The exercise that changed my entire life for the better.
In 2011, after being hospitalized for a major staph infection, I went through a period where I had severe insomnia. Two weeks passed and I slept only one to three hours per night. It was, hands down, the worst time of my life.
I’d been on antibiotics for such a prolonged period of time that my body was all out of sorts. I had severe, debilitating muscle spasms that kept me awake all night long.
I tried all sorts of things to treat my insomnia: I drank chamomile tea, I tried breathing exercises, I read extremely boring books, I took over-the-counter sleep medication, I tried using melatonin. None of it worked; I still lay in bed in chronic pain unable to soothe myself to sleep.
Thankfully, with time, physical therapy, anxiety medication and acupuncture, my body and mind healed. But I never forgot those two weeks of my life. I began to actively seek out a more permanent solution if, God forbid, insomnia ever reared its ugly head.
Then I reconnected with an old friend, Nick Atlas. He and I went to elementary school together. We had lost touch over the years but reconnected in our early 30s through Facebook. What caught my attention was that Nick was teaching a workshop called Yoga Sleep Therapy. It immediately intrigued me, so I reached out to him and asked if I might be able to attend. He wrote back and said he would love to have me.
So the following week, I ventured into a yoga studio, unsure of what Yoga Sleep Therapy even was.
The other students and I all sat together on yoga mats in cozy room, each of us holding beautifully woven blankets. Nick talked about a deep meditative practice called Yoga Nidra. I’d never heard the word before but he defined it as “the heart of yoga.”
Insomnia, he went on to say, isn’t an illness but rather a symptom of something going on beneath the surface — a play of unconscious forces. These words resonated with me deeply.
I thought back to that time in my life where I was unable to sleep and I remembered the thoughts that raced through my brain. Whenever I felt pain, my immediate afterthought was: Something is wrong in my body and I’m terrified. My fear prohibited me from relaxing and, therefore, I couldn’t fall into a sound sleep.
“Fear and pain are inevitable; they’re actually our best teachers,” Nick said, before leading us through a vivid guided meditation while we laid on our mats and closed our eyes. He told us to welcome our inner resources and to call upon an image or a memory that filled us up with good feeling.
“This is your true nature,” he repeated.
As he spoke, I tapped into a place that was so deep in myself, a place of overwhelming peace that was unaffected by anxiety or fear. Because underneath it all, I’m strong, I told myself — and I went to that strong place.
After that day, I became fascinated with the art of Yoga Nidra. I now use it as a tool whenever I feel panic or fear, and on those increasingly rare occasions when I can’t sleep. Yoga showed me that fear and anxiety is something I experience from time to time but it’s not who I am and it certainly doesn’t define me.