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Susan Abbattista

It was sheer joy to meet Susan last summer when she attended my retreat at Kripalu. She is completely down to earth, focused on her practice and discovering herself, and so bone tickling-ly funny! She had us all in stitches every time she shared with us what was going on for her. It is wonderful in her writing here to discover more about her journey and history.

I appreciate humor and opportunities to laugh together are precious. Thank you Susan for helping us all to take our ‘processes’ not quite so seriously and with joy and lightness.

“A child of the sixties, I grew up in a house where there was always a lot of noise and static. It seemed like there was always some drama going on, in the family or out in the world. And in our house, deep in the suburbs of Long Island, the TV news was always blaring in the background, fueling the anxiety. Nationally, we had Vietnam and Watergate. Closer to home: Fires, guns, and missing children. My mother was a constant worrier. No matter what I was doing – bike riding, going to the beach, or later, heading off to college – her words to me were always the same: “Be very careful.” So I’ve always had this low-level anxiety that just around the corner, something terrible was about to happen.

This past summer, I found myself feeling a similar sort of deer-in-the-headlights dread. I had just turned 50 and arrived at a personal crossroads that is supposedly common for women (and yes, men) at midlife. Despite the dark circles of age around my eyes, I felt myself paralyzed by the same existential questions that plagued me as a teenager: Who am I? What makes me happy? How do I want to spend the rest of my life? I seemed to be drifting. Everything was basically OK, but not terribly great. In the background, there was the haunting question: Is this it?

Around the same time, by some serendipitous turn of events, I went to the Kripalu Center for Jennifer’s Divine Sleep yoga nidra workshop. This practice of deep rest, or divine sleep, was so different from my vinyasa practice, strenuous “power yoga” done in a hot room. On a physical level, it was … well, no sweat. But still – the concept of lying down and dropping into silence seemed a bit terrifying to me. Just like the evening news when I was a kid. What kind of mayhem would I find inside myself?

At first, I was completely unprepared to lie still in the darkness. But there was a gentleness about Jennifer’s approach that seemed to encourage patience and grace. She made us feel that everything we might experience was OK. And, more important, we were OK.

After many days and many tries, I started breathing, relaxing, and visualizing. I started to trust myself, and the silence, rather than hiding behind the familiar static of my mind. At some point, I completely let go. Through yoga nidra, I went deep inside the stillness. The choppy waters of existential crisis went completely calm and I saw my own reflection in its truest form. It was the same Me, but with all the extra stuff stripped away – the personality quirks, the stories, the drama, and all the assorted history. When I let go of my attachment to everything I thought defined me, I saw myself very differently. I became a person who felt infinite joy in the simplest details (some real-world, and some purely in the mind’s eye of yoga nidra): warm beaches; the glassy eyes of rabbits and birds; autumn leaves floating in an icy-cold river. Close your eyes and relax deeply, and you’ll be amazed by what you might see. It’s a wondrous, almost magical, process that I still continue today.

I remember being a kid and building forts in the living room with sofa cushions and blankets. When I would crawl inside the little space, something definitely shifted inside my mind and heart. I’d feel both self-contained and infinitely free. I could stay there for hours, playing with stuffed animals, drawing pictures, or just listening to myself breathing. The world went on outside, but at a comfortable distance. Yoga nidra is just like that. You have a friend, and that friend is you. You are safe, and you are free.

Those are just some of the gifts that yoga nidra has offered me. I feel deep gratitude to Jennifer, and the turn of fate that brought me to the shore of pure self – tucked inside a protected, quiet cocoon of blankets – in her Divine Sleep workshop. Thank you.”