I have never had a quiet mind.
Worry ripples through me and lodges itself somewhere in my abdomen.
Instead of being mindful of the present, I anxiously roll through a litany of terrible future possibilities, even though none of them are terribly likely.
I suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. In particular, I have difficulty with intrusive thoughts. For me, this means that my brain likes to play a little game of “what would be the most inappropriate thing to do right now?”
Let me explain. Imagine meeting a new person. It’s frequently a little awkward, and many feel nervous upon making a new acquaintance.
Now imagine that when you met new people, you also couldn’t stop playing stream of images in your head of you kissing, punching, spitting on, or fondling (sometimes all at once) this stranger. So far, I’ve never done any of these things, but I have trouble pushing the fear of doing them out of my mind.
Given my predilection for worrying about doing something grossly inappropriate in new settings, you might guess how my first ever yoga class went.
Not only did the movements seem boring, I also couldn’t get out of my own head, rolling through fear and anxiety.
It took several friends urging me forward before I attempted another class. They all went to a Bikram studio in town. I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income, but was swayed to try it out when I heard there was a three-class intro special.
My first Bikram yoga class made me wonder if it was physically possible for a grown woman to completely dissolve into a puddle on the floor.
My fingers were actually wrinkled from moisture. I remember thinking it was only going to be an hour class, then feeling totally betrayed as the class continued for 30 minutes longer than I thought it should have. When it finally ended, I was totally exhausted.
I probably wouldn’t have gone back. But I’d already pre-paid for three classes, and I was broke and couldn’t justify wasting them.
Those first classes gave me an appreciation for what Hades must feel like. I struggled mentally and physically. The postures were hard and I couldn’t stop trying to calculate how much longer I’d need to hold each pose.
Then somewhere—unexpectedly, mid-sweat—I realized that I wasn’t thinking about anything.
It’s difficult to express how magical that experience is for an obsessive-compulsive individual. I’m always thinking or worrying. Usually both. There isn’t a break. Even sleep is often interrupted. To suddenly be pushed out of my own mind and entirely be in the moment was one of the shortest and happiest feelings I’ve known.
After that I was hooked.
It didn’t happen every class, but I started finding a way to let go more often, and for longer and longer periods.
I’ve since moved out of Bikram classes, and generally focus on Vinyasa, but I’m glad those early classes were able to break through my barriers until I was able to let go.
Yoga has also helped me to start practicing mindfulness.
In times where I’d normally get anxious or annoyed, I try to notice my surroundings and learn from the experience.
I try to let my obsessive thoughts pass by and notice what I’m thinking without lingering on the negative. I’m not always successful, but it’s a start.
I still have OCD. It’s not one of those curable things. It comes and goes in waves with varying degrees of intensity.
Right now I’m doing okay.
I’ve got some great coping strategies, support, medication and yoga—each as integral as the other to my ability to lead a happy, healthy life.
Author: Julie Zack Yaste
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Michael Pravin/ Flickr