How Yoga Changed My Relationship with Anxiety
I think I’ve always known that I have anxiety, I just didn’t know what the proper term was for it until I was about 11 years old. With my parents’ impending divorce, I started to realize how out of control I felt of things going on around me. In my teenage years, I realized this was something I would never fully shake. If I was going to manage it, I needed to learn fast.
Over the years, I learned a variety of ways to manage my anxiety with mixed results. One of the ways it manifests itself very obviously is in my body. I hold all of my tension in my shoulders, and sitting at a desk all day does not help. Sometimes I find my shoulders up around my ears without even realizing how they got there. I constantly work on correcting my posture, rolling my shoulders back, and trying to relax my upper body. (Last weekend I got a massage for the first time in my life, and as predicted, the masseuse kept encouraging me to “relax”. In my mind I was like, “Honey child, don’t you think if I could I would?! I want to let go of the things that make me anxious too.”)
Then yoga strutted into my life. I am by no means an intense athlete–I never have been. But a few yoga classes a week (when I’m being consistent) is perfectly my speed. Let me tell you something: the more I think about relaxing, the more I can’t turn off my mind or release tension from my body. You know what does the trick? Freaking Shavasana. There’s nothing better than stretching out different areas of my body in class and then coming into that beautiful resting pose. I love it. I have dreams about it. I wish it lasted forever, because that is when I am most relaxed.
Here’s a sample of where my anxious mind goes during class: Oh man, why is my leg shaking? That’s so embarrassing. How does the instructor get her foot there? Should I be doing that? Can the people behind me see my leg shaking? I should have posted up in the last row. Do I have butt sweat? Is everybody looking at me? Oh right, I need to breathe. That’s important.
I’m sure these thoughts aren’t uncommon among yogis. I simply envy those that can turn off their minds.
All jokes and humor aside, if you’re living with anxiety you know that what works for some doesn’t work for all. My anxiety isn’t severe, but it’s there, an undercurrent running through me that I can never truly forget. I no longer need medication, and I actively see a counselor. I’m slowly but surely feeling more comfortable and relaxed in my own skin with each class I take.
What Has Yoga Taught Me About My Anxiety?
Going to yoga weekly has made me realize a few things. First, I’m aware of the tension I carry with me both mentally and physically, and am now more knowledgeable about breathing techniques and poses that can help me relieve it. Second, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of calm after my practice that most of us don’t achieve easily, and I love it. It makes yoga a special time for me during the week, a space where I can mentally and physically care for myself. When you’re living with anxiety, that’s the most important thing: meet yourself where you are, and take care of yourself.