After class I found myself reviewing the conversation in my mind. I shared it with the owner of the studio. I shared it with other teachers. I knew that the conversation had affected me and had gotten my back up. I knew that I had feelings about my reaction and that I wished I had been more supportive of the student and her prerogative. But I couldn't quite figure out why I had reacted the way I did.
In my mid-twenties I ended an unhealthy relationship. It was the hardest and easiest thing I had ever done and, even though it was a time fraught with uncertainty, I was excited for a brighter and better future, a hope that was soon shattered as my ex's behaviour took an obsessive and scary turn. By the time the ordeal was over, I found my life in tatters and myself housebound with anxiety disorder and PTSD. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I knew that I was severely unhappy, scared of everything from shadows on the wall to unidentified bumps in the night, and unable to function in my life, or even get out of bed most days. I needed help. I reached out and soon began weekly counselling appointments, taking anxiety medication and finding my way back to my yoga practice, which had fallen to the wayside in the chaos of the split and ensuing stalking.
My counsellor was also a yoga teacher and so my weekly counselling appointments included breath work and looking at the asanas that challenged me most, as well as tools for incorporating yoga philosophy into my daily life and thought processes, all of which helped to reverse the patterns that a mentally abusive relationship and subsequent stalking had helped me find my way into. Yoga was the best medicine for me. I was off of my anxiety medication in less than a year and back to working, living, and yes, leaving bed - and even the house - in due time too.
While giving a lecture at a recent teacher training a student asked me if I felt that my PTSD and anxiety had been "cured" (when they diagnose you with anxiety disorder/PTSD you are told that it is a permanent, life-long diagnosis because the chemistry in the brain and body has changed with the stress response being altered, and so it is thought that there are no "cures" just coping mechanisms, medications and emotional tools/habits that allow a patient to deal better with the disorder.) I paused before I answered but knew I had to say what I honestly felt in my heart. "I know that they say that once the response has altered you can't ever get it back to normal, that it will be a life-long mental health issue. But yes, I do think that PTSD and anxiety no longer affect me, and I do think that yoga played a very large role in changing that. I haven't had any symptoms of either for years now."
I could site studies on the ways that yoga, meditation and breath work affect the central nervous system, cerebral health, thought and behaviour patterns, and even physiological responses to stress or rigorous physical activity, but to me no recounting of a study could have the impact that sharing my personal experience can. Yoga healed me and without it I have no doubt my life and health would not be what they are today. And maybe that is why I struggled to maintain the non-judgement and openness that I longed to with my student that night. My yoga has been such an intense journey and has touched and healed the deepest depths of my being. In the moment, with the church-like glow of soft orange light, tranquil silence and deep warmth of the studio, a space where I have bowed to those once broken parts of my being so many times, I was unable to separate how I needed to travel the path of yoga from the way that she needed to. And that's okay. I am only human after all - divine in my imperfection but imperfect, none-the-less. Her yoga journey doesn't need to be the same as mine and no matter how amazing mine has been, or how important that aspect of practice has been for me, it doesn't mean that it needs to be the same for her. It isn't meant to be the same. And I'm thankful to her for reminding me of that and for creating a space where I could reflect on the profound impact that yoga has had on my life and be humbled by both how far I've come and how far there is still to go.
Has yoga impacted your physical, mental or spiritual health? For the month of September the Milken Institute of Health at George Washington University is running a blogging campaign to spread the word about yoga's role in health and wellness. Follow this link for more information on how to participate: http://publichealthonline.gwu.edu/yoga-matters-invitation