“What if I fall? Oh, my darling, what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson
Like most people, my life has had its share of ups and downs.
My household growing up could be best described as a roller coaster. There were times of excitement and happiness, then there was the plummeting into darkness, shame, and self-loathing.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I felt that I was a mistake, unloved, and unwanted by my father. His mood swings and verbal abuse would come raging like a storm without any warning, and without any end in sight.
He often told me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was the reason for all of his problems.
I was often frightened to go home and face him. When my mother would have to go out of town, I would insist on staying with a friend because I didn’t feel safe being alone with him.
I was extraordinarily lucky to have such a warm and loving mother that provided me the love and support I needed to keep going. Despite all of her good intentions and love, though, I still found myself falling into a deep hole of depression and severe anxiety.
Some of the happier times that I remember from my childhood were the years that I was in gymnastics. It made me feel alive and free to express myself.
However, that too slowly led to destruction, as soon I began competing. My obsessive need to please others caused me such significant levels of anxiety that I decided to quit. I was only twelve, and my dreams of becoming an elite gymnast were over.
Though it was a good decision to move on from that life, I was still left with this feeling of shame because I couldn’t mentally handle the pressure. I felt that I had let everyone down, including myself.
Also, without this release, my anxiety levels continued to increase, leaving me feeling on edge and awkward in my social interactions.
As I entered adolescence, I found it harder and harder to put myself out there, in fear that others would judge me. I worried that they would think I wasn’t good enough, cool enough, skinny enough, smart enough, or pretty enough.
I eventually created this hard exterior to prevent people from getting in and knowing the real me.
I believed for a long time that this wall was there to protect me; however, all it did was prevent me from building relationships with others, or even a relationship with myself.
For many years I self-medicated in various ways to deal with the pain and to allow myself to let my guard down just enough to find a solid, small groups of friends.
It wasn’t long before I became so depressed and anxious that my family doctor put me on medications to “fix me.” They numbed me so much, though, that I medicated myself on top of that to feel alive, which of course was a recipe for disaster.
After years of taking these medications, I couldn’t function without them. I’m became so desperate to feel alive that I took myself off of them cold turkey. This was not a pleasant experience. I went through a period where I secluded myself away from my friends and family and fell back into old habits.
I eventually managed to pull myself out of that hole after some intense therapy and self-reflection; however, I still struggled daily with my depression and anxiety.
Fast forward several years, after I graduated from my Masters program, and I found myself happily married, spending time with my close knit friends again, and working daily on myself.
I had finally cut out everything negative in my life except for chain-smoking cigarettes, and then I became pregnant with our first child.
My husband and I were ecstatic, but making that final step to quit smoking so suddenly threw me for a loop. Since it wasn’t just me now, I made the decision to try something new, yoga.
At first it was hard, boring, and frustrating. I didn’t get it. I kept going, though, and about the time I was six months pregnant I was finally getting the hang of it.
I didn’t just like it; I loved it! It has been just over five years since I walked into that first yoga class, and I am so thankful for everything it has taught me.
Here are the top five ways that I believe yoga has saved my sanity. It taught me that:
1. Practice makes progress.
For someone that struggles with perfectionism, this mantra has been a lifesaver.
When I first started my practice, I felt frustrated because I couldn’t make my poses look like the advanced yogis in the room. The reality was that those yogis didn’t accomplish those moves in their first class. It took time, patience, and self-acceptance to get there, and those poses could continue to progress from there.
There is no such thing as perfect but rather always room for growth. Striving for perfection is a no-win battle in all aspects of life, for perfection is a defining wall that we create in our own minds.
2. We have to acknowledge our own successes.
I have never been one to take compliments well. I doubted them and worried that they were insincere.
Even as I became stronger in my practice, I didn’t feel secure enough to attempt difficult poses in a class full of people. I feared that someone would find flaws in them or think I was a show-off.
It wasn’t until about a year ago that I finally decided to just go for it. Since I made that leap, I have been able to grow so much more in my confidence and praise for myself.
If you can’t be proud of yourself, how can you expect others to be?
3. We need to surround ourselves with positive, happy people.
Ever heard of the phrase “You become who you surround yourself with”?
The yoga community is filled with joy, support, and kindness everywhere you turn. Although I am still not the most outgoing or social person, I embrace the positive energy every day when I am in a yoga class.
Everyone there has come there for a purpose—to better themselves. We all have our own stuff going on in our lives, but have taken a moment to come together and to take care of ourselves.
4. We can conquer our fears.
The first time I saw someone in crow pose, I convinced myself that I could never do something that difficult. I just knew I would fall on my face and everyone would laugh at me. I resisted even attempting it because I was scared of failure.
The thing is, though, sometimes we have to fall to then pick ourselves back up and try again.
Once I started practicing and finding success, I become braver every day on my mat and found that I could, in fact, accomplish much more than I ever believed I could. We are stronger than we think we are.
5. It’s okay to let ourselves be vulnerable.
There is a moment at the end of every yoga class when you lie on your mat in shavasana, with your eyes closed, and just breathe.
The idea of surrendering yourself in a room full of strangers is terrifying. This pose has taken me forever to feel comfortable in. It taught me that it is okay and actually good for the body and mind to let it all go and just be. This is when you can find peace within yourself.
It has now been twenty years since I quit my gymnastics career, and I have finally found something that has allowed me to get that same sense of freedom that I once felt as a child.
I know that every day after I finish my yoga class, I have let go of the enormous amount of tension that I constantly carry with me, and I feel content, relaxed, empowered, and proud of myself for what I have just accomplished.
I truly believe that yoga has saved my sanity and taught me how to love and respect myself. But you don’t need to go to a yoga class to learn these lessons. You can make the choice to let go of the pressure, tackle your fears, and celebrate yourself for being bold, brave, and vulnerable.
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