Over the years that I have struggling trying to manage my anxiety I have learned a few tools that are helpful in overcoming those immense feelings. A few years ago I found myself desperate to find a solution to my problem, for so long I was using my medication as a means to cover it up but I never sought any help as to what was making me feel this way. Now, this is a tricky area as we don’t actually know where mental illness stems from and everyone is different – for some of us it may be hormonal imbalances and for others we are left guessing. I have not been able to “cure” myself of my mental illness but I have learned ways to cope through their wrath that work for me most of the time.
Breathing techniques and meditation have been a fundamental tool for me in managing my anxiety. Whenever I feel the tell tale signs of anxiety or panic coming on; racing heart, sweaty palms, tight chest, I start by stopping. It has taken me awhile to master this technique, quieting a mind that is filled with such chaos is a difficult task and one that takes dedication and understanding. When I first started to explore meditation and breathing exercises (pranayama) I had a very hard time sitting still, I could barely last 5 minutes without fidgeting or checking the time. When I started to ease into the mindfulness aspect I felt a lot of overwhelming emotions, anger was at the forefront, sometimes I would even feel an anxiety attack coming on and other times an overwhelming urge to cry. I could not, and still sometimes struggle, do a quiet meditation on my own. I found that for this to work I needed to focus on something outside of me. I used guided meditations where I would listen to a voice to carry me through breathing and imagery, sometimes listening to calming sounds or music was helpful too. However, for myself, I needed more. I needed something that would kick my anxiety in the ass and I found it in yoga.
I realize for many of us who struggle with mental illness we also struggle with this viscous cycle of lost desire. We don’t have energy to give to things we might enjoy, which only feeds further into our angst. I had a hard time dedicating myself to my practice in the beginning and my motivation to start was actually motivated by my desire to lose weight rather than delve into the crevices of my mind, but soon after I began I was able to detect a change in my mind as well as my body.
You may have heard of yoga being referred to as a moving meditation, trying to control my body in a still meditation seemed like a losing battle. I was constantly fighting the urge to reposition or scratch an itch or keep my eyes closed, it just wasn’t working. But when I found yoga I was finally able to find something that forced me to focus on my breathing and my body, as well as tire me out physically – something I found to be very helpful in the beginning of my journey.
Before I continue I want to pause and drive home the fact that I refer to my practice as a journey. It is something that is ever changing and evolving as am I, it is not a quick fix and it is not an easy path but please do not let that deter you. There are so many different forms of yoga and many ways that it can be made accessible to everybody – every body – that you are sure to find a style that fits your needs.
When I started out I was drawn to vinyasa flow, a quick paced practice with poses to challenge your strength and flexibility (as I mentioned before I was looking for a work out at the time). I can recall moving through my first sequence, I couldn’t keep up to the video and I couldn’t hold the poses very well. When I finished I collapsed on my mat, exhausted and sweaty, and I cried. I felt like I had failed. I thought I was weak. I thought I sucked. I thought I looked terrible in my yoga pants. I thought about how glad I was that I did this video at home where nobody else was witness to it. But the next day I did it again. I wanted so badly to feel good about my body again after having my second son that I pushed through my feelings of upset, at the time I thought fitting into my old jeans would equate to eternal bliss… superficial I know.
My dedication to yoga came through finding the right teacher. Kathryn Budig.
I found her videos online and there was just something about her spirit that kept me coming back so eager for more. I joined an online yoga studio (YogaGlo) so that I could take her newest classes every week. She inspired me to try things, to fall, to laugh when I fall, to pick myself back up and try again – but most importantly she gave me the permission to tell myself that wherever I was in my practice (and in life) was good enough and exactly where I needed to be.
I remember doing her videos and almost feeling as though she was right there in the room with me, I would fall and she would say “It’s okay if you fall down…” I would get angry and she would reassure me and say “don’t let this set back bring you down, be proud of yourself for trying and listen to your body”.
These were AHA! moments for me. Never before had I listened to my body. Never before had I been able to give myself the permission to stop, to be gentle to myself and appreciate my effort – especially when I did not reach my goal.
On more than one occasion I would find myself on my mat in savasana (the final resting post) crying. At first my tears were of frustration. I wanted to heed Kathryn Budig’s messages but something was stopping me. I cried because I felt like a failure. I cried more because I didn’t know why I was being so mean to myself. But I kept going back.
For over a year Kathryn Budig was my best friend, my therapist and my inspiration. I hadn’t ever met this woman in my life. But I felt this profound understanding through her, through her teachings and through my practice that transformed everything I thought I knew.
Slowly I began to learn to listen to my body. I stopped practicing yoga because I wanted to look a certain way and continued to practice because it made me feel better than I have ever felt in my entire life. It was like a therapy session and the best workout mixed into one.
As my practice evolves I have found myself driven to the Yin style – a very slow paced practice with long holds, which is quite meditative. I have finally learned the art of quieting my mind, don’t get me wrong some days this is still a difficult task. But most importantly I know that whenever I need it yoga will be there, on the mat it is my therapy and off the mat it is where I translate the lessons I have learned through finding control over my body and my mind.