On Making it Through the Day With Yoga & Autism
I lift my toes up and separate them, pressing each one into the spongy mat beneath me. I engage the muscles in my feet I didn’t even know were there to lift their arches and find my ankles replying with strength. Pausing in this moment, I remember to breathe. Filling my lungs with sensations of sight and sound, I allow my mind to rejoice in its natural workings. Once I find stillness, my arms lift to the sky and I flow through my sun salutation. The relief I find with each transition pushes me: inhaling through cobra, exhaling into down dog and settling back to standing. I repeat, like I do most things, until an invisible timer goes off in my body and I’m free to move into the next posture.
Since I’m autistic, I don’t find moments like this a lot. Moments of stillness, I mean. My mind hinges on emergency status and until I found yoga nothing seemed to care for the chaos I kept locked away. The only symptoms I let slip out manifested in my lifelong battle with anxiety and neck muscles so stiff I generally caused concern to massage therapists. They asked, “Do you lift heavy objects every day?” In a manner of speaking, yes. Does the world count? Because I feel sounds and taste sights and my heart fills and breaks with every passing breath.
I envy the people who practice yoga for enlightenment or to show off their fair-trade, eco-friendly, bum-enhancing pants. For me, I practice yoga to simply make it through the day. To relieve the steady panic my body suppresses and to find an ounce of silence from the filing system my brain runs at a constant. Words, sounds, smells, everything stimulates an immediate search engine response with vivid images being pulled from memory banks and matrixes being drawn between. Just from your simple hello.
I look at people as they speak, but I’m trying to tune out the specific sound they make with the letter R and why their shirt is starting to unravel around the shoulder and how many times to make eye contact with them and if I should mention the sound of the buzzing light above us or not. It’s overwhelming. On days without yoga, it all comes out. It comes out loudly and without punctuation. A quick smile and quicker wit saves me from embarrassment of these hyper-focused, socially unaware outbursts, but by the end of the day my body fails from fatigue. Generally I end in tears, just as a child in need of a nap. In some ways, I am a child. For better or worse.
Yoga gives me a life. It makes my brain and body manageable, something even people without autism can relate to. Depression, anxiety, disease — the simple act of connecting your body with your breath relieves so many of our ailments. But just because the combination of asanas and pranayama relieve the personal aches that life has bestowed on us, doesn’t mean all of us want to be called yogis. It doesn’t mean we have to get an om sign tattooed on our backs or work toward a perfect hand stand. Some of us wake slowly in the morning, wondering if today will be a hard day, and somehow find the strength to get out of bed to practice. Because we know the breathing helps. We know the postures help. If only to make us feel normal. Whatever that means.