Meditation pro Light Watkins’ new class A Meditation Expert’s 14-Day Guide to Creating a Daily Practice kicks off this week, so we’re taking a closer look at the transformative power of meditation and how it changes people’s lives for the better through personal stories.
Before taking up yoga and meditation in 2010, I took a daily cocktail of four different kinds of anxiety medications and antidepressants. I was also taking Adderall recreationally and smoking up to a pack of cigarettes a day, which are stimulants. My nervous system was on overload.
But on the first day of my yoga teacher training, I went into my medicine cabinet and threw everything out in one fell swoop, something I would highly advise against. I thought taking up yoga would immediately heal me, but I was wrong.
I'm so tired of hearing the "and then yoga changed my life" story over and over. You know what? I was a mess for five whole years after leaving my job in the fashion industry. I was perpetually anxious, severely depressed, and engaging in extremely destructive behaviors all while practicing and teaching yoga. I was endlessly searching for the happiness that these practices promised. But I just felt worse and worse while everyone else seemed to be feeling better and better around me.
Yoga as a destructive force
I began learning way too much about food, health, wellness, cleansing, and the body, in a way that is intended to be beneficial but was really fueled by fear. I had developed an eating disorder in the fashion world, which developed into orthorexia. I became infinitely more anxious because I was afraid to eat, do, or say anything that wasn't on the wellness world's list of "approved items."
At one point, I was so afraid to eat anything that I ate only meat and greens for four months. No fats, no carbohydrates, no nothing. I was afraid of eating anything that was acidic because god forbid I ate something nonalkaline. I was terrified to go out with friends because I might be tempted to, you know, have fun.
Finding a yoga and meditation practice that worked for me
When I started practicing Kundalini yoga in 2015, it was the first time I began to feel empowered by my yoga and meditation practice rather than restrained, restricted, and riddled with fear. I began to learn how the mind actually works, how the body actually works, how we create our reality, and most importantly, how our emotional state is the causative factor for our physical well-being.
I was doing all the right things, but I looked and felt like crap.
If we look at the baseline frequency of anxiety and depression, we see that anxiety is worry about a future event and depression is a melancholy over something that happened in the past. I learned that my constant state of worry was taking a massive toll on my hormones, my immune system, and my overall well-being. I was doing all the right things, but I looked and felt like crap.
As I began to learn more about the body and the mind through the Kundalini yoga practice, I started to feel empowered. Kundalini offers hundreds of kriyas and meditations to work with whatever you're dealing with. When I first started, I was stuck in very strong, addictive behaviors: smoking, worrying about food, self-mutilation, the list goes on.
I added in three minutes of the addictions mediation, and within two weeks I couldn't even stand the smell of cigarette smoke. I fought it because I love smoking (bet you weren't expecting that one), but every time I would have a cigarette my throat would get extremely itchy, my allergies would act up immediately, and then finally, after three weeks, I developed the most intense gag reflex whenever I would smoke. I didn't even try to quit the smoking; I just added in the meditation to heal addictions, for three minutes. That's it.
A year and a half later, I can't say all of my anxieties and depression are completely gone. I'm human. But what I can say is that through these practices, I've been able to develop enough strength and power to navigate these human experiences and very real human emotions, and I don't let them take over my life. I have been able to get subtle enough through my practice to be able to pinpoint the exact emotions that cause me to feel anxious rather than falling victim to random anxiety.
Some days, I still get depressed over something and need to sit on the couch watching New Girl until the cows come home. And you know what? I'm OK with that because I'm human and I am doing the absolute best I can. Those days, however, rather than happening multiple times a week now happen once every few months.
The beauty in these ancient practices is that they don't promise happiness, even if the industry says otherwise. What they do offer is a technique in which we can build some power in our system so that we can choose happiness. Happiness is a choice, not a prize. The question is, are we strong enough to choose happiness no matter what is going on?
I think so.