How Yoga Culture Sculpted Both My Mental And Physical Health

by Julia Guerra

I'll never forget the anxiety attack that changed my life.

I was sitting at my desk on a Thursday morning in November 2016, typing away in a Word document as per usual, when suddenly it felt like my lungs were caving in.

Gasping for air, hand to chest, everything felt tight, and I struggled to breathe.

It only lasted a minute or two, but once the stiffening subsided, I felt a sharp pain at the nape of my neck just below the scalp.

I notified my boss, called my doctor, and made an appointment for the next morning.

It was a routine checkup, focused on both my physical and mental health. I'd been seeing this physician for years at this point, so talking through these difficult moments with him was comfortable.

He asked a series of questions regarding my home, work, and social life, until he hit the nail on the head.

“You need to chill out,” he said, plain and simple.

We took an EKG to rule out potential heart issues, but the bottom line was, my type A personality had gotten the best of me.

Between planning a wedding, balancing a full-time position in the city, and somehow finding time for myself, my brain was on overdrive, posing a threat to my physical health.

My doctor strongly suggested I take up meditation, and I wasted no time heeding his advice.

Life began to feel a little less hectic after I downloaded the meditation app Headspace, but I wanted to further my practice by implementing the physical form of mindfulness into my daily life.

On January 2, 2017, I logged onto YouTube and searched for yoga challenges.

I committed to Yoga with Adriene's 31-Day Yoga Revolution and, as a result, can now attest to both the physical and mental benefits this practice has to offer.

Mental And Physical Separation

One of the main reasons I became so anxious in the first place was my inability to separate myself from any given situation and delegate what was, and was not, worth getting excited over.

I've been an overachiever since grade school, holding layer upon layer of pressure on my shoulders until my back was ready to collapse. I never wanted to disappoint others, or myself, so I set the bar high, and aimed higher.

Yoga has taught me it's possible to mentally step outside of work environments, social situations, and anything else that may be complicating my way of life, and to better assess where I stand.

I'm now able to lay out situations in front of me like photographs on a table -- organizing them by importance, and delegating what is and what isn't bringing me joy.

Learning To Breathe

Regardless of the situation, or how stressful it actually is, I tend to get worked up pretty easily.

Prior to my yoga practice, calming myself down was almost impossible, and I had a habit of taking out my frustrations on my significant other, and even my family.

Through yoga, I learned that one of the easiest ways to quiet a busy mind is taking a moment to regulate the breath.

You can do this by counting inhales and exhales up to 10, by focusing on the rise and fall of the chest, becoming aware of the sounds around you, and finding ways to silence them.

Mental discomfort negatively affects the physical body, so it's important to take deep breaths and stabilize your nervous system in order to prevent unnecessary harm.

Body Acceptance

In addition to this insatiable need to be the perfect student, the perfect employee, daughter, friend, and more, I developed a dire need to reach society's standards of "the perfect woman" since early high school.

Body dysmorphia has played a key role in my anxiety, as well as an on-again-off-again eating disorder, in which I either eat too little, or convince myself I'm eating too much, depending on how I see myself in the mirror from day to day.

Yoga is wonderful for body image because it primarily focuses on how the physical body feels rather than how it looks -- a lesson I desperately needed, and wanted, to learn.

A Sense Of Community

Social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube can sometimes paint a narrow image of what a true fitness lifestyle should be, and what that community should really look like.

As I got more and more involved in the yoga community, though, I began to see that yogis are all about challenging the body's physical strength, flexibility, and improving your state of mind.

Every experience is a full-body experience that works the mind, and fuels that inner fire that says “I can do anything.”

The second I joined the yoga community, I felt a strong sense of acceptance and support. Scrolling through social feeds and comments showed me that this was a group of people rooting for one another to advance in their own individual practice.

Yoga as a community, and as a practice, has taught me to love myself on and off the mat, and for that, I am eternally grateful.