I didn’t have my period for the first 6 months of podiatry school. I also developed shortness of breath (SOB), insomnia (even though I already lacked sleep from staying up studying), chest tightness, and many incidents of existential crises.
I didn’t know this was due to anxiety. I didn’t even put two and two together after I went to the doctor, explained the symptoms, and was prescribed xanax as first-line treatment! I just thought that xanax was to help me sleep, but the word “anxiety” was never shared with me, nor was any mindfulness practices or non-pharmaceutical treatments (which pharmaceuticals are totally fine in some cases, but I believe first-line in my case should’ve been lifestyle changes).
I did finally put two and two together though, when my friend who does research on mental health amongst Asians, she told me something that fascinated me, which was Asian women are more likely to experience mental health issues physically. Depression and anxiety will often show up as chest pain!
I won’t go into the science or research behind yoga’s effectiveness for anxiety, because a quick google search will pop up plenty of articles for that. I will share my own personal story of how yoga helped with my anxiety.
I will also say I didn’t start practicing yoga to treat my anxiety. These were just positive side effects of me practicing yoga that allowed me to cope with my anxiety and manage it non-pharmaceutically. Please try to release any expectations when you’re practicing and give yourself permission to just experience and feel.
Yoga Increased my Body Awareness
I still have anxiety today, but what I gained from yoga is a sense of body awareness, allowing me to notice when my heart begins beating faster than normal, when I feel that chest tightness again, or when I’m experiencing SOB. From this point, I get to decide my action. What do I need in this moment? I also get to observe and make note of what’s going on that’s caused a change in my status.
Yoga Reminds me to do Self Check-ins
Usually, I feel anxious when I feel like I’m not doing enough. In that moment, do I feed into this anxiety and do do do? What will serve me best in the grand scheme of things? Can I take 10-20 minutes to practice a body scan? Lately, I’ve been choosing the latter. Because I’m deciding that rather than feed into that anxious high-energy, I need to calm down a little bit so I can “do” from a centered place.
Personal Practice, my Sadhana
I’ve also been following this daily schedule and since then, because I am fortunate enough to have this time to myself, I get to have my sadhana, personal practice, daily, giving myself until 10am before I have to begin doing all the things. Giving myself this time, gave me time to practice yoga, meditate, eat breakfast from a place of presence rather than rushing through things.
Yoga has reminded me to practice Presence
I used to be prideful about being able to multi-task, and now, I realize that it was from a place of addiction to productivity and measuring myself based on how much I can do on a day. What I’m finding nowadays that my tapas, self-discipline, is actually can I focus on ONE task at a time? and How much presence can I practice while doing each task? Some examples are: eating without looking at my phone or feeling the bubbles while washing dishes.
I go back to this visual I have after watching Netflix’s “The Mind, Explained” episode on anxiety where there’s a monk who says, “hello anxiety, nice to see you again, please sit down next to me. Would you like some tea?” I’m reminded of this because rather than fighting and resisting my anxiety, I can choose to make friends with it and have a chat about why it’s visiting, where it came from, etc.
Anxiety is usually a disorder because we’re worried about the future. The future ain’t here yet! So can I give myself permission to just be here now.
Yoga has Taught me About Myself, So I can be “better” for me & those around me
And finally, yoga has lead me to a path of svadhyaya, self-study. The more I know and understand myself, the more I can understand others. This practice has given me the space to figure out where does my anxiety come from? How much of it was inherited from my family? Being a child of immigrants and a mother who stayed at a refugee camp before coming to the states, I had parents with the “survival” mentality. We must DO because we have no other choice, because if we don’t, we won’t survive and we won’t make it. We must worry because we must plan for and be prepared for the worst. I’m learning that this thought pattern served my parents, but it often does not serve me.
I’m still on the path of learning about myself, which honestly, is probably a lifetime journey and that’s totally okay.