I got back on the mat yesterday and boy howdy, let me tell you: THAT SHIT IS AMAZING.
I knew I missed yoga while I was sick (still am, kinda, tbh). I knew I was just a little less content, a little more restless. But I thought it was just a little bit.
It was not just a little bit.
Even though I’ve been having to do a short practice for the last couple of days because a) I’m still coughing like every 5 minutes and b) my physical stamina was like “bye!” when the Longest Cold Ever started, it has been amazing. It feels good to be back.
This is, to me, why managing mental health is so difficult, and why I started laughing when my therapist said my approach to it was “methodical”. For me, the management of anxiety is cumulative, as are the effects of not managing it. When I don’t/can’t do yoga for a while, I don’t feel like I feel that different. I’m still doing my thing, going to work, making stupid jokes, being head over heels for the dude. I still feel like me. I don’t notice that I’m maybe a little more sarcastic or quicker to take things personally. I feel normal.
But when I get back to the mat, it’s like a whole new world (cue Aladdin). I can feel it, not just in my screaming muscles that are being used for the first time in forever, but in all of these other tiny, imperceptible ways that I struggle to explain to the people who are like “can’t you just get over it?”. It’s like everything is just better. Some things are really obvious: the exercise releases endorphins and yoga in particular encourages a calm and focused mind. I sleep better. I eat more regularly. I’m better hydrated. Some things are not so obvious: some shit just bothers me less. Or one of the dude’s funny funny jokes (code for dad jokes) is actually funny and has me bent over laughing. Or I have like 3 good hair days in a row. There’s this sense of well-being that is pervasive and awesome and – I’m literally realizing this as I type – that’s the thing. That’s the unnameable thing that I don’t notice is gone when I’m not doing yoga until I get back on the mat.
And that’s why I have to be so methodical. I can’t be haphazard about managing my mental health because it’s way too important to me and because, when I am actively managing it, I feel noticeably better. If I’m not disciplined about it, I know I’ll let it slip, and I’ll lose that feeling. And I don’t want to. I spent so much of my teens and twenties longing for things I didn’t have(and was nowhere near ready for), or getting lost in nostalgia for – you guessed it – things I didn’t have anymore. I’m coming up on 30 (hell yeah) and I think it’s going to be an awesome year. And I want to be present for that. I don’t want to be feeling pretty good when I could be feeling great. I know I’ll have bad days, but I also know that I have the ability to increase the number of good days I have. I know that how I experience my life is directly related to how diligent I am in managing anxiety, and I’m going to manage the hell out of it.
So much of anxiety is about control, and that’s why finding your management strategy is such a relief: not only are you doing things that are (depending on the thing) scientifically proven to relieve anxiety, you’re also in control. You’re setting the course. You are no longer at the mercy of this thing that seems to strike randomly and without warning. You are getting to know it, learning how it moves, how to counter it. And doing that is a skill. It is purposeful. Intentional. We never talking about that, but it is. Managing anxiety is not necessarily solving a problem; it’s more like developing a skill so that it becomes engrained. So that you don’t have to work so hard at it. So that it’s like a muscle memory. I do think it’s important to practice metacognition and to set aside time to think about anxiety and how you’re managing it, but it’s also important to recognize that you’re honing a learned behavior. And like any skill, it requires consistent practice to stay sharp.
So even though I can’t quite do a full hour yet, you better believe that I’m back to doing yoga 5 days a week. And man, does it feel good.