Why Yoga is the Best Anxiety Management (For Me)

Last year, the dude’s friend K invited me to an outdoor yoga class that’s right by my apartment. I had just gotten Down Dog and started trying to practice more regularly and for longer than 30 minutes. Because we travelled a lot that summer and I didn’t have much endurance built up for an hour-long class, I only ended up going once. I also wasn’t in a great routine yet, nor had I learned how to push though feeling lethargic or anxious and get on the mat. I didn’t know yet that those were the exact reasons why I should get on the mat. The combination of those things kept me from going back, even when I was in town and K had specifically reached out to invite me.

Over the winter, K and I became much closer and now she’s my friend, too. When they announced the first date for Salute to the Sun(the yoga class), I decided that I was going to go every week unless we weren’t in town. It was AWESOME. We got there early to sit in the sun and talk, and Hollis, the teacher, transitions completely differently than Down Dog, so it was a nice change. Towards the middle of the summer he upped the intensity, and we did so many sun salutations I thought my arms were going to fall off. We had done seven or eight and we were all “resting” in downward-facing dog and I had to drop down to child’s pose because I was worried that if I didn’t my arms would give out and I would injure myself. A few seconds after I did, Hollis had everyone move to child’s pose, and I remember thinking I wish I had known that was the last one, I would have stuck it out!

This clicked something for me: yoga has been helping me manage anxiety in a way I haven’t even realized. I know that it releases endorphins that boost my mood and the regular exercise helps me sleep better. It decreases stress. It helps with breathing technique, which in turn keeps my sympathetic nervous system chilled out(shout out to teaching AP Psych because that’s where I learned that). It makes me healthier. I’m building mental endurance – a lot of times, the mind gives out way before the body does, and yoga helps me show up for myself and practice encouraging self talk. But here’s the biggest and most subtle way it’s helped: I have to practice not knowing, over and over, for an hour. Pretty much anything you read about anxiety will tell you that it’s rooted in fear losing of control and/or fear of the unknown, at least for most people, so being able to practice leaning into these feelings frequently, in a safe space, is really helpful.

I’ve never had better proof of this than this summer’s vacation with the dude’s parents in North Carolina and the week I wrote about it my last post. Bird and the brother didn’t come this year, so it was just the four of us. Traditionally, Bird, the dude’s mother, and I spend either a morning or an afternoon shopping. Bird and the dude’s mom know each other really well, so it’s easy to kind of slip into their world at a level that is comfortable for me. Since Bird wasn’t there this year, the mom and I went, just the two of us. Three years ago, this would have been really hard for me and I would have asked the dude to come with. But this year? No problem. He took a nap and the mom and I had a lot of fun. So much so that a few days later we went shopping again in a different town, and when the dude asked if I wanted him to come, I was like “no. I want to hang out with your mom.”

We had such a good time. We went to a bunch of different stores and made fun of some of the more … interesting clothing options available. She wanted to buy me something because she missed my birthday last year, and we ended up getting a pendant necklace with an initial on it. I’ve never seen one like this – usually they’re circles or the full name – and I immediately loved it. Of course I got a W for the dude, and as we paid, the mom told me she loved me. It. Was. Amazing. She is the best and I feel SO lucky to have three moms who are each incredibly kind, compassionate, and vibrant.

The reason I would have been so upset in the past is that there is so much unknown in that situation and it would have made me really anxious. The mom and I didn’t really have a relationship outside of the dude yet and I didn’t know what to expect: did I need to keep asking questions and making conversation? Was it ok to make jokes and be silly? Having Bird on that first trip helped a lot, but what was most helpful was the practice in dealing with the unknown that yoga gives me. I still had all of those questions this year, but the difference was that I wasn’t actively worrying about it. Because I spend so much time on my mat experiencing unknowns that turn out just fine, the part of my brain that just looooves to catastrophize had been lulled into a deep slumber a la Smaug and didn’t know it was supposed to be freaking out. giphy1I had the added bonus that because the unknowns I practiced in yoga were fine, my gut assumption was that this would be, too. Before, I would have assumed that anything that could go wrong would go wrong, and then my brain would be like yeeeeesssssss time to dream up worst case scenarios!!! But I was ok. I wasn’t freaking out. This led to me saying yes to something unknown, which led to becoming a lot closer to the dude’s mom. I never would have done this without the practice yoga gives me.

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