January 30, 2014

How to Transform Our Anxiety into Awareness. ~ Stephanie Athena-Marie

I am the first person in the room.

I like to arrive early so I can settle into my body and position myself in the front row. I am such a people watcher that if I am not in front I will observe everyone else the entire duration of class.

I settle down onto my yoga mat, waiting for class to start. My inhales and exhales mirror the sound of the ocean, well, a tiny ocean. The rhythm of my heart is slow and at peace.

I hear the door behind me open and the next couple of students come in and begin setting up their space. As the room starts to fill, I notice my heart begins to speed its pace. I know it is only moments before class will begin. I can’t help but sense the tiny flicker of anxiety as it shows up in my body.

The anxiety has nothing to do with the people around me. This is about me, being in my body, and the memories that my body has.

Yoga is many things. So is life. Both require us to be fully in our physical form in order to participate in all they have to offer. This one little factor is not so easy for me. I don’t quite like being completely in my body. At times I feel physical pain, I feel difficult emotions, and I feel discomfort.

Sometimes when I am not paying close enough attention, I will feel the discomfort of others as well. However, these are the challenges, the opposite to all of the amazing experiences I can have with my body. I can’t change the memories my body has. These memories are there to remind me what was “too far, too much, too hard,” and some of these memories are there to remind me of what I never want to experience again.

But what do we do when these memories lie dormant in our body as a bundle of dry firewood just waiting for a spark? We might even be able to time it to the second when we know the familiar feelings will be lit.

I don’t want to continue to feel my past throughout the rest of my future.

When I notice this old familiar sensation, this is what I do: name it, blame it and reframe it.

Name it.

Give the anxiety a name.

Call it out in to the light and identify exactly what it is that is bothering us. I notice a tiny amount of anxiety before my yoga asana class because it will challenge my physical body in strength, balance and endurance.

I must be completely focused within my body in order to meet the challenge. I am not perfectly bendy. My own body gets in my way much of the time. I do not have control over what postures the teacher chooses. I am in a room full of my peers.

These are the names of the anxiety I experience: challenge, focus, perfection and control.

Blame it.

Now, I am not a fan of “blaming,” simply because I believe we choose our experiences based on the lessons that will balance us and help us grow, but it works for this purpose and it rhymes (wink).

If you don’t like the word blame, substitute the word “explain.”

After we have named our anxiety we can locate where it may have originated. Some of the “challenge” and “perfection” anxiety comes from the previous classes I have taken where I did not honor and listen to my body. My body wanted to stop or slow down, but instead I pushed through these warnings. This led to me hurting myself or stumbling and fumbling through a pose.

As a result of my past follies, my body now experiences slight anxiety before class.

Reframe it.

I have named the anxiety, blamed the anxiety, and now I can reframe the experience.

Instead of allowing my body and mind to continue expressing these old patterns, I want to reframe the moment in a space that I can learn from.

As I am waiting for class to start, the old anxiety starts to seep into my muscles. I immediately turn the light of awareness onto these uncomfortable sensations, set the anxiety outside of my body, and remind myself that this time it’s different.

This is a different moment than any other I have experienced, and I don’t have to relive my past.

I want to reframe this time with intention and interaction. I intend to listen to my body. I intend to push my concept of what is comfortable, while staying within the lines of what is healthful and helpful.

I intend to interact with each moment. As each breath moves my body into a new experience, I will interact with that experience with honesty, compassion for myself, and intention.

This example of anxiety was small compared to anxiety I have experienced before, but we all know size doesn’t matter (double wink).

No matter the setting, a little awareness and intention can go a long way. My whole body’s health—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual—is top priority. I keep this in mind and remember that at any time I can stand up and leave a situation that is not aligned with who I am, my intentions and my priorities.

I encourage myself to grow in the moments that are uncomfortable and I seek grounded situations to explore my boundaries.

We all experience anxiety, but let’s allow ourselves to move beyond our past by creating our future one present moment at a time.


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Assistant Editor: Laura Ashworth / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant archives


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Stephanie Athena-Marie