I’ll let you into a little secret – yoga doesn’t always make me feel good or better! When I first attended regular yoga classes I desperately wanted to feel both of those things and the reason I first went was because someone told me it would help me to learn to breathe better. I was in my early twenties experiencing some challenging issues with my mental health which had led to regular panic attacks and feelings of being out of control without the ability to breathe very well. At the time I thought that my mental health was purely affected by circumstances which happened to be a stressful and unfulfilling job, a difficult relationship and persistent physical health issues but didn’t know where to start to deal with those things so hoped that yoga would offer some light relief and perhaps teach me a thing or two about my breathing.
The apprehension of being in a different environment with people I didn’t know was very triggering for me at the time so I didn’t honestly know if I would last the duration of the first class and on arrival I quietly made the teacher aware that I had been experiencing panic attacks and if I needed to leave she should not take it personally. I was fortunate to have a very close friend join me at the classes and we happened to choose a very supportive, compassionate and easy-going teacher who taught us enough about the practice without it feeling overwhelming. What followed were weeks of returning to this unusual space that gradually started to feel more familiar and comfortable. This regular attendance wasn’t always met with enthusiasm, there were many times when I felt resistant to turning up but there was an underlying curiosity that kept me showing up even when I didn’t want to.
Yoga had started to give me a faith in something much ‘bigger’ than me that helped me to feel more connected to the world I lived in and those around me after spending many years with persistent anxiety which led to feeling very small, lonely and detached. It also gave me a faith in a practice where I could connect with myself in a way I hadn’t experienced before and for several years I did ‘the work’ whilst on my mat, starting to find comfort in the discomfort of longer held poses and gradually found more ease within the stillness of meditation and sitting with the freight train of thoughts that often rattled through my mind. What yoga also helped me to see was that for much of my life I had been highly influenced by the values, opinions and beliefs of others (many of which I had taken on as my own and lived by) which is partly what led me to find myself in circumstances where I was disconnected from my deepest truth, love and intuition. For a long time I didn’t understand what I was disconnected from but the realization about how I had been living my life in a way that wasn’t right for me helped me to help myself. It was the beginning of a time of awakening which led me to seek support in the form of counselling and holistic therapies that enabled me to process emotional trauma and heal some of the wounds that had left me with. I finally began to experience a way of living that didn’t involve being in a constant state of anxiety or feeling depressed. This was where the yoga really began – the real practice of self-enquiry, finally showing up for myself in a way I hadn’t known possible.
It feels like the right time to share this part of my story because we are all having a unique experience of living through these times and there is a collective need to have faith in something, particularly on the days that feel confronting or challenging. We have been surrounded by sadness and loss on a personal and global scale and this often shifts perspective so many of us may already feel we have changed or feel differently to how we did a year ago. However, we are still very much living in times that are sometimes proving difficult to navigate and I am sure that deeper insight and more change will be there to greet us when we do eventually come out of the other side. The need to show up for ourselves however we might be feeling is really important, we need to know that there is something we can have faith and trust in that allows us to have our unique experiences without judgement. Whether your faith is in yoga, meditating, running, writing, nature or anything else it should bring with it a sense of allowing ourselves to feel exactly how we feel in any given moment (whether that be sad, frustrated, happy, bored!) and allow the spectrum of feelings move through us unconditionally.