Anxiety shows up in many ways: crippling self doubt, impulsive decision making, inability to sleep or unwind. For me, it was the constant voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t good enough. Then, observing every interaction to be a confirmation of that voice, that I wasn’t good enough. Even when the interaction had nothing to do with my worth. And so the cycle continued.
I had felt self conscious from a young age and didn’t label it as anxiety until later in life. A key shift in my anxiety journey happened for me when I was fifteen, a cheerleader in high school, we had a special teacher come to our practices. For one hour every day, we would quietly stretch and hold poses and breathe. This was my introduction to yoga.
My yoga journey has come a long way over the last fifteen years, but this introduction was the first thing that made me feel the anxious voice in my head quiet. Even if only for an hour. My relationship to yoga and to my anxiety have had their ups and downs over the years, but I can say undoubtedly that yoga helped assuage my anxiety by forcing me to slow down, listen to my breath and my body, and learn nonjudgement.
In the fast paced world that we live in, where more is always better and to sit still is to perish, I found my anxiety is usually fueled by the quickness of day to day tasks and the thoughtlessness involved. By choosing to step on to my mat, I choose for however long that I am focusing solely on one activity. My phone is turned off, I am unavailable to the outside world, and the only decisions I have for that time were the level in which to enter a pose. I turn my brain off and listen to the instructor.
By choosing this activity, it is a simple restart button for me. I exit class with joy in the stillness and the ability to choose the pace at which I want to inhabit this life. Yoga gives me the ability to slow down the thoughts and recognize what’s true and what’s not. This helps me sort through the anxious voice in my head. It’s also how I tune more into my breath and body.
Slowing down was the first step in helping my anxiety. In the slowness, I was able to hear, not only my anxious thoughts, but also my body and breath for the first time. Once I was able to tune out of the anxiety, I was able to tune in to my breath and body.
The body holds our wisdom. It has encountered every minute of our lives, it has seen our traumas first hand. It is the first line of defense from trauma, oftentimes leading to stuckness in the body. By slowing down and really tuning in to the body, we can hear it’s needs in the form of soreness or tension in certain areas. By completing the poses in yoga, we sit in that tension. Not from a place of pain, but rather a space of curious discomfort, we release the tension and trauma from those areas.
Similarly to the body, listening to the breath is the first step in meditation. Through yoga, I learn to pay attention to my breath, recognizing when I drift off or when an intrusive thought comes in. I can feel the anxiety exit me just by tuning in to my breath and body. It takes the curious ability to listen and experience it nonjudgmentally.
Once I was able to tune out of my anxiety, and into my breath and body, I realized that I was not alone in this. That most people experience varying levels of anxiety and that we are all stuck in our own head about it. I learned to extend grace to myself and to others in a practice of nonjudgement.
Similarly to mastering a certain yoga pose, everyone is at a different stage of their journey, myself included. The level of the pose isn’t indicative of my “goodness” or “badness”, it was where my body is at in this particular pose in this specific class. We are always in flux; our bodies, our minds. And we always will be. This knowledge is what aided in the decrease of my anxiety and fear relative to myself and others.
Yoga has many benefits, for me, it’s the quiet inner world of mine that I am able to tap into, poke around in, and set intentions. I’m able to hear my true self, and not the voices of who I “think” I’m supposed to be, but rather the whispers of my own self telling me that everything is going to be OK.
California Associate Clinical Social Worker #ASW100012
Under supervision of:
Javanne Golob #77915
San Francisco, California
I am a clinical therapist specializing in providing personalized care for individuals seeking support in addressing their mental health concerns, including trauma and addiction.