Back in 2000, I took a high profile executive job for a very dynamic Silicon Valley juggernaut in wireless internet. I was relocated from Seattle to San Francisco and began a serious asana practice during that time after almost thirty years of contemplative seated work. I seemed pretty invincible, making obscene amounts of money, working with senior level executives, eating at the most prestigious restaurants, and defying gravity able to bend and move my body in the vein of contortionists. Oh, and I traveled first class around the world. Continually, and not to compromise my asana practice, I typically traveled via red eye, where if I was lucky, I slept two to four hours a night.
I was a real yogi and yogis don’t really need much sleep so the lifestyle as I was sustaining it seemed appropriate and the quality of my asana practice seemed to validate this.
One day, I arrived for an annual Mobile Congress in Nice. I was frantically trying to get to my hotel room up in the puffy yellow springtime mimosa-aromated hills far off from the water. I scheduled late and was not in the heart of the action like everyone else. The room had a weird offset bedroom with a bunkbed set up. Nothing I was used to when travelling. Still to this day, I can remember the bold perfume of the mimosa in the air, even at night. It was overwhelming; lovely, but overwhelming. I was isolated up in this small hotel, in a bit of an enclave, removed from mobile phones, well dressed European men, and Nice nightlife. But that was ok, because the second I landed, I had a laundry list of tasks to complete, deals to move forward, calls to make to the States.
I remember the hotel room acutely because it was at that time that something life changing happened: I quit sleeping.
Fast forward thirteen years, and I still never really slept. At 2:34am almost consistently, I would wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed, took to doing asana and meditation so as not to wake my daughter. Maybe I even booted up and got some much needed hours of productivity in before email and my phone blew up. I spent over a decade being on the road, an “Up in the Air” George Clooney lifestyle. Sometimes I took two red eyes per week. I would take a yoga class with Kathleen Hunt, go for a run, shower up and head to the airport. Sometimes I would fly out to Toronto, arrive in the AM and hit the 6:30pm Air Canada flight back that same day, sometimes more than once a week. I would land, immediately go running. I ran, I did advanced asana. I also was a yoga teacher and training teachers.
Many times I hear if you’re a yoga teacher, you should never be sick. For me, being a yoga teacher and practitioner was probably the only reason I could function; it was the reason I was even alive.
A few months back, things got a little weird. I was still “Sleepless in Seattle” but started having crazy side effects. After several Dr’s appts, I got a very clear mandate: “you must start sleeping and consumming lots of water.” You would think as a yogi in my mid forties, the profound life lessons I would be receiving would be infinitely more ‘evolved’ but alas, here I am learning how to sleep and drink water. Fortunately, I am healthy, but now I am really taking the basic essentials of life less for granted and starting to get serious.
The hardest part about sleeping is knowing that I have to change certain lifestyle habits. My super early AM meditation sessions have to start a bit later in the morning and cannot last as long until I figure out a suitable time to practice. I cannot tell you how working with a naturopathic doctor, taking herbal teas, getting craniosacral and meditating before I go to bed has helped. For the first time in thirteen years, I am legitimately getting rest, a full eight hours of sleep. As my body is learning to sleep again, to respond to exhaustion instead of adrenaling my way through the day and my epic tasklist, I am stopping, pausing and breathing.
I finally feel like I am rounding the horn on what being a yogi is: being at peace and living life in balance.
Today, I had a wonderful craniosacral massage from a dear friend and Sattvist faculty member. She sat me down first and insisted that I drink alot of water, made me an incredible herbal tea and honey drink. After the treatment, unlike other’s, encouraged me to stay put and take a nap. I told her this was impossible; I had slide decks due, presentations to get together for a client, etc. She asked me in I could stay still and rest for :10 minutes. I knew this was really important for the benefits of the session to settle in. So I chose not to jump off the table and get on my phone. I got comfortable, nidra style, closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Thirty minutes later, I woke up feeling like a million dollars.
Sleeping for me comes down to one element: resetting my priorities. It doesn’t make sense to cram it all into a day if the next day you feel crummy.
I thought I was invincible but sleeping is a dollar for dollar proposition: you cannot get the time back without putting it in.
Not I know that I am not invincible. My brain grew tired. This time, I was able to stop long enough to listen.
It’s 2013 and I am learning how to sleep and reaping the benefits. Here are some ways that I have been successful in changing my lifestyle and catching more zzz’s. I hope some of them can be of help to you as well. If you have found your sleep constantly disturbed, you may wish to visit a physician for help. Over time, once I get the sleep I need and can establish a proper schedule, I may ease up a bit on the schedule, but for now it looks a little bit like this.
Evening: No stimulation after 9:00pm. Admittedly, I am writing this at 9:41pm but I really feel ready to release this story. Maybe someone tonight in the world needs to read this and is struggling with their sleep. This means no television and no reading. I also will put on either simple meditation music or Doreen Virtue’s incredible Chakra clearing for the evening. Either way, I am not seeding my mind with incessant vrittis. I am slowly turning down the volume on my day so my mind is ready to settle into a peaceful slumber. You may also want to try a YogaNidra or Richard Miller’s iRest Yoga Midra. My friends Christina and Eric Romano has published a delightful Yoga Nidra CD with all the proceeds going to Seeds of Change, a non profit serving children in India.
I take a salt bath every evening, typically by candlelight. I sit, I breath and relax. Bubbles make me happy! The salt clears the energy so I am not carrying around other people’s stuff or the remains of my day. The heat relaxes my muscles. I use the aromatics of blue chamomile or lavender, nothing stimulating like peppermint or geranium.
I quit drinking liquids by 7pm. This prevents me from having to get up repeatedly throughout the night to go to the bathroom. For years, I slept coiled and twisted, and everytime I rolled over, I had to get up and use the bathroom. Now I start my sleep savasana style, flat on my back and focus with closed eyes on breathing. Now I get up maybe once per night and immediately go back to bed. I forgot this was even possible!
I make sure the blinds are closed, the light from my clock and my phone is blacked out. No light helps with your circadian rhythms. I do not keep my cell phone or computer in my room.
If you love crystals, I keep an obscene amount of apophyllite, stilbite (often times they grow together) and celestite by my bed. I think this helps.
Morning: I do not unless ABSOLUTELY essential schedule ANYTHING until after 8:00am. This means I can get up gracefully, meditate, slowly wake up, eat a sufficient and balanced breakfast. I start my day on MY terms. You would be surprised with how you start your day dictates the state of mind in how you finish it.
For now, I block noon to two pm for resting or naps. I find laying down and closing my eyes even for twenty minutes is a radical reset. This month’s Marie Claire has an article completely substantiating the value of the siesta. My client probably is not happy, but that is ok, because I am. I feel great! Praise the Lord!
Diet: I have done my best to eliminate caffeinated products, meats, processed foods and sugars. My diet is not perfect, and I know it never will be. My stress levels and anxiety, I find, is more subdued when my diet is complementing the quality of life I want to live. Again, it’s about making choices that are best for me and not compromising to run a ragged race of pleasing or placated others.
I am going to sleep well tonight and it is my sincere hope you will, too. Sweet dreams!