Three years ago I had a vendetta, an all out jihad for a particular item of clothing and the casual way every woman under the sun would strut around in them. What could someone possibly wear that would inspire so much vitriolic hatred in an otherwise (mostly) rational person? The answer to that my friends is yoga pants. It used to literally piss me off when I saw women wantonly walking around in public, proudly displaying their shrink wrapped yoga pant asses. At one point, my distaste was so great I considered having business cards made that said “News Flash: LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS!” so I could pass them out when I saw these people at the mall and in the supermarket. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would go out in public in pants that left so little to the imagination.
Then about two years ago Mike and I joined a gym. I had done a few yoga videos in the past, so when the opportunity to take an actual class through our gym presented itself, I decided to give it a try. I only had to take a few classes to realize I really enjoyed it, but that my clothing situation was not working. Baggy athletic shirts and pants were useful while playing soccer, but were not doing me any favors in downward facing dog. So I reluctantly set out to buy myself a pair of yoga pants (purely for exercising purposes of course).
The first time I put my newly purchased pants on I’m pretty sure heavenly choirs of angels started singing. In that moment I realized that leggings, indeed, were not pants, they were a way of life. I proceeded to go out and buy long yoga pants, yoga shorts, and everything else in between. Soon enough, I too became one of those brazen women wearing their yoga pants out into the world because, quite frankly, they are too comfortable to give a shit about what other people think. I have been fully converted to the cult of the yoga pants and continue to blissfully drink the Kool-Aid.
The attire wasn’t the only benefit I discovered from starting a yoga practice, however. I also discovered that it significantly reduced my anxiety as well.
Those who know me well also know that my anxiety has been something that I have really struggled with over the years. Between intrusive thoughts, muscle aches, sleep disturbances, jumpiness, irritability, and the occasional panic attack, anxiety has been a pretty awful condition to live with. I have used medication over the years to try and manage the worst of the symptoms, but my body has always been very sensitive to foreign chemicals including caffeine, alcohol, and most prescription drugs. This has made it incredibly challenging to find something that helps the anxiety without causing a slew of other side effects.
Also, I just hate to take medication in the first place. Despite being a social worker and trying to break down the stigmas associated with mental illness, I can’t help but feel abnormal or broken by my reliance on medication to function as a regular human being sometimes. I know on a professional level that taking medication to correct chemical imbalances in your brain is not “weird,” but in my personal life, not being able to manage my anxiety without the use of drugs sort of makes me feel like a failure as a person and a counselor (after all we are supposed to know everything there is about mood management and coping skills).
So imagine my surprise and delight when I realized, that after four months of practicing yoga regularly, I wasn’t as jumping at every little noise, my neck and shoulders didn’t ache all day every day, and I didn’t seem as snappish and angry anymore either. In fact, I felt emotionally better than I had in years.
This was fantastic! I finally found something that could regulate my mood safely and effectively. Not to mention I was getting stronger and more flexible too which added to my self esteem and feelings of wellbeing. Things were really looking up.
Then I started grad school.
The funny thing about going back to school while you are still working full time is your world literally revolves around how and when you can squeeze in doing homework in an otherwise hectic schedule, and even then sometimes it still feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. On the rare occasion when I had a night off, I either spent much needed time with my family or went to bed early. These basic needs were luxuries that I could hardly afford during my time as a Masters student, which meant that all other helpful activities, such as my yoga practice, fell to the wayside. For two years I stopped practicing yoga almost completely. I was just too exhausted. Sure enough, stress, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits took their toll on my body and my old friend anxiety came back to visit me once more. Anxiety just couldn’t take a hint that I didn’t want to associate with it anymore. I tried to tell it to hit the road, but it fought back and the results weren’t pretty let me tell you.
I am happy to report that this very frustrating chapter in my life is now coming to a close. I graduate this coming Friday and I will be liberated from the vicious homework/work all the time cycle. I have more free time now than I know what to do with, which is partially why I decided to take on my adventure year project again, as my brain likes to be a busy beaver and needs something to occupy itself. With a focus on healthy habits this month I decided I wanted to re-establish a regular yoga practice.
Initially, I experienced some resistance from my body. I lacked motivation and almost felt afraid to start. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I was dragging my feet so much when I knew for a fact that it would help me feel better. After some careful examination I realize that it wasn’t my body throwing up roadblocks, it was the anxiety. Like any other abuser it felt threatened by my desire for autonomy. It knew if I went back out into the world and started engaging in healthy habits again I might find a way to rid myself of it for good. Anxiety wasn’t going to stand for that, anxiety wanted to control me by preventing me from seeing other people- namely yoga.
Sometimes the only way to break a toxic relationship is to take extreme action. Last month I was on vacation for an entire week while the kids I work with were on spring break. During this time I decided to put myself through a yoga boot camp of sorts. I had a coupon for a free week of classes at a local studio and I forced myself to go almost every day. Yes, I ended up tired and sore a lot, but I also started singing and laughing more too. I knew that for my own piece of mind yoga had to be here to stay.
Sticking to a new routine is not always easy. I have chosen to try and develop a daily yoga practice, even if it only means 10 minutes a day sometimes. For me this is better than striving for a smaller number such as 3 or 4 times a week because I always manage to find an excuse to put it off until later. As a result, later often never comes and before I know it I have missed days or weeks before I get back on my mat. With a goal of daily yoga I can only put it off so long before time runs out. I haven’t been perfect so far this month and that’s ok. I am still getting more exercise than if I had no goal at all and that’s still just as important.
While my vendetta against yoga pants is gone, it has been replaced with a desire to rid myself of my most hated enemy. I served my anxiety an eviction notice because I refuse to be its punching bag anymore. I’m not alone in my fight anymore either. This time I will fight anxiety with yoga by my side. While yoga might has the reputation of being a lover, not a fighter, I can tell you for certain that all those chaturangas have made it crazy strong and I bet you anything it could throw an awesome right hook if it needed to. So goodbye anxiety, we’re officially breaking up. I’m off to do some sun salutations with my new (and much healthier) love affair.