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."
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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.
This article was originally published at The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.
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