This article was originally written for and published on YOGANONYMOUS.
I watch as the darkness seeps in through the window, similar to the way darkness used to seep into my life. Only now, it doesn’t consume me. I welcome it.
As I sit diligently in the wee hours of the morning basking in the solitude and quiet of my yoga room—my space; a small room within our house adorned with nothing more than a tapestry, a mat and a simple Buddha statue—I reflect on the journey that I have taken with yoga as my guide.
In another life not long ago, I was unfamiliar with what it really meant to practice yoga. I had participated in a few classes and found enjoyment, but it wasn’t until I desperately needed it that the spiritual aspects present themselves to me. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. During this particular time I was suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks and desperate for a cure. Prior to this point I had just managed to ride the waves—the stomach knotting, palm sweating, obsess over the seemingly inevitable doom waves. And what I mean by riding them is fighting every indication of their presence in an attempt to protect myself from the anguish.
But I knew there was something more. A reason and a way to stop looking so far forward paralyzed by the fear of believing that another attack was on the rise, and instead being present in the good that is the now—the only moment that I truly had any control over.
So, slowly I eased myself into practicing. I found a studio close by and a teacher that I trusted. I had tried it all, so I figured I had nothing to lose.
At first practicing felt challenging and even anxiety inducing. I had to work. It never came easy, and just when I thought I had found ease in the physical postures, the emotional ones proved even more difficult. Being in that studio, moving through the asanas in a meditative state opened me up in a way that I have never been opened. It left me raw and exposed in front of all my classmates. I was up close with all of the things that had previously brought me fear and discomfort—my anxiety, my inability to quiet my wandering mind, my fear of judgement over my limitations. But as I spent more and more time in this vulnerable place, I began to accept it, feeling gratitude for my humanness and my capabilities both physically and emotionally.
My time on the mat laid groundwork for the times that I felt vulnerable and exposed outside of the studio. I began to realize that the contentment I felt while practicing, in feeling and sitting with all of these uncomfortable feelings, could be carried with me outside of that and so it was.
I started using the things I had learned like focusing on my breath, acknowledging my feelings and thoughts without labeling or judgement, and finding ways to connect—to myself, to the earth, to others—in my everyday life. I felt empowered instead of minuscule and incapable as had been the case when anxiety was calling the shots. I had witnessed firsthand my ability to overcome. And the craziest thing? I was even able to use yoga to find gratitude for the anxiety—for protecting me when danger was a real risk, and for reminding me to come back to the present when it was not.
It’s hard to remember what it felt like to be consumed by anxiety and always lying in wait for the next attack, but what isn’t hard is remembering how yoga saved me from that.
The thing about practicing yoga is that it opens you up. It takes you on a journey closer to and inside of yourself—your thoughts, your desires, your personality—and it gives you the strength and the knowledge to connect with and be who you are at your highest potential. And it sure does work on your posture.