Okay, so I was going to embed a video of the song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” but all that popped up at first was Reba McIntyre’s version with her lovely but weird jaw thing and then a bunch of losers saying it is a Tanya Tucker song and then way down at the bottom was Vicki Lawrence and I swear, if you don’t know it’s actually Vicki Lawrence who did it originally and who deserves to be at the very top, well, I just don’t know what to think. So, when in doubt, trust Julia Sugarbaker to bring it on home.
Like most Americans, I had a love affair with sleep when I was younger. I was in my early to mid teens when I finally dragged my sorry behind out of bed one day and declared that “Sleep is my friend and I like to visit it as often as I possibly can.” Little did I know that my visits would be fewer and further between until one day they would almost disappear all together.
A lot of things changed in my life as I aged and matured. My hair and my waist grew thicker, my arms and my beliefs grew stronger, I became kinder and less rigid, and I stopped smoking, screaming, and I stopped sleeping. Yep, I stopped sleeping. What was once easy and assumed in my life became my biggest trauma – I developed a severe crippling case of insomnia in my mid-twenties. It started mildly enough: I’d fall asleep easily and wake a couple of times in the middle of the night for 15 or 20 minutes. Then the spaces between waking up and going back to sleep got longer and longer. There would be days when I would sleep fine and others where I wouldn’t sleep at all, but there was always an issue. For years and years. I tried everything – yes, everything: no caffein, no sugar, walks, baths, melatonin, teas, yoga (!!!!!,) meditation, accupressure, Benadryl, NyQuil, sleep aids, Valium, Ambien, chanting, hynosis, massage, the works. Things would work for a week or so, but even then they didn’t work completely. It was awful. Imagine it – we’re talking about 10 years of not having a good night’s sleep. Zombie bitch, that’s me! For most of these years, there was something nagging at the back of mind telling me that there was a better way to fix this. Something was telling me that if I made a change, everything else would change, too, but I ignored it.
Sometimes I can be really dense.
About a month ago things got to a point where I wasn’t functioning. I was struggling to teach. I was struggling to parent. I was struggling to do anything. I would be driving around and feel stoned out of my mind. I’d end up in places I had no intention of driving. Just … out of it. I was a mess, but life goes on, you know? I kept on keeping on and trusted that something would happen. And then, one day, something really fucked up happened and it changed everything.
I was in Savasana after my home practice one day and I truly heard something say, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you eat.” I’m telling you, sleep deprivation does some crazy shit to a person. I dismissed it until a couple of days later when the exact same thing happened. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you eat.” I desperately looked around for Shoeless Joe Jackson.
No baseball players arrived on my mat. sigh.
It happened one more time and, as daft as I can be, even I don’t ignore the power of three. I started paying attention. On the nights I had the worst time sleeping, I could look back on the day prior and notice what I ate. I’d like to say it was clear to me what the problem was, but I can’t. The log wasn’t perfectly clear, but something kept telling me to cut the grains from my diet. ALL grains, not just gluten. All of them – rice, oats, barley, wheat, EVERYTHING. No pasta, no crackers, no chips, no rice, no breads, nothing. I don’t know why this made sense to me, I don’t know why I was getting this message, I don’t know why it was so urgent and clear and insistent, but it was. My yoga practice has taught me to listen to myself. To trust myself. That greater, higher things speak to me through myself, so I better listen up. And I did. Finally.
Almost 2 weeks ago, I cut ALL grains from my diet. Cold turkey. Gone. I have replaced rice and even pizza crusts with cauliflower (gross, right? I thought so, too, but you can do AMAZING things with cauli.) I do eat quinoa because it is a seed and I have even ground that to make “flour” for binding bean burgers, etc. Eggplant and zucchini make incredible “pasta.” Lettuce or Kale leaves make the perfect “bread” for sandwiches. Anything you’d put in a wrap can be put on a fork. It has been easy for me to do this, which makes me think it’s the right path. What makes me KNOW it’s the right path for me is that I haven’t used a sleep aid in 2 weeks and I have been sleeping deeply, soundly, uninterruptedly, for at least 6 hours straight a night for the last 10 days. 6 hours might not seem like enough to you, but remember, I was going on 2! Not only that, but I feel like I’m going to soon be able to sleep longer. My dreams are vivid and reassuring, empowering, healing, entertaining. They are fun!
There has been another benefit from all of this. If I can’t eat grains, I also can’t eat 99.9% of all convenience or fast foods. I am eating almost exclusively whole foods made in my kitchen. No cans or boxes. It’s fresh. It’s healthy. It’s real and it shows. My skin is clearer, my hair is even longer and thicker (sorry,) and the ridges are starting to leave my fingernails. I didn’t realize this side effect until yesterday. My family went camping Tuesday night and I ate a bratwurst that we had grilled over the fire. Tasted great, no problem. Yesterday, however, I had the most blinding headache I’ve had in a long time – it was because of the processed bratwurst! Eye opening, for sure. When I put it all together, I laughed and laughed and laughed. It’s hilarious to me that I was eating all that junk all those years and not only did they make me crazy, they made me sick and I didn’t even know it.
While yoga alone wasn’t enough to cure my insomnia, it was a key point in it. Yoga brought me to the place where I could see the way out, just like it always does. Yoga isn’t the light, y’all. Yoga is the road that LEADS to the light. Had it not been for my practice, I’d be sitting here drooling on myself in exhaustion. Because of my practice, I am awake, alert, and aware. Oh I am aware! Yoga built it and awareness came and you can bet that tonight, when the lights go out, I’ll be just fine.
IMPORTANT: This is just my experience. I don’t know if you need to stop eating grains. I don’t even know why it works for me! Please please please don’t change anything you’re doing just because some wingnut (me) on a blog said that she stopped eating spaghetti and can now sleep. And also insert all that other stuff that medical disclaimers state.