I’ve spent almost all of my adult life suffering with anxiety. I wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint it at the time, or even acknowledge that there was a problem, it just felt normal. Being in a crowd would lead to a panic attack. Taking a walk with my toddlers would be punctured with invasive catastrophic thoughts of them being squashed by cars or snatched by strangers. Walking my dogs alone, I’d be meandering down the thought train of ‘what if I’m murdered here? What if I fall down and break my leg and there’s no phone reception?’… These thoughts come and go, but what they leave is a bitter aftertaste of fear. It’s an incidious process which, if accepted for too long as normal, begins to restructure the experience of living.
Imagine seeing clearly, and then being fitted with a pair of tinted glasses, after a while the tint becomes normal and the way we see the world becomes coloured accordingly. It’s only when you take the glasses off that you remember how light it is and what the world really looks like. Anxiety is like that. A pair of tinted specs, except the colour is fear & catastrophe.
In the process of waking up to my anxiety I became very aware of how my body was feeling. There was a sense of rising tension and a holding of my breath. If you’ve ever experience a panic attack you’ll know that breathing becomes very shallow & choppy and sometimes almost impossible to the point that it feels as though you might be dying. Afterwards, things would always subside, but to the coloured tint of fear and catastrophe. Life was constantly on the edge, just one passing police siren away from the feeling that it’s all over and my body was always in a state of high alert, primed and ready for ‘fight or flight’. For years safety, security and peace eluded me.
Practicing Yoga during this time became about fighting my demons, a physical outlet for the fear I was carrying. I was fighting the crash of depression and the feeling of not wanting to get out of bed by getting out of bed at 6am to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I was on an impossible mission to hold myself up, keep myself going and all the time I was burning myself out. I was exhausted.
The fight was taken out of my hands when Cancer came along. I stopped dead in my tracks and let go of everything and everything literally and metaphorically came crashing back down to earth. For years prior I had nightmares about plane crashes and this was it, life as I knew it, crashing. I fell in to the depression I was so afraid of, I felt the feelings I was running away from and I found myself at ground zero. The truth is, nearly two years on, that I’m barely out of ground zero. I’m still working on my foundations. I’m still clearing up the mess of the crash and planting seeds of hope that one day may offer fruit.
For a long period of time I didn’t practice any physical Yoga at all. I let my body rest. And now my practice has become a deep honouring of the truth of my life. It’s a practice in coming home to myself, not fighting myself any more. It’s a practice in being kind when I’m feeling tender, moving with great love and care. And when I’m feeling robust, building strength. But always a practice of honoring this incredible body that carries me, and this precious gift of life. It’s a huge challenge to step back from a mindset of fear, pushing hard, wanting more. But it’s worth it and means my practice has become sustainable and always enjoyable.
I’m pleased to say it’s been nearly 2 years since I’ve experienced a panic attack. Anxiety is present from time to time, but I am now able to recognise it and address it by resting more, taking time out, getting more sleep, eating healthily, practicing deep resonance breathing and meditating (by which I mean spending quiet time with myself in order to lovingly contemplate and better understand who I am).
When tensions rise and anxiety looms I find it a real challenge to embody myself. The practice below has become a way of feeling the ground beneath me. Of physically anchoring my awareness at my roots, the places within me in contact with the ground. The ground itself which is unfailingly stable, still and secure. The challenge of strength it requires is enough for me to be present and focused and by default at one with myself. Strengthening a sense of connection and focusing on my roots leaves me with a feeling that I have ‘come back down to earth’ that I am embodied and present. I hope it can do the same for you…