As a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder, there are very few quiet moments in my life. My mind is usually always thinking about one thing or another. It’s been like this for over seven years now. All this time, I have tried to deal with it to the best of my ability. I exercised daily – swimming, jogging, and aerobics, everything to try to physiologically keep my body healthy. The thing with anxiety is that it has both a mental as well as a physical component to it. This is why exercise is supposed to significantly keep anxiety levels in check. The idea is that if the person is unable to control the mental aspect of it, at least he/she can control its physical symptoms, in turn keeping the anxiety-producing thoughts at bay.
All this time, I thought I was managing quite decently. In order to prevent the anxious thoughts from entering my head I kept myself constantly distracted. At university for instance, I tried to keep myself busy by spending time with friends or going to parties. Basically, I was too afraid to be alone. Every time I was by myself and not actually doing anything, the thoughts would come back, and with them the intense anxiety. The turning point came after I had graduated from university and had gotten an interview call for the Fulbright Masters Scholarship program. Before the interview, I feared the worst. What if I can’t control my thoughts? Will I mess this up like I have so many other things because of my ‘problem’? I was scared to death and miserable. How would I forgive myself if I messed this up too? Unfortunately, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everything that I had feared came true. I found myself sitting in the interview chair, in front of a panel of people who were judging me. My heart began beating fast, my palms were sweating and i found it particularly difficult to breathe.
I left the interview room knowing I had messed up and also knowing that it was my own fault that I had. That very day I decided that I needed to do something to help myself – not a short-term solution, but something that would change my life for the better, in the long run. I had heard great things about yoga and its positive impact on mental health and decided to give it a shot.
The thing about yoga is, it combines both physical and mental components to teach the art of ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness is the ability to stay in the present moment and be very aware of yourself. It entails bringing your awareness into the present moment, of noticing and accepting what is happening right now, in this very moment, without judgment or reaction. Hatha Yoga (literally meaning the physical practice of yoga), through its various asanas (physical poses) and its emphasis on breath awareness (usually through vinyasa yoga which pairs each movement with breath) enables the practitioner of yoga to stay conscious in the current moment. In yoga, each posture is held for a significant amount of time. This can be very painful. I’ve found myself grow extremely frustrated and impatient while being asked to hold a particular posture. Some postures are more painful than others. This can also vary between individuals. For example, for someone who has greater flexibility in the hip region, a pose such as malasana (yogi squat) will be less painful compared to someone whose hip area is constricted.
No matter how painful a posture is the aim is to continuously hold it. You can of course give up, but you don’t usually want to. In this way, yoga teaches you greater perseverance. You recognize that even if a posture is painful, it will eventually end, just like anything in life, good or bad. This knowledge is enough to hold on for a few more moments. The reward of greater self-satisfaction is what keeps you going, even when you feel like giving up.
Perhaps the reason yoga is so effective in terms of teaching mindfulness is that the more you focus on your breathing while holding the postures, the more likely you are to be able to maintain your balance. The concentration required to breathe makes it difficult to focus on anything else. Your mind is unable to produce too many unnecessary anxious thoughts resulting in a calmer state of mind and body.
It’s now been seven months that I started yoga. I can’t say that I am fully cured of anxiety. That’s because anxiety has no permanent cure, just better ways of managing, to be able to live a full healthy life. Yoga has significantly improved my life for the better and it can do the same for you, if you only give it a chance!