I’m so pleased that the response has been so favorable to my post My Yoga Journey. It took on a life of its own in a way that I didn’t foresee, and in the wake of that I pondered, “What will I write next about the topic of Yoga?” As I touched on in the post, Yoga has been a big part of my life since I was a child, but today I felt a renewed commitment to the practice. I felt like I became a Yogi all over again, today.
Confessions of a Jittery Yogi
Confession: I am a lifelong Yogi, but I’m also a jittery Yogi! I have very intense anxiety. As a kid, I can remember immobilizing waves of anxiety gripping my body at random when I was around 8-9 years old, and the only thing that would assuage these feelings were to make up little games I played to myself, like counting groups of syllables in words I heard spoken aloud, or repeating certain phrases. As an adult, my anxieties have centered mostly around financial insecurity.
Even peaceful days, spent doing the things I love in comfortable surroundings with the people I love most, can contain moments of keen, sharp fear like torn threads in the tapestry of what is otherwise a normal, placid, calm day and a life that I love. ‘What if’ is the phrase that dogs me. A thought occurs to me about something I fear will go wrong, and the possible consequences spiral around me in a series of thoughts that spin on and on, ‘What if?’ after ‘What if?’, as the worst case scenarios I see in my mind’s eye eclipe reality.
This year, I started taking steps to manage my anxiety like never before. I sought mental health resources, I confided in family and friends, and I feel that this year has been one of radical, transformational, beautiful healing.
Yoga and My Healing Journey
Earlier this year, I discovered the art of Yogic sleep, Yoga Nidra. I found the practice a nourishing resource. However, my relationship with Hatha Yoga has been more difficult. I pursued a Yoga teacher training program at a local studio when I was in my late 20s. I did not feel welcome at this studio, and it was traumatic. I lost confidence not only in my goal to be a Yoga teacher, but in practicing Yoga with the same zeal and self assurance that I did before. I never gave up my practice altogether, but it’s been rare that I fully surrender to the flow of my practice with an open heart and mind.
Turning to My Breath
Today, I experienced a flare of anxiety, and confided it to my sister, who is also my best friend. As usual she was all ears, a supportive and helpful listener, but she also expressed concern for me. The stress of entertaining anxious thoughts, and the distressed emotions behind them, take a toll on one’s health, a toll I have paid in the past. My late teens and early 20s were riddled with panic attacks, hair loss, and sleepless nights because of these riotous, ruinous emotions, and she was concerned that I was going down that path again.
‘Who am I?’ I wondered, as the reality of just how habitually intense my anxiety has once again become hit me.
I also realized with crystal clarity that this development was part of a larger issue: I need to take better care of myself. I used to be a devoted health fanatic, the sort of person who was always drinking some smoothie made of greens and the latest superfruit but insisting to their skeptical friends and family that it was ‘good for you.’ I sought out-and even liked the taste of!-foods that were antiinflammatory, antioxidant, etc., drank lots of water, very few caffeinated drinks, ate raw veggies and nuts for snacks, practiced Yoga, Tai Chi, bellydance, and blended my own herbal teas from plants in my backyard garden. I was the person who pressed their loved ones to get more exercise and rest, to eat healthier.
My demoralizing experience with Yoga teacher training, and other setbacks in life, had battered at my confidence and identity. I hadn’t been the person that I enjoyed being so much in the past because I had let others doubt of my abilities and rejection become self-doubt. This internal environment allowed fear to fester like an invasive weed.
Today, I felt a strong conviction that I didn’t want to let stress, anxiety, and fear make me physically sick, or dim my enjoyment and gratitude for the things about my life that I appreciate and have worked and prayed hard for. I told myself that there was something I could do to stop this onslaught of fear. I thought back to the Yoga sequence I had practiced just yesterday, and turned to my breath.
The Yogic practice of Ujjayi Pranayama is also called “Ocean Breath” or “Victorious Breath.” It calms the mind, warms the body, and can be performed at the beginning of a Yoga sequence but also maintained throughout as one performs various asanas (postures). As the aftershocks of my anxious thoughts and feelings continued, I resolved to find serenity again and spent a few minutes practicing Ujjayi Pranayama and another technique called Box Breathing.
When I returned to what I was doing before, I found that I was in a calm, pleasant, easy-going mood, was able to think clearly and rationally, solve problems and make connections, and best of all that I was present and engaged with the people around me, able to laugh and have conversation and give them my best!
“Wow!” I found myself thinking. “Yoga really works!”
I once again trusted my own abilities, after all these years. Today, I feel that I became a Yogi again, and Yoga became new for me! I am looking forward to growing more in my practice, and the ways it can help me continue to win the battle against anxiety and stress and live a full life.
In Yoga Nidra, practitioners are advised to stay mindful of phrases called sankalpas while they practice. Sankalpas are a statement of resolve that ties back into the purpose of your practice. As I renewed my commitment to Yoga, I composed a sankalpa in my heart: “I resolve to be calm, so that I can enjoy the life that God has blessed me with.” I am so grateful for my life, and once again believe that I can grow and heal with the support of my Yoga practice.
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