I cried in my first savasana. My whole heart cracked open. I remember lying on my back—myself and my anxiety totally and unwillingly exposed—involuntarily witnessing tears streaming down my face and thinking, “What is going on?"
I was in grad school at the time, studying fashion merchandising. My relationship with my boyfriend was unstable, and I missed college. I knew I was learning interesting and valuable skills, but because I had no idea where I wanted that to lead me or how I wanted to use my degree, I often felt severe and uncontrollable spurts of anxiety.
When I considered my relationship situation, career confusion, and overall sense of “eh” about where I was and what I was doing, I would experience symptoms like increased heart rate, extreme mind-racing, and a complete inability to calm down. As a result I wasn't eating food that nourished my body, and I got sick easily and often. I rarely slept well and felt low in energy and enthusiasm with my studies. My answers for how things were going were airy and non-convincing phrases like, "I'm alright," "School is fine," "I'm tired," "I don't have enough money," "I can't find a job," and "I don't have enough time."
Somewhere in that mix, I was able to finish my thesis, all while developing a stronger yoga practice. From there, I made the decision to move to New York with two suitcases, a fair amount of grad-school debt, a less-than-decent job opportunity, and an emptiness that was so dark I had very little energy to be humiliated by it. Because of the yoga practice and my newfound ability to trust the process and be honest with myself and my desires, I found myself lacking a game plan but overflowing with support.
A side effect of a more regular yoga practice seemed to be a clear path and a hand to guide my heavy heart—not to mention losing 20 to 30 pounds without even trying—I had simply learned to treat my body better and nourish myself with the right things (along with the occasional slice of pizza, of course).
This does not mean studying yoga has resulted in a constant state of bliss. What it does mean is that I've clarified my human experience and now have an invaluable toolbox for when life gets real, the tools of which I am constantly polishing, cleaning out, and adding to.
Throughout my studies and own self-work in yoga and nutrition, I have notice the following benefits and positive transformations
My relationship with food has changed.
I am more willing and ready to notice when I have moments of body shaming or when I'm making questionable food choices. I used to constantly feel angry at myself for what or how much I was eating, and it caused endless hours of suffering. I am now deeply committed to making food choices that reflect my love for the planet, whether that means shopping organic, local, or package-free.
I'm finally open to learning more about the environmental, physical, and mental impacts of food instead of turning a blind eye and acting out of convenience or habitual patterns that don't serve the planet or my body. And you know what? It feels good.
I make better lifestyle choices.
Knowing I have the power to create what I want, including the authority and permission to love myself through thick and thin, is a priceless tool that yoga continues to teach me. I have learned that I do not have to begin my day by racing out of bed to get to work or class or breakfast. Now, the mornings are a sacred time for me. I greet myself and begin each day in a way that I know will keep me feeling calm and happy until bedtime.
My relationship with others improved.
I think part of me avoided yoga in those early years because I was uncomfortable with being quiet with myself and others. I thought I needed to fill the space with conversation, music, to-do lists, or anything other than silence, but I have found that yoga softened that jittery tick. I have learned to be a better listener, a more compassionate partner, and I can more openly speak my mind without the fear of being disliked.
Best of all, my relationship with myself improved.
This is a complicated one, but I'm now willing to really get into it thanks to yoga’s lessons on compassion and non-attachment. The less I attach myself to my achievements, looks, and asana postures, the less I suffer. Period. And when I do catch myself attaching—because we are humans, not robots—I can recognize it and work with it and move along.
If you're dealing with anxiety, here are a few ways yoga and mindfulness can support you.
Meditate for however long you can, wherever you are.
Whether it is 30 seconds of watching your breath in bed after you wake up, three minutes of sitting and staring at a wall during your workday, or 10 minutes of seated meditation before bed, just do it.
Notice your breath.
Pay attention to the length and quality, or where you feel it in your body. Simply by paying attention, we can soften the breath and in turn soften the structural and metaphysical makeup of our bodies and minds.
However big or small, practice gratitude every single day. Write it down, say it out loud, list it in your head in the morning or at night or at lunchtime—whenever, wherever. It could be one thing or 10 things. Again, just do it.
We are not meant or expected to know or control every single aspect of ourselves, days, and lives. This does not mean we passively let things happen to us, but it does mean understanding that not everything is going to work out the way we expect it to. By surrendering a little bit we can choose to act thoughtfully based on our values instead of react based on our emotions.
We can all remember to stay faithful to ourselves, keep inquiring, and keep going. Our bodies are amazingly responsive, and if we treat them with care—even if and when anxieties creep back up or persist—we can learn over and over again to soften our personal anxieties and be with ourselves just as we are.
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