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.
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.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Ola Weber / Editor: Travis May
Photo: Mike Baird via Flickr