Does yoga really help your anxiety?
From the outside, I may look like I have it all together. I'll always tell you “I'm good" when you ask how I am, I'll tell you I have nothing to complain about (which really is true), and I generally tend to have a positive demeanor. I seem totally fine.
But like many others, I struggle with a smattering of mental health issues -- most of which I conceal very deeply, sharing with only a handful of people whom I trust greatly. Even then, I may reveal only my surface level struggles--saving the deep and the dark for the one person I trust most. And yet, even then, there is more that I may never reveal to anyone. I am an extremely private person when it comes to my emotional and mental health.
I have never visited a doctor, seen a therapist, or even told my family about my struggles. Without a proper diagnosis, I often wonder if my problems are really that significant, or if I am just being dramatic--a typical fear coming from someone who deals with anxiety and depression. Having symptoms of both anxiety and depression is a truly laughable combination--for those of you who share this with me, you know. It can be quite a challenge to feel completely alone, while at the same time, sabotaging any friendships you have (or could have) because of your crippling social anxiety. I often find myself making excuses to avoid social invitations because it is easier and more comfortable to tell someone you’re “busy” than to explain that you are terrified of meeting new people. More often than I’d care to admit, my internal dialogue tells me I am worthless and useless, but I have found something that gives me a sense of worth, that inspires compassion towards myself, and that has offered me a genuine & selfless connection to other people and their struggles. That something is yoga.
Through all my fears and frustrations, my self-doubt and self-sabotage, yoga has kept me sane. Yoga has given me the gift that is a breath of fresh air amidst my sometimes stale and hazy mentality.
I began practicing yoga in 2008 when I didn’t view it as anything more than an exercise class that I could actually enjoy. (Anybody else out there intimidated by group fitness classes?) Even though I came to yoga for exercise, I knew as I lay in my very first savasana that there was something different about yoga. Over time I began to realize that yoga is much more than just a class at the gym, so I decided to dive deeper into my yoga practice by getting my 200hr certification. Now I am surrounded by yoga -- I am a yoga instructor, I work at an amazing yoga studio, my family and friends do yoga, yoga is everywhere. You would think that by now I would have learned some profound tricks to making it past my anxiety and depression, but no, sorry to break it to you, I’ve not.
When Jess asked me to write this blog about how yoga has helped my anxiety and depression, I was like, “sure, that sounds easy enough.” But then when I started to really think about it, I realized that the effect yoga has had on my life is not something that can be easily nailed down. There is no black and white answer for me, but I will do my best to explain it to you because I know that yoga is powerful - I have felt it, I have seen it, and I know it in my heart to be true. And I want you to know that I think yoga can help you, too.
Once I realized that yoga is more than just exercise and began to really explore what yoga is as a whole (see 8 limbs of yoga for starters) my entire mentality began to change. This took time, and I still have a lot of work to do, but now, thanks to yoga, I can look at my life in the big picture. Instead of getting caught up in my emotions when I get nervous/anxious/depressed, I can say “everything is going to be okay” (and know it to be true) or “just breathe” (and know what that means). Simple little shifts in my mental state have helped me to overcome or to push through my down moments more than any particular pose--although, there has never been a time when I didn’t feel so much better after practicing.
Yoga has helped me by changing my perspective of the world. By surrounding myself with loving, compassionate, intellectual beings I slowly began to love myself more, feel compassion towards myself and others instead of anger or jealousy, and appreciate my life for exactly what it is.
When you embrace yoga as a lifestyle, and not just as a class you take, that is where the magic happens. What makes yoga so magical to me is that it meets you where you are. No matter your weight, strength, flexibility, age, gender, traumas, or fears yoga is for you. I am not saying I have it all together or I know it all, but I am saying that if you are searching for a place to start….try yoga. Learn how to love yourself a little more, learn how to see the world through new eyes, and learn a few tips and tricks to get through your rainy days because they aren’t just magically going to go away. I speak from experience, I still have struggles, but I have gained confidence through my yoga practice. The same girl who felt sick at her high school graduation, who wanted to drop out of college to avoid public speaking class, whose shoulders were perpetually rounded to close herself off from the world, is now teaching yoga classes every week without a second thought!
I could continue, but let me just finish with this. Yoga is so much more than the poses. I cannot express enough gratitude to all of the friends, classmates, students, and teachers who have shared their wisdom and love with me. Being a part of a community of people who celebrate love, health, and acceptance, and who understand what it means to be human--to feel, to hurt, to love--that is priceless, and I can say with confidence that being in the yoga community has made me feel like I belong somewhere and that I matter.
Thanks for reading,