As a yoga teacher and speaker, I've made it my business to help others access joy. My inspiration came from my own experiences with anxiety and extreme sadness. My darkest moments are what led me to practicing joy.
In college, I suffered from anxiety attacks and feelings of depression following the September 11 attacks.
Life felt meaningless.
I got to a point where I'd start to cry the moment I woke up. I no longer liked my friends and felt alone. I lacked energy and was constantly smoking cigarettes. I had an overall feeling of fear and distrust. I didn’t recognize myself, and I knew I wanted to feel better. But I needed support.
I sought help from a counselor at my university. With regular meetings, I was able to explore my pain and acknowledge that I couldn’t change the past. However, I had a choice in every moment to control my actions. So I made a conscious decision to start practicing joy because frankly, being depressed sucked.
For a year, I made small changes day after day. I quit smoking cigarettes and started practicing yoga. I got a job at a coffee shop and started to make new friends. I left my toxic living situation and moved into a home with roommates who loved to cook, paint and hike. Eventually, I began volunteering at a local nonprofit and adopted a dog named Zoid.
All of these new practices helped me make a 180-degree turn in my life. It took time, but every step in the right direction made it easier to take the next step.
I still had moments of sadness or anxiety, but with practice, it was easier for me to rebound from negative experiences and bad days. I don't believe that “practice makes perfect,” but I do believe that “practice makes permanent.”
With practice, I had developed the tools and support system to enjoy life, despite the hardship and pain. The world around me hadn’t changed, but I changed the way I looked at the world. I had developed a new perspective and grace.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed, anxious or bummed out?
Here are the five keys that helped me practice joy:
1. Maximize the breath.
When you feel yourself getting wound up, pause and take 3-5 full inhales and exhales through the nose. Consciously breathing is one of the simplest ways to control your mood.
2. Move your body.
Exercising daily can improve your physical and mental health. So get your blood circulating and break a sweat. Whether it’s simple or serious, you gotta move!
3. Do what you love.
It’s important to know what activities make you happy. We all have hobbies that we love, even if we haven't done them since we were kids. Make time for fun. It’s critical.
4. Find people who bring out the best in you.
Ditch the people who drain your energy or encourage your bad habits. Be proactive about connecting with people who bring out the best in you. Or find positive role models and mentors who inspire you.
5. Practice gratitude.
Focus on your blessings. If you acknowledge all the little things you have to be grateful for, you'll inevitably feel better. Start expressing gratitude to others and consider giving back to those who are less fortunate than you. The attitude of gratitude really helps shift your perspective.
In the comments below, tell me how YOU practice joy!