I've struggled with chronic anxiety since I was a teenager. I used to make myself physically ill because I wasn't able to control it. Until I was in my 20s, it didn't occur to me that there was a name for what I was living with.
When I was finally able to put a name to what I was feeling, I felt both relieved and terrified. What did that mean for my life? Was this ever going to stop? Would I need medication? Would my personality be altered if I did need medication?
All of those questions simply made my challenges greater. I started to see my anxiety as a problem I could never overcome. I began talking to my support system of friends who had shared their anxiety struggles with me. One of them mentioned she regularly practiced Bikram yoga to take the edge off.
I had always admired yogis. I loved their grace, ease and the peace they seemed to radiate. I decided I wanted a slice of that joy in my life.
As I stepped into my first yoga class, I had mixed thoughts. Would I be judged, or would it bring me the peace I had been searching for? I was so unsure of myself. But, I decided I needed to give it my all.
I rolled out a borrowed mat from the studio, sat on it like a stooge and waited for class to begin. All around me were these beautiful bodies, stretching and moving through poses that looked like they might have been acrobatics. I was instantly intimidated.
Class began in child's pose. I took to the position and listened closely to the instructor. I was told to clear my mind, and to acknowledge and let go of any passing thoughts. That sh*t was tough. My head is constantly full of thoughts that I wish would go away.
Now, I was being told I had to manage to get rid of them. Great. The class continued into more and more challenging poses. With each new pose, I stumbled, faltered and even fell right onto my ass. All this time, I was still told to keep breathing and quiet my mind.
Toward the end of the hour-long class, we were told to take corpse pose. You lie flat on your back, with all four limbs relaxed and extended. You can't move, your eyes are closed and you're totally relaxed. Again, I was told to quiet my mind, focus on my breath and enjoy this earned moment of peace.
Then, the unexpected happened: My mind shut down. For a brief moment, I simply lay there, enjoying my own company without a thought in the world. It was brief. I think I lasted maybe a minute before my thoughts came back like waves crashing against the shore.
But having that one small minute of calm in the middle of my storm was profoundly moving for me. If I can train my mind to find peace during an incredibly uncomfortable situation, what else can I get it to do?
Since that class, I have been an on-again, off-again yogi. I can tell when I owe myself some time on the mat because my thoughts get overwhelming. Once I find myself back on the mat, I find my calm. I am able to take the lessons from my yoga practice out into the world and apply them to my life away from the studio.
Just like it is in class, when I am in a stressful, hurtful, dark situation, my yoga practice tells me to breathe. I hold on to my peace and quiet my mind. I am able to move through life gracefully, like I do while I transition through the asanas. I am able to stand at the top of my mountain, knowing I can find peace.
Yoga saved me from my thoughts. It gave me my peace. I encourage anyone who struggles with anxiety to try it. Let go of your judgements and insecurities, and allow your mind that peace and comfort. However, I am of the opinion that you should never deny yourself medication or a doctor's advice. This can simply be another tool in your shed to help you find your calm.