Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why Practice Yoga?

The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years. Some evidence suggests the discipline of yoga goes back as far as 5,000 years, when it was developed as a way to create a permanent state of inner peace.

More recently, yoga has been found through numerous studies to have benefits to both physical and mental health. Yoga has been shown to help stabilize blood pressure, reverse pre-diabetes, and even to alleviate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, all without the use of prescription drugs.

For me, yoga has been a lifeline - a way back to reclaiming my life after years of mental and physical illness.

Last fall, my anxiety disorder had gotten to the point where just going to the store or going out for a meal at a restaurant or going to have my hair cut would result in nausea, dry heaves, and a full-on anxiety attack involving hysterical crying and the overwhelming feeling that I needed to run away and hide in my bed for several hours. It was not pleasant. I couldn't go anywhere, couldn't do anything, and just the thought of traveling the way I used to was enough to reduce me to tears with worry.

I knew I had to do something. I was an out-of-control hypochondriac, my relationships were suffering, and I felt like my job performance was suffering. I couldn't sleep at night, and when I did manage to fall asleep, I would wake up periodically throughout the night, mostly unable to get back to sleep.

When I threw my back out in November, I was in excruciating pain. It just happened to be the same weekend that my husband was heading out for his annual deer hunting trip downstate with his college buddies, and I couldn't bear the thought of him missing his trip. I asked a yoga teacher friend of mine if she knew of anyone local who was teaching in my area, and she directed me to The Yoga Tree in Keene, and to my current wonderful teacher, Robin.

At first, I thought that getting back into yoga would be a way for me to strengthen my muscles to prevent my back from going out again. But something surprising happened during that first class: I felt an emotional release so strong that I began to cry.

I had to stop going to weekly classes for a few weeks when the anxiety manifested itself in some worrisome cardiac symptoms, but after those were all checked out and I was given the all-clear, I started going back to yoga class every week.

Then, twice a week. I went to a wonderful Sunday afternoon mixed-levels community yoga class, and added a Tuesday night gentle beginner/meditative class.

I started to feel better. So I added a third class, a more challenging moderate Vinyasa class on Thursday evenings.

In most classes, I noticed these feelings of both exhilaration, combined with some kind of emotional release. Encouraged by Robin, I took things slow at my own pace, and when the pose was too much for me, I did the modification.

Most nights, I returned home feeling refreshed and relaxed.

The anxiety continued, but it wasn't quite as bad. I felt like things were coming to the surface after being buried for so long, and while they weren't exactly pleasant, I could deal with them.

I had a few more really bad anxiety attacks - one during an acupuncture session, and one at a yoga class. During the yoga class, I was struggling. Robin noticed and came over to me, gently suggesting that I lay down on my mat for a bit.

So, I did. She always says at the beginning of class that whatever we do during that class is fine - even if we just lay on our mats. Even if we just sit in meditation and watch. No worries, no attachments. We're there, and that's what counts.

During this particular anxiety attack, I was seized with an unusually strong urge to run away. But I laid there, focused on my breathing, and just let it wash over me. Eventually, it went away, and I was able to get up and finish the last minutes of class.

Also during this time, I was seeing a psychiatrist who wanted to put me on amitriptylline for the depression and anxiety. I tried it for a while - it wasn't the first time I'd been on antidepressants - but it was awful. I woke up every morning for ten days with a God-awful headache. I was queasy all the time. I was barely functional on the medication, even worse than when the anxiety had me full-on.

Finally, during a session with my therapist, she asked me to remember a time when I felt strong in my own body. Other than thinking about the times when I was a kid and would tear around town on my bicycle, the first thing that popped into my head was when I was doing yoga.

So I kept going to yoga. And going, and going and going. I noticed that it got easier to deal with the anxiety when it arose. I stopped being afraid of eating. I felt strong, calm, and alive - for probably the first time in over 6 years.

I know there are people who swear by hot yoga, or Bikram, or who just focus on the physical workout part of yoga and approach it as a way to get fit. For me, that's just a bonus: being able to huff it up the hill with my son when we go for a hike, or to be able to walk up and down our hill to the post office without getting winded are both things that I couldn't do before I got into this daily yoga practice routine.

For me, though, yoga is just as much about the training of the mind to be still and calm, and to make some space in between the multi-tasking and the mental list-making and the worries that come every day. It's about being able to recognize my thoughts for what they are, and then let them go and continue to focus on what's in front of me: my work, my son, my husband.

I started this blog as a way to share my experiences and my journey with anyone who's interested in what's to be discovered through the practice of yoga. I hope it's enjoyed by many. Namaste.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing Jen. I am beginning on my own yoga journey again. It has been calling to me and I need to answer that call. We are such soul sisters!

  2. p.s. Are you on instagram? There are some yogis I follow on there who are so inspiring.

  3. Thanks for sharing your yoga story! And I'm so glad you started this blog. I see yoga being a bigger and bigger part of your life and future.