There was a time, not that long ago, in which I was stuck in the throes of heart-wrenching loneliness and prayed to whatever was out there for some assistance. I was tired of feeling so dead inside. I walked around in a zombie-like, dispassionate state and cried out for help. This is where yoga came to the rescue and embraced me, showing me the way out of deep, stormy waters. How can a rubbery mat and what seems like a series of complicated stretches save a life you may ask? I ask myself the same question.
My lengthy journey with yoga began when I was deep in the trenches of despair as a recovering anorexic and a depressed diva. You can name any mentally-related conundrum and chances were I had it. At nineteen years of age, my entire existence was characterized by a plethora of mental health issues and an overall cynical lens on life. Happiness was calling my name but it couldn't seem to find me no matter how hard it tried. I had run out of ideas about what to do and was rendered naked and afraid. I will save you all from the background story that led me to that bleak place as it was a culmination of factors that characterize the darker side of the human experience. I would rather focus on how yoga metamorphosed my life and shook all of the nonsense out of me.
Yoga, a several thousand year old practice, fell into my lap accidentally as I was dragged into a local class by a good friend one somber, cloudy evening. At this point in time, I had essentially given up on achieving a healthy mental state because if therapy and medication couldn't fix my mind, then how could sweating and moving and breathing serve any different? Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise!
Knowing I had nothing else to lose, I reluctantly placed my sticky, new Lululemon yoga mat in the back of the class right next to my friend. With no expectations of any solace or relief from my tortured, racing mind, I just assumed that practicing yoga would turn out to be one more failed attempt on my laundry list of many. The reality couldn't be any further from the truth. In fact, without any effort on my part, the mere act of breathing and moving from one pose to another was immediately pacifying. I had spent my whole life bound by paralyzing anxiety that it was such a relief to experience peace, even if it was only temporary. Diana, my first yoga teacher, was a vivacious, soulful storyteller who led me through my first ever power vinyasa yoga class alongside countless other fellow practitioners. We sweated and dynamically moved from one seemingly magical posture to another, shedding layers of resistance and fear in the process. I had experienced an emotional and psychological cleanse like no other. And don't get me started on the connectedness I experienced on my mat.
Separateness was no longer a truth I was enveloped in. I wasn’t alone in being an imperfect human as everyone I practiced with dealt with concerns of their own. The mat was our refuge. I had grown up feeling sorry for myself, believing that the grass was always greener on the other side. Yet, once yoga held my hand, these overwhelming, inaccurate thoughts began to loosen their grip around my throat. I wasn't being suffocated by my chaotic mind for the times I showed up on my mat - and for that alone, I kept showing up time and again. Finally, I was able to experience organically what it felt like to be present in the moments at hand, with my self-sabotaging mind taking a back seat. My past and future didn’t exist when I was in this mindful oasis and it was this capability of the practice that turned me into an addict. I was sick and tired of being dominated by an abusive lover called my mind, and my yoga practice was providing me with breaks from my mental prison. I don't necessarily know if I believe in past lives, but something felt strangely familiar about the ancient practice. I knew I was in the right place and despite my severe bouts with alternating anxiety and depression that still plagued me, I kept being pulled to my mat time and again. It had something sacred to share with me and for the first time in my life, I believed in a newfound future and the possibility of embracing happiness. Each inhale appeared to take in the false story I had told myself for all these years. And each consequent exhale transformed that same story into something beautiful that steadily ignited me with hope and optimism. Perhaps I wasn't as unworthy and faulty as I had grown up thinking I was. As I closed my eyes and surrendered to the miracle of life itself and my good fortune of being alive and well, the limiting beliefs and inner wounds I was holding onto were beginning to melt away. Without any voluntary exertion on my part. It didn't have to be such an arduous mission to be happy and I was just as deserving of it as anyone else.
Each and every yoga session I partook in gave me a bit more of an inner-glow than the last. I was finding the gold nuggets I had been hiding inside of myself all along and that was an amazing, soul-stirring realization. Contentment was starting to become an inside job that wasn't so dependent on societal validation and pressures. I thank my yoga practice for helping pave the way for this fresh perspective. I still wonder how my immersion in yoga specifically healed my depression and other mental health maladies because on the outside, I was simply engaging in a series of poses in a steamy hot room. You may believe that practicing yoga is all about the asana, or the physical postures themselves and how the practice can lead to an enhanced physical appearance. I won't say I didn't love how my skin glowed like a sexy supermodel and the fact that my waist-to-hip ratio was becoming killer. That was just the icing on the multilayered cake that comprises the vastness of yoga. You could stay right there, getting a high from your new perky butt and that is totally fine and dandy. In my mind, however, it is laughable to rely on yoga for merely its' physical after-effects because there is so much more where that came from. If you allow yoga into your life, it can truly radicalize your mind, body, and soul in ways that you could have never imagined when you first reluctantly stepped foot into a class.
I know there are countless articles, books, and research that preach about and illustrate the unending benefits and wisdom surrounding the practice. There is a great deal of information out there which can serve as captivating and insightful, but there are limitations with merely being outside of the practice. In my mind, yoga is not something that is meant to be comprehended by way of over-intellectualization and convoluted philosophy. It is an experiential, personal process that needs to be felt on an individual level by way of actually getting on a mat yourself. No matter what kind of insight I may have regarding yoga, it is still up to each person to find out for themselves what this special, intricate practice has for them on an intuitive, felt level. If you become vulnerable and open to the magnificence of the yoga practice, you will be left amazed with how it can revamp every aspect of your life. A domino effect of sorts. In fact, I believe there is something for everyone in the practice and there is bound to be some form of the practice that each person can incorporate into their lives, depending on their particular needs. You may not be suffering at the hands of a chaotic mind like I was, but chances are that you can afford to try yoga and see how it can enhance your life. So pick up a yoga mat and head to a class today. What are you waiting for? You may be surprised what yoga can do for you. I know I was.
Written by Shirin Karimi Tararani
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