Chefs aren’t known for having an abundance of spare time, but for a few years I devoted most of mine to creating a fantasy world (literally) and writing a young adult story set in that world. I’ve long nursed the dream of publishing a novel, to legitimize my lifelong habit of needing acceptance from others in order to feel worthy. I queried agents, submitted to publishers, paid to get professional help with my poorly-written synopsis, and attended a few webinars. My manuscript was met with slight interest here and there, excitement overtaking me each time. But those doors, it turned out, didn’t have any treasure behind them – only empty rooms. In the end, I was left with a five-gallon bucket of rejection slips: proof of more failure, claims the incessant ego-mind.
At the same time, I was working long hours, doing physically-intense, repetitive work – the kind that can take a serious toll on the body over time. I did not take very good care of myself in my twenties, and my body’s response was to start falling apart in my thirties, one piece at a time. I was in and out of physical therapy – and on escalating doses of anti-inflammatory drugs – for years. I worked full-time kitchen management hours through plantar fasciitis, ankle tendonitis, metatarsal tendonitis, trigger finger, a damaged meniscus, and a back injury, putting me somewhere in between “All-star Athlete” and “a hunched-over version of Frankenstein”.
As grueling as each injury was, it was the back injury that changed my relationship to my body in a lasting way. It made me see that I had a false perception of my own strength, and revealed how weak my core was. I’ve never felt as vulnerable or helpless as I did when I hurt my back. I closed my eyes, looked into my future, and it scared the wits out of me. I knew it was time to start taking care of myself on a much deeper level than I’d ever considered.
Yoga Nidra was the first form of yoga I ever tried. It was winter in upstate New York, during the time of my back injury. I would come home from work, take off my back brace, crawl into bed, lie on my back, close my eyes and listen to a guided 1-hour session of Yoga Nidra. As I continued to do the practice over and over, something clicked and fell into place inside me.
Yoga Nidra was a tangible link between my present reality and a swirling dream of the possibility of healing. I was hanging off the edge of a cliff, but Yoga Nidra, along with physical therapy, had a firm grip on me. During the next few months it became the lifeline I would throw to myself, and pull myself up, day by day, away from that edge.
Some months later, I damaged the meniscus in my right knee and had multiple steroid injections. The drug brought a mask of temporary relief that lasted less than a month. Around the same time, I was diagnosed with “trigger finger”, a variation of carpal tunnel. The thumb and forefinger of my right hand swelled up and lost their range of motion – the result of repetitive knife-gripping over the years.
My hand was injected with a steroid, but – as was the case with my knee – the relief wore off quickly. I still remember calling to make an appointment for another cortisone injection and being told “Sorry sir, but you’ve already been given the maximum yearly amount that is safe for the human body”. I was up against a wall again, and I knew my organs were working overtime trying to process all the drugs. The approach so widely embraced by my country’s medical system was not going to work for me: medication was not a sustainable solution.
To use a sports metaphor in western medicine’s defense, though: I was not the injured athlete who sits out the rest of the season to recuperate. I was the injured athlete who was still running up and down the field all day long, making plays. The treatments may have been more effective had that not been the case, but it still wouldn’t have changed the fact that they were not an ideal choice for long-term healing.