepping out of time; stepping out of space and limitation. Over the years through my own practices and also my research into science, in a way I’ve learned how to integrate these so they’re not functioning in me. I can see separate objects but yet I feel something else that transcends that sense of separation. I don’t feel a sense of separation and what that does for us is it opens a deep quality where we see a certain manner of speaking, everything as expressions of our deeper sense of self or nature. When I look at a tree, I see tree, but I also have a sense that the tree isn’t separate from me. What that does is it gives rise to great compassion, kindness, respect for everything that I see because in a way it’s an aspect of myself. It breeds a deep sense of love and kindness. It also respects border and boundary and my ability to differentiate and take action that sometimes creates a sense of border and boundary and safety.
[easy-tweet tweet=”India is exotic but yoga to me is just a series of simple inquiries”]
Dr. Richard Miller: I agree. This aspect of India is exotic but yoga to me is just a series of simple inquiries. Meditation is simple inquiries that enlighten us. It brings new understandings that we didn’t have before.
Alex Tsakiris: The other thing I think it points to is this quote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, then eventually degrades into a racket.” I think we’ve all experienced that along the spiritual path as well as along the self-development path. How do we avoid that? How do you avoid that? Do you have any concerns about that?
Dr. Richard Miller: I’m a pragmatic optimist. I know in the end it will be overcome and pragmatically I know it takes time. You say it can degenerate into a business. The beauty I see about us as human beings is we have an inner compass. When we begin to go away from a truth, something that’s really a reality, something in us starts to feel something’s not right here. And we can go far away and say yoga degenerates into a business and however you were saying it. But as we go more that way we’re going to feel a split within ourselves. Something about that doesn’t feel right. Eventually my optimist says that’s going to help reorient us and bring us back to the path that we might have gone away from.
Dr. Richard Miller: We find ourselves in a moment in our life where our life isn’t working. Something has failed us. We’re feeling a sense of a helplessness; a hopelessness; some inner collapse that might come as an anxiety [or] depression, or whatever. We try all sorts of ways to go through it, and ultimately we may take up mediation or the practices of yoga; the practices we’re talking about here. There’s a moment where we open to this other realm, which we might say is timeless and spacious, and open. We sit in that realm for a while but, what happens is it brings us back into life itself where reenter into these movements as you’re talking about, which is relationship. How do we move this in every domain of our life? We come back and I think what happens is we start to really become a fully functional human being where we’re friends with our emotions. We’re friends with our thoughts. We understand these movements of sadness and grief. We’re not trying to negate them. We’re not trying to transcend them. We’re actually grounding more deeply into our basic humanness.
Alex Tsakiris: “We’re not trying to transcend them.” Can you pick up on that a little bit? I think that’s key especially if I’ve had a rather dramatic spiritually transformative experience. It’s impossible for me to get past. I saw Jesus. I put my hands where his wounds are. That can also become somewhat of a block even though it propelled me from zero to 50, it also then becomes I can’t get past that.
Dr. Richard Miller: When we have an experience like that it takes time to integrate it. But what it’s really asking us, and if you look at the teachings of Jesus, he’s asking you to come back into the world loving your neighbor as yourself. Bring love back into our relationships. He’s also not saying dismiss the violence that is around us and not confront it, but confront it not from, that’s the enemy over there but that is an aspect of ourselves that’s kind of gone into separation and gone away from [oneself]. So we’re actually trying to move through the world in a deeper, grounded sense of love and right action. Right speech. Right thought. What I see is, as I’ve walked this path, yes, there have been moments of deep transcendence where I’ve had to sit in those experiences, “hanging out” with Jesus; hanging out in a world that you could call formless or empty. But then the real movement of mediation is to come back into the world.
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