JESSICA LEEDS RICHMAN  It took me 20 years to finally learn how to relax. I’m convinced that I’ve been stressed for my entire life. I yanked an IV out of my head on day one, and I was a stressed five year-old to boot. It may have taken me two decades to discover that I am capable of relaxing, but now that I know how there’s no going back.

I have always been someone who would be considered to be high strung and tightly wound and from an outside perspective one might still think that. But to me – and those who know me well – there is a huge difference. I definitely consider myself to be a much more chill person when compared to the person I was a year ago.

I saw a yoga nidra class offered at my local JCC and I figured might as well give it a try. This single decision opened my eyes to a whole new state of mind. Essentially, yoga nidra puts you into a state of consciousness between sleeping and waking.

It was miraculous. I felt myself detach from the physical vessel that is my body, and I suddenly I was free of all pain – pure bliss for someone with chronic pain. I saw bright colors flash in my mind and I swear I saw my spirit floating around. When the session ended I was still stuck in a whole other world. I wasn’t worried, stressed or anxious – for the first time in my life I felt relaxed.

From that day forward I made relaxation a priority. I meditated every night before going to sleep and would practice yoga multiple times a week. I read books about manifesting the life one desires, and slowly began to change my way of thinking.

I used to consider myself a realist, and in several ways I still do. But, in the past I would instinctively think of the ways in which things can go wrong and now I have shifted to thinking of how everything can go right. I have been able to truly achieve a positive mental attitude, and for all the the negative aspects of life that is a huge accomplishment.

Over the past several months I have learned to put myself as a priority, and that taking time for myself is a major key to my happiness. It’s honestly amazing how much time I have to study and work on homework when I am not overcommitted and stretched in every possible direction. Though I am genuinely interested and wish I could go to every event on campus, I have made the difficult choice to cut back. I only attend events where I sincerely think I will be contributing or getting something beneficial from going.

The irony in this situation is that now I am the person who advises my friends and family to relax and take up mediation as a form of self preservation. I am such a strong believer in not being unnecessarily stressed that I now go by the motto “if it’s not helpful don’t do it.” Why make a choice that is not actually going to benefit you? My dad has always told me not to “should” on myself. In other words, don’t stress about a choice once you make it. There are many things we could do, but not that many things that we should or actually have to do.

Learning how to relax changed my life for the better, and I hope it changes yours too.