Almost 17 years ago when I first moved to Kansas I was suffering from some unnameable disease. I didn’t sleep, I was nauseated daily, I had headaches, I turned over a problem incessantly in my mind and couldn’t seem to put it down. I was positive I could just think my way out of my problems. I had random chest pains and as a stay at home mom my world started to get smaller and smaller until one day I realized the only place I went was the grocery store and occasionally to my in-laws for family dinners. After several less than helpful doctors and lots of testson I saw a commercial on tv with a cartoon woman sweeping up words. Her words; nausea,exhausted, restless, worrisome thoughts, insomnia, were all my symptoms. I thought, Hey! That’s me!! There were some I hadn’t identified, but were definitely issues for me. The announcer’s voice declared that if I had these symptoms I might be suffering from anxiety. I quickly found a wonderful therapist who confirmed it and I was on the road to recovery. Right?
I soon found that managing my anxiety is a lifelong process. For me, it’s not a one stop cure. I wasn’t content with the side effects of the drugs I was taking. I had some mild, nagging feeling that there was a better choice for me. One day I stumbled into a yoga class and my life changed. Yoga was where I’d always wanted to be, I just didn’t know it. I started taking several classes a week and then a class every day, sometimes twice a day. I loved yoga. I loved the way my body buzzed and felt energetic, but my mind felt more focused and calmer. I loved how my body started to look. I loved the smile I would get in the middle of class. If I felt guilty about leaving my husband and daughter to go to yoga and tried to stay home my husband would gently push me out the door saying “Go. You need yoga.” The truth, I later found, was that he needed me to go to yoga cause I was such a happier more reasonable person with regular practice.
One day, and without medical supervision, which I do not recommend, I went off the Zoloft. I didn’t taper off and I felt awful for a few days and later learned that it’s dangerous to do it the way I did it. I also felt strangely powerful. I didn’t get it right away. I didn’t realize that yoga was the key and those were some yucky weeks while I was adjusting to getting off the meds and skipping yoga and having lots of mood swings. Eventually, I found that I could manage my anxiety with my yoga practice. Slowly I started seeing that the things I was learning on the mat transferred to my everyday life as a mom and wife.
About a year later, when I was ready to go back to work my teacher asked if I’d be interested in teaching yoga and as they say the rest…..?
Except, of course it wasn’t. It isn’t history and it wasn’t an easy road. I found that when I taught I didn’t tend to myself as well. And that gave the anxiety a little crack to peek through.
It’s taken me a lot of years to realize I’m the best teacher when I’m diligent about my private practice. I tried teaching power yoga for awhile and it just didn’t fit. My teacher said “You know Melissa, we’re all pretty good at pushing ourselves. We’re not so good at slowing down and being quiet.” The wisdom this woman imparted without even realizing the lifeline she was giving me!
It didn’t stick right away. What worked for me as a practitioner didn’t feel right for my teaching. I was young and energetic and I wanted to teach a young and energetic yoga. Slowly, really slowly, I learned to be still and quiet in my teaching as I had my own practice. I realized my strength was in what my teacher always said to do “teach what you know”.
I know anxiety. Anxiety is my night-time companion, my first good morning of the day and my friend on all my drives. I know the sleepless nights, the crying, the feelings of being overwhelmed and that nothing will change, the nightmares of terrible things happening to my loved ones. I know the headaches and nausea, shoulder tension and neck pain. I’ve had blood tests upon blood tests, CAT scans, been gluten-free (which still may be a good idea), sugar free and vegetarian. I super-hydrated, drank alcohol at certain hours of the day, napped through playgroups and fasted. I know anxiety and for some reason anxiety seems to love me.
So, I teach yoga for anxiety because it’s where I feel most of service and it’s what I need. I need to remember that for me, anxiety probably isn’t going away, but it is a manageable disorder. Teaching students with anxiety keeps that in the forefront of my mind. It also helps me see how far I’ve come. I watch you walk into a yoga space tired and antsy, you’re often twitchy and do things like hold your breaths without realizing it. After working with you for awhile some of that drifts away and your life starts to change.
Teaching you helps me be present with the fact that I can have the life I want without anxiety showing up at parties and when I’m walking down a busy city street. I can have fun and anxiety can watch, but she’s not invited to play.
And knowing my anxiety as well as I do makes me powerful. Cause mine isn’t like yours, but they’re cousins and I’ve learned about this family and I can be of service. I can help. Everyday that I hear from a student or client with anxiety and they tell me that life is better because of something I taught them through my experiences with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, mediation, yoga practice or breathing makes me extremely satisfied and makes me feel like I have been of service. I’ve helped. And other than kick anxiety’s butt, it’s the best feeling I know..
Breathe, a yoga group for anxiety/depression starts Oct 14, 2015 in Salem, MA. For six weeks we’ll discuss, breathe deeply and learn yoga poses to help us manage our emotions. For a description, price and more details, check out the website.