Anxiety first entered my vocabulary in my sophomore year of high school when I took an Intro to Psychology course. It thrilled and relieved me to learn that there was a word for a condition that I experienced a lot, and even more so, the fact that a lot of people experience it. And therefore there is a huge market for its treatment, most available in the form of pharmaceutical drugs.
Feeling anxiety was part of my everyday reality and I never thought about “treating” it until I realized that other people I knew were because it was helping them feel better and more confident about themselves. But what could I do to treat my anxiety other than go to a psychiatrist? I was never interested in going that route; the idea of using meds to control it didn’t mesh well with me. I wanted something more easily obtainable and that aligned with my preferences for natural living.
Yoga came into my life in my sophomore year of college. I needed credits and I was fortunate to go to a college that offered yoga as a class. On top of that, my school was in Palos Verdes, California, so naturally there was a swimming pool next to the auditorium where the class was held. On some hot afternoons, some of the students would wear their bathing suits underneath their gym clothes and we’d jump into the pool after class. Those were some awesome times.
Several weeks into it, I saw that my movements were more coordinated and my posture was more upright. (I was always the tall, lanky kid and slouched as a teenager). My low back pain dissipated. Yoga was beginning to change me, but the changes weren’t limited to the physical realm. My thoughts and speech were more coherent and there was a bounce to my step. I smiled often and gave more hugs.
I also took notice that I was feeling more at ease in my social encounters; I felt more at-home in my body than I ever had before. I was generally more relaxed and cheerful, and I noticed that the people around me felt more at ease. My anxiety was diminishing. Of course it didn’t totally get eradicated; to this day it challenges me to stay balanced. I have to practice regularly to continue enjoying the benefits.
This was one of the hardest lessons I learned about yoga: it is a practice. It means doing it regularly; it means you are devoted to your highest good. Cultivating a regular practice did not come easily to me, and I still grapple with today. But by making small changes, I am able to get a little yoga into my daily life with a home practice. Take these three simple steps to make it part of your life:
1. Keep a yoga mat rolled out on the floor in a dedicated space in your home where you can easily access it. My yoga mat lays in my bedroom. I love to play gentle music with a beat, like East Forest while practicing to deepen my focus. I also love to diffuse some beautiful essential oils in my room to anoint the space with healing aroma. Creating a small altar space next to where you practice can enhance your practice. Add pictures or statues of teachers and symbols that resonate with you (like a guardian angel, Ganesha, Buddha, David Bowie), beautiful things that you love (crystals, art, sentimental keepsakes), and elements of nature (seashells, leaves, candles).
2. Set reminders for yourself in a calendar or planner. Seeing it written down as part of your schedule or having a reminder set on your phone will serve as motivation and make it official. Just get your ass on the mat! No need to pressure yourself with the hopes of doing a 60 minute vinyasa flow practice. Whatever will unfold will unfold. Chances are, at the end of a workday, you are too tired and may not be feeling creative to come up with a fresh sequence, but if you are up for that, more power to you! And if you are not, more power to you! Thank yourself each time you reach your mat. You deserve it.
3. If you have family or other household members that need your attention when you’re at home, the way to keep yourself from getting distracted and from missing out on a nice practice is by sheer determination and pure will. Excuse yourself from them for practice time. Remember – the more you give to yourself, the more you will be able to give to others without even trying! The more you put into yourself, the more the world will benefit from it. Allow yourself to peel away from your loved ones for 20 minutes so you can come to yourself, land on the intention to clear your mind and reset. You control your life and your time. Fill yourself up with so much love from the practice then go back out there and shower the world with it.
4. And if you still don’t get around to it, it’s ok. It doesn’t make you a bad yogi. Yoga includes bringing the practice off the mat and into your daily life by practicing non-violence, conscious breathing and being mindful. It’s the little things. Yoga expands your consciousness and therefore you are feeling the effects of it and feeling less anxious, less tense. And even if one day you notice that your anxiety is at a level 10, you know what to do; take big, slow breaths and fill up your lungs fully. Be kind to yourself. The grass is green right here, right now.