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 1-3 hours per night. It was (no question) the worst time of my life. I had 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 inability to fall asleep. 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 as to what to do if insomnia ever reared its ugly head.
Then I reconnected with an old friend, Nick Atlas. Nick and I went to elementary school together. We had lost touch over the years but reconnected in our early 30s through the land of 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. Nick wrote back and said he would love to have me. So I ventured to a yoga studio unsure of what this Yoga Sleep Therapy 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, is not 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 after thought was, something is wrong in my body and I am terrified. The fear did not allow me to relax, 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 in an vivid guided meditation. We all lay on our mats and closed our eyes. He told us to welcome our inner resources, to call upon an image or a memory that fills us up with good feeling. "This is your true nature," he added. 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 am strong, I told myself. And I went there.
After that day I became fascinated with the art of Yoga Nidra. I wanted to know more. I saw it as a tool to use when I feel panic or fear, and on those increasingly rare occasions where I can't sleep. It showed me that fear and anxiety is something I experience from time to time, but it's not who I am, it doesn't define me.