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March 24, 2014

I Do More Than Yoga On My Mat. ~ Jen Loving

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Many years ago when I walked into my first yoga class, let’s be honest, I was there for one thing: “The Yoga Body.” I was there to “do” yoga.

I wanted to be strong, flexible and thin—all things I believed would prove, not only to me but to the rest of the world that I was “in control of my life.”

I carried on with this quest for “The Yoga Body” for several years. You know that body I am referring to—the one that has invaded the world through television, magazines, fashion and just about everywhere else you can think of.

That body never seemed to come. What did come was far more valuable.

For many years I struggled with anxiety and panic disorder. I had been given medication to help—but it was always right there with me—every day.

I suffered from nocturnal panic attacks, which means my panic attacks always came in the middle of the night when I was supposed to be dreaming sweet dreams. They would wake me up like I had been hit by a freight train. One minute I was sound asleep and the next I was in hell.

I tried meditating on a daily basis, listening to meditation music prior to bedtime, natural herbs, special diets, exercising until exhaustion and therapeutic tea—along with reading more books on the subject than I can even name.

I am a very strong willed person and for the first time in my life there seemed to be something I was unable to control. How could that be? Had I met my match? No matter how hard I tried I could not overpower this monster.

I am a “Type A” fighter that never gives in to anything. Not being able to cure this was embarrassing and I felt like a failure.

It was at that point that I decided to travel into the scary world of therapy. Admitting that I needed therapy to deal with this was in my opinion an admission of defeat—and I don’t like to be defeated in anything in life and I certainly don’t give in easily.

My thought was that if I could zero in on the source, or root that had created this anxiety that I could then tackle and deal with the issue at hand and this problem would go away. I spent two years in therapy diving submarine depths into my inner-self that I didn’t even know existed. Through that time I reached the life development or consequences that created my struggles.

Great—it all makes sense now, right? Well, not really because I can’t change anything that has happened in the past and there is no resolution that will make it go away.

After the realization that I can’t “fix” the root cause of this problem, I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to have to just suck it up. Somehow I was going to have to figure out how to just deal with this problem riding shotgun in my life.

During savasana one day I felt a special energy—it felt as if the physical and emotional flow of my body was united. I felt a peacefulness that I had not felt in a very long time.

I left class thinking, “What was that beautiful feeling that just came over me?”

From that day forward, I kept coming back for more and more of that “beautiful feeling.” Eventually, that feeling began to travel with me, off my mat, and into my life and out into the real world.

That connectedness helped me overcome my anxiety issues that I had struggled with for years. I began to understand that if I could breathe through very difficult postures and somehow learn to find peace within myself while uncomfortable, that I could do the same in life. That knowledge, or skill, was deeply profound.

Pranayama breathing helped communicate internally to my brain that I was safe and not in a state of panic or high anxiety. When the breath is still, the mind is still.

When difficult life situations would come up (and they always will) that would have caused anxiety or panic attacks in the past, I immediately tap into my yogic breath to counter my body’s fight or flight reaction to what is going on.

So, I did in fact gain strength from yoga, but the picture of that strength had changed. Asana postures paired with Pranayama for me were the gateway to mindfulness and peace.

Although the origin of yoga is not oftentimes taught or spoken about in today’s yoga classes, I believe that if you show up on your mat over and over that the mind and body will naturally start to weave themselves together.

Did you know that only three of the 196 Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (said to be The Father of Yoga) speak to physical asana practice? That gives a valuable indication of how much more than physical exercise practice “yoga” has to offer.

What has made my yoga practice special is the understanding and application of traditional yoga philosophies—not the physical movements themselves.

Yoga is a lifetime journey of dedication, study and practice; not a means to “The Yoga Body.” It is a vessel that allows spiritual growth and refined perspective into the inner self.

I “do” way more than physical yoga on my mat.

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Editorial Assistant: Jess Sheppard/Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: courtesy of author

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