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We offer Yoga for Anxiety workshops every few months. Why? Because we’ve been through it. You can read an excerpt below from NPR’s show ‘On Being’ for a great explanation of why Anxiety is okay and Fear is the issue. Then scroll further down to read Suzanne’s personal experience below through a series of Instagram posts we posted last year. Feel free to contact us for one on one session to learn how Yoga and other practices can help to lessen or eliminate anxiety.
Interview from ‘On Being’ on NPR
Excerpt by Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk, teacher and author.
We must acknowledge our anxiety. But we must not fear. There is a great difference. See, anxiety, or anxious, being anxious, this word comes from a root that means “narrowness,” and choking, and the original anxiety is our birth anxiety. We all come into this world through this very uncomfortable process of being born, unless you happen to be a cesarean baby. It’s really a life-and-death struggle for both the mother and the child. And that is the original, the prototype, of anxiety. At that time, we do it fearlessly, because fear is the resistance against this anxiety. See? If you go with it, it brings you into birth. If you resist it, you die in the womb. Or your mother dies.
Because to deny our anxiety is another form of resistance. The fear is life destroying.
And that is why we can look back at our life, not only at our birth, but at all other spots where we got into really tight spots and suffered anxiety. Anxiety is not optional in life. It’s part of life. We come into life through anxiety. And we look at it, and remember it, and say to ourselves, we made it. We got through it. We made it. In fact, the worst anxieties and the worst tight spots in our life, often, years later, when you look back at them, reveal themselves as the beginning of something completely new, a completely new life.
And that can teach us, and that can give us courage, also, now, that we think about it, in looking forward and saying, yes, this is a tight spot. It’s about as tight spot as the world has ever been in, or at least humankind. But, if we go with it — and that will be grateful living — if we go with it, it will be a new birth. And that is trust in life. And this going with it means you look, what is the opportunity? Gratitude is as much about being present to the moment, but it’s also, to you, about seeing the opportunity in the moment. Beyond…
And that is very difficult because anxiety has a way of paralyzing us. You see? But what really paralyzes us is fear. It’s not the anxiety, it’s the fear, because it resists. The moment we give up this resistance — and so, everything hinges on this trust in life. Trust. And with this trust, with this faith, we can go into that anxiety and say, it’s terrible, it feels awful. But I trust that it is just another birth into a greater fullness.
The Instagram posts
Brief recap of my 11 year experience with anxiety and anxiety attacks. Looking back, the anxiety was present long before the attacks… but those started when I was 20. Below I talk about some of the humorous highlights of my journey through fear and anxiety to courage, compassion and relaxation. “Professionals” told me that this was just something I would have to deal with for the rest of my life. Pause for dramatic effect……………………………..I haven’t had an anxiety attack or even the fear of one in over 19 years. Here’s why:
Ever had an anxiety attack? Seriously out of breath, about to pass out, chest pains, sweating, on your way to the ER only to be told it’s all in your mind? Or maybe you’ve been so anxious about something you felt slightly paralyzed with fear? Some people call them panic attacks. But it doesn’t always involve you panicking, does it? It’s been over 19 years since my last one. I won!!
Actually, I learned. I’ve been studying stress and relaxation almost my entire life. I’m really good at both! I can show you how it’s possible to stop an anxiety attack, to prevent, reduce and eliminate unnecessary anxiousness. And I can explain each physiological signal, why it happens and how it’s good for you. Bottom line, I want to help. It’s not just about the yoga (but that helps too). You don’t have to have any yoga experience. This yoga will be accessible to everyone.
And please stop calling them panic attacks. You’re not chaotically out of control or unhinged. Most of the time there is no panic involved. You could be simply sitting somewhere, having lunch, heading to work, getting groceries or at the dentist…..(Okay there might be a little panic at the dentist). But in my experience an anxiety attack was like a sneak attack. Sometimes they even woke me up from what I thought was a pleasant sleep!! Wtf? So once I learned what was happening, I figured out how to short circuit the process. To ‘Reboot’ my nervous system. Almost 20 years later it’s now a distant unfortunate memory, like the first time I wore nylons in middle school without shaving my legs first!! (we called it Junior High back then).
I previously posted a little about my own past experiences with anxiety. (18+ years anxiety free). I posted about my hesitation to share this. I posted about my frustration with the word panic and the stigma that comes along with it. I didn’t post yet – about how I got help. If you’ve been searching for answers… some of this will sound familiar to you. Have you tried any of these ?
First, because we didn’t have the internet yet… I asked my Doctor. I searched bookstores. I got VHS tapes, audio cassettes and health magazines. I tried everything except maybe hypnosis. I tried exercise, jumping jacks, medication, meditation, different foods, EFT, Writing, relaxation music, visualization, acupuncture and acupressure, herbal tea, anything with lavender, counseling, classes, magnesium, martinis and mantras! Not all in that order. Then… someone taught me how to breathe…. I know, it seemed too simple to me also. But think about it… Your breathing directly affects your nervous system! It’s worked for so many people….what if it works for you? Breathing Matters in ways you may never have realized.
(warning: it takes consistent practice to retrain your nervous system. It’s not complicated… but it takes dedication. Is it worth it to you?)
YOGA helps with one of the hardest things about struggling with anxiety. Struggling alone. Not being able to tell anyone. You think if you tell anyone that they will think you’re weak. You think that they will enter “mental illness” into your medical chart along side the various medications that they suggest you try. (Whether you try them or not, they are in your chart). You don’t tell anyone because they might think you’re overreacting or being dramatic. They don’t understand why you can’t just “stop worrying”, “let it go” or “calm down”. (Because they can). In the same way that someone with a migraine is sometimes perceived as being dramatic about a really bad headache. But if you think you’re alone… think again. Within 3 days of posting my story… 54 people contacted us about this class. Since then over 100 people have taken this class right here at Love Yoga. You’re not alone.
Anxiety is real. It might start with your mind but every anxious signal you feel is real. But it’s a signal… not a symptom! Yoga helps you change the signal. Together.
How long will it take? Someone asked me how long it took? How much “work” I had to put in before I started seeing results? I couldn’t remember exact dates. But I remember at some point I looked back and realized that I hadn’t thought about having an anxiety attack in months. Not only did I not have one… I hadn’t even thought about it. Months turned into years because I was intently focused on doing the ‘work’.
What was the work exactly? Practicing yoga nd breathing techniques consistently. Not constantly… consistently. Doing things that made me feel strong, healthy, and connected. I tried a LOT of things! Things like yoga, eating clean, walking, standing up for myself, writing about it, challenging myself, encouraging myself, counseling for a while and meditation every day. Every. Single. Day. I practiced feeling calm. I practiced feeling happy and healthy. I practiced feeling strong and brave. It worked for me. I don’t consider any of it ‘work’ anymore. It’s a lifestyle I love. It feels good. It might not be the most exciting lifestyle but I have my adventurous moments . (see final post below for “trails, travels and tattoos”). It worked for me. It might work for you.
Does this look like the face of panic? (The bangs helped to hide it!)
Mantras Matter because This is what Anxiety looks like….when nobody knows about it. When I was younger I tried very hard not to let anyone know – so on the surface everything seemed fine. Back in the day (#TBT circa 1986) my Mantra was ‘What if!’ And not in a creative inventor kind of way. More like ‘what if ‘every bad thing you can think of’ happens!’ This goes back as far as I can remember. I worried a lot. About a lot of things. I needed a new mantra. In my 20s, my mantra became, “I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m strong and I’m brave”. (I still say it just for good measure).
I’ve added a few more since then: ‘Now what? So What! What Next? & Why Not?’. Mantras are just a cute way of saying, ‘I talk to myself’. And so do you. You do it all the time whether you realize it or not and every cell in your body hears you. (What are YOU saying? Do you talk about being nervous? Worried? Afraid or out of sorts?) Yoga insisted that I choose uplifting words when I talked to myself and my cells must have gotten the memo. Because they stopped over reacting, they worried less and they felt good. Just changing my internal conversation (aka your brain’s Default Mode Network) let me be myself again. Me. Even when life is challenging…I can still be me. Curious. Fearless. Creative. Sensitive. Hopeful. Humorous. Happy, Healthy, Strong and Brave.
So why mantras? Mantras uplift your internal conversations. Words Matter. Choose Wisely. Choose Love.
From Fear to France: Trails, Travels and Tattoos
Do you still get nervous? Growing up, I was the ‘nervous’ one. I joke that I was ‘born nervous’, scared of most things, anxious and worried. My path may not have been as traumatic as some. But the internal torment was relentless for years. At 22, I was told I would ‘deal’ with this for the rest of my life. It was already exhausting. I couldn’t even imagine a future free of anxiety. It was so hard to understand and even harder to describe.
After becoming a parent, I was determined not to let this be my son’s example of living. I made my mantras his mantras so we’d both get strong. I put on my rose-colored glasses and I practiced being okay. I practiced and practiced and practiced, and it worked! I practiced yoga because I wasn’t a runner, or a hiker or a swimmer or a skier. But the concepts we practice in yoga can be integrated into any activity and all through your day. Breathing, moving, challenging, focusing, releasing, relaxing, connecting and observing.
This practice of yoga and all that comes with it took me from being scared, stressed and afraid….to hiking the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail, eating alligator cheesecake, (yes that’s a thing), getting a tattoo in Oahu and now teaching yoga in France! (Oui! Come with us – June 2017!). This is how I know it’s possible. (and did I mention that it’s been over 18 years since my last anxiety attack).
They say you teach what you most need to learn… so I teach yoga, relaxation and meditation. I Practice Feeling Good. Or as my son calls it… being ‘annoyingly optimistic’. But the more I practice, the better I feel, wherever I go. So, maybe I WAS born nervous…. maybe I was born to teach relaxation, meditation & yoga.
Maybe you’re going through this so that you can help someone else.