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April 28, 2014

An Open Letter to Yoga. ~ Bonnie Schmidt

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Yoga saved my life.

Pretty grand statement, I know. And perhaps other people say that, too. I guess depending on where you are in life or what you happen to be going through, there are a lot of things that can save your life.

A good book could do it, a sign from the universe or maybe even a strong martini. But when I say that yoga saved my life, I mean it truly came to me during one of the darkest moments I had ever experienced and gave me back my desire to really live—fully and completely.

When I was in my early 20s, I really looked like I had it all together. I had just graduated college, landed my first PR gig, moved into an apartment with my fiancé and was spending my free time planning our wedding.

On the outside, I was carving out quite a successful path for myself. On the inside, I was a moment’s notice away from having a complete mental breakdown. The problem with “having it all” meant I could also lose it all—and that thought was making me lose my mind.

Soon I found myself completely paralyzed with anxiety.

I use the word paralyzed because that’s the only way I can think to describe how I felt. I couldn’t go to work, drive my car or even leave my house without a potential panic attack. Instead of having a cup of coffee in the morning before my trip to the office, I would breathe into a paper bag.

I was walking and talking and functioning, but ultimately I was numb. I was a shell of the person I used to be. And instead of wondering why I was feeling this way, I just tried to hide it. And since I’m not in Hollywood making movies you can imagine what a lousy actress I was. People started to notice. Many thought I’d stay this way.

Full disclosure—I thought I’d stay this way too.

For me, anxiety was not like other emotions. I was consumed with fear every minute of every day. I was afraid I’d screw up a pitch and get fired. I was afraid my friends would hate me if I said the wrong thing. I was afraid something horrible would happen to me if I traveled.

I was basically afraid of living. The only way I knew how to make it stop was to hide. I hit rock bottom and became massively depressed. The scariest part was the moment I decided to stop trying to hide everything. I just let myself succumb to the numbness.

Want to know what’s worse than feeling intense anxiety all the time? Feeling nothing at all.

Enter yoga.

After months of going through the motions, I decided to wake myself up. I turned to yoga because honestly it didn’t scare me. Talking about my problems, popping a pill, acupuncture…that seemed scary! So, I did yoga. I jumped right in—teacher training and all. I was desperate. I felt like my life would be waiting for me if I could just make it through this journey.

So when I say yoga saved my life—I truly do believe that. I found out who I really was on that old blue yoga mat in that little studio. Anxiety had created this fear in me of being imperfect. I had a deep-rooted belief that I wasn’t good enough.

It was almost as though I was an imposter in my very own life and any day now someone would figure it out.

On my mat I was allowed to make mistakes (evidenced by the small black and blue I acquired tumbling out of my first attempt at an arm balance). Within those studio walls I was allowed to relinquish control. I would feel almost euphoric when I was immersed in a strong vinyasa practice. I surrendered my mind over to my instructor and trusted the guidance of moving with my breath.

Turning off my mind and just moving was a foreign (read: terrorizing) concept to me. For the first time, I was able to really breathe. I was able to feel the freedom of literally (and figuratively!) going with the flow. On that mat, I challenged my boundaries. Instead of shying away from a pose because I was scared of not being able to do it perfectly, I embraced the challenge. I laughed at myself as I worked my way into, and consistently fell out of astavakrasana (eight angle pose), and I embraced the fact that I didn’t have a “perfect” forward fold thanks to my tight hamstrings.

In that studio I learned how to speak my mind and honor what made me unique. I practiced sun salutations to “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird” and created themes for my classes based on poems that I enjoyed reading. The more I got to know myself, the weaker my anxiety became. That fear of being imperfect and inept lost its headlock on me.

Every time I stepped on that mat, I left a piece of myself on it.

I learned it was OK to make mistakes. I realized I did not have to control every aspect of my life. I learned to appreciate my different perspective and instead of hiding it and mindlessly agreeing with others, I felt confident to express what I truly felt.

When I unrolled my mat on that first day, I unrolled a whole new path in my life.

After my training, I officially traded in the morning coffee for morning meditation and business meetings for yoga workshops. I can’t imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t had anxiety and if I hadn’t turned to my mat in order to free my mind.

So thank you, yoga. We’ve had an enlightening journey so far together. I owe who I am today to you. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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Apprentice Editor: Ola Weber / Editor: Travis May

Photo: Mike Baird via Flickr

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Bonnie Schmidt