Posted by: kerryalina | 11 April 2012

Challenge Class 50: I Sleep Better Now

One of my colleagues attended his first Bikram class last night.  We chatted at the water cooler today, discussing how he didn’t understand how people could do some of the postures (“witchcraft”), how the teacher could possibly have known exactly what he was feeling after Camel (“more witchcraft”) and how he’s tentatively decided to try it again tonight (“the spells worked, obviously”).  We joked about how it’s probably a cult and if so, I’ve most definitely drunk the kool-aid because I try to convert anyone and everyone.  And then he asked that question.  The one I’m never quite sure how to answer.  “How has it helped you?”

He stood there, smiling vaguely, no doubt waiting for my enthusiastic story of weight lost or muscles toned or flexibility gained.

But the truth is, that’s not what I wanted from yoga.  That isn’t at all what I was so desperately seeking when I first walked into the studio.  So I stood there, eyes blank and mind racing, desperately trying to find a benefit that I felt comfortable sharing with a workmate, an acquaintance, a relative stranger.

“Oh, you know…” I laughed nervously.  “I sleep better now.”

You guys.  “I sleep better now” is such an utterly inadequate explanation for how far I’ve come.  Because where I started was this: I had a nervous breakdown.  Like, for reals.  I held it together at work or around friends… but as soon as I was alone, I would start crying.  I would cry as I walked home.  I would cry as I sat on my couch and stared at the walls.  And then I would go to bed and cry and cry and cry and maybe, two or three hours before my alarm was due to go off, I’d be lucky enough to fall asleep.  More often than not, I’d dream of crying.

The problem was situational rather than hormonal, so antidepressants and the like were of little use.  In desperation I tried them anyway and was rewarded with sudden anxiety attacks, tachycardia and the most horrific dreams I’d ever encountered.  My doctor tried a few varieties, then pulled me off them and prescribed sleeping tablets instead, reasoning that if I could get enough rest I might be able to deal with everything else.  They had the same effect on me as a dozen shots of espresso – I didn’t sleep for two days.  Obviously, chemical intervention was not going to help in this situation.

Although it looks astonishingly neat and tidy in the above paragraph, this pharmaceutical merry-go-round took months.  Some drugs took weeks to kick in; I had to be slowly weaned off others.  A bad reaction to one brand wasn’t conclusive enough – here, try these three instead.  And then in different dosage combinations.  And then.  And then.  And then.  And all the while I dragged myself through each day, blank and despairing and void of hope.

Then I remembered Bikram.  I remembered how difficult I’d found it during my brief flirtation with the practice, three years earlier.  How every body part had to be placed just so, how the heat made you concentrate on minimising extraneous movements and focus on breathing.  How your mind couldn’t possibly wander, because there was absolutely nothing it could do on autopilot.  And I thought: if my mind can’t possibly wander… then maybe it can’t obsess over past conversations and future confrontations and what-ifs and how-will-I-evers.  Maybe I could stop crying.  I started to hope.

And then, because I was incapable of doing anything else, I sat on the couch and cried for a few more weeks.

I honestly don’t remember what got me into the studio in the end.  I don’t remember anything about that first class, except that I was directly in front of the heating vent and it burnt my toes in Savasana.  I remember the teacher greeting me after class with a “You’ve done this before, haven’t you!” and I remember thinking that was probably because I got into the Fixed Firm setup before taking a drink.  Mainly, I remember that I didn’t cry.  And that was enough to get me back in the hot room, day after day.

Gradually, the focussed and quiet mind that I was attempting to cultivate in class began to influence the rest of my life.  After a while there was a yoga hangover that lasted about two hours after class – long enough for me to get home, shower, eat and get to bed before the tears started again.  Later still, I found it lasted until morning and I could make it to work without struggle.  And now there is not just not-crying, but joy and love and calmness.  Every day.

And yes, it’s true – I even sleep better now.

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Responses

  1. This is exactly why I started Bikram back in December. I’ve had a life-long battle with depression and anxiety, but I was also in the depths of dealing with a situation that left me crying every second when I wasn’t at work (and some seconds when I was). The second I hit the car after work, the tears would start, and I would cry on the way to work in the morning (and every moment in between). I remember that after class, I felt okay (well, exhausted) for about an hour after. That miracle hour! I kept going back just so I could have more miracle hours. Eventually the hour increased to 2… to 3… to overnight (with better sleep). And while I’m not yet where you are (joyful, loving, calm)… I’m starting to think I could get there. I suppose that’s a pretty great outcome considering where I was just a few short months ago.

    Thanks for this post and for your honesty. So generous.

    • “I’m starting to think I could get there” – That’s a freaking OUTSTANDING outcome. Srsly. I found the most important thing was the hope that things could be better… because it slowly becomes belief that things WILL get better and then eventually it becomes reality that things ARE better. Without that first step, there’s nothing to work towards and no reason to try… and so nothing ever changes. Finding that hope is the gamechanger.

      Also, one day we’re totally going to meet and I will give you the world’s biggest hug. (Which is supposed to sound sweet, but in hindsight it actually looks a bit stalker-ish. DISREGARD).

      • I WILL SQUEEZE YOU!!! But in a good, non-freakish way.

        I’ve got tears in my eyes right now.

  2. You are very brave for sharing this. Well done!

  3. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. First, thanks for following my blog–it let me find yours, which I’ve really been enjoying reading (at times when I should have been studying dialogue, naturally)!

    But in response to this: “And I thought: if my mind can’t possibly wander… then maybe it can’t obsess over past conversations and future confrontations and what-ifs and how-will-I-evers.”

    YES YES YES. That was (and still is) one of my favorite things. Although the benefits I have experienced are not as dramatic as yours, this is one of those side-effects I have loved about Bikram. As a person whose brain is always going going going, I love that class is tough enough that I don’t have the mental energy to focus on other things. As a result, I’ve learned how to choose to slow my brain down and focus…. at least some of the time.

    I look forward to reading more!

    • Hi Jess! No worries at all – always happy to provide dialogue distraction :) FYI, I really wanted to comment “OMG I LOVE YOUR HAIRCUT on your last post. But I thought that would have been slightly… strange… as a first comment. (But srsly, I LOVE YOUR HAIRCUT).

      I’m so amazed by people going to teacher training – I’m really looking forward to following through your blog and experiencing it vicariously. Good luck and have fun!!!

  5. This was wonderful. So moving. Thank you for sharing this. You are such a talented writer! I look forward to following your blog :)

  6. Thanks for pointing me to this post. It means a lot to me to find others being so honest about things that I have felt before and can relate to. You may have sparked a new blog in me about why it is I practice yoga.

  7. […] her post here she talks about the benefits of Bikram yoga (hot yoga) in her life and why she is so dedicated to […]

  8. Congratulations & well done! You write so honestly and effectively it’s a pleasure to read


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