I’m down dog: why I practice yoga

February 4, 2017

I had been practicing yoga on and off for many years, but it wasn’t until a little over a year ago that I began attending classes regularly. For four years, while attending college, I spent all my effort in filling my schedule with activities that often didn’t leave me enough time to either get from one place to another or have room in between to take a breath. After denying to myself for the first three years that I had a serious problem, I finally decided to get help. It was January 2016 when I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD). When we experience fear, this is in response to a real threatening or stressful situation. However, in the case of anxiety, this stressful/fearful or threatening situation appears to be real, although it is not, and is only in our head. For example, if I have a fear of monkeys then as someone who has GAD, I would constantly imagine a monkey in the room or in my closet (don’t worry I actually love monkeys). I soon discovered that anxiety was the reason I was not able to ever efficiently study for exams. I would spend two or three times as much time as the other students studying the same material, but only learn less than half as much. Then during exams, my anxiety would cause me to experience high levels of stress to a point where I would often forget much of the information I had learned or panic and misread questions. 

We must remember that stress isn’t always bad. As I learned through many neuroscience classes, scientists have shown that a moderate level of stress results in our highest level of performance. However, I had realized that when this stress is not under my control, it makes it very difficult for me to perform well during any task. The truth was that if I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, as I had wanted to for the past four years, I was going to have to eliminate this factor from my life. I never liked the idea of relying on medication as a method of treatment and my body did not react well to the side-effects of the anxiety medications, even at very low doses. This is why I turned to yoga. I used to make excuses for why I did not have time for yoga: I need to sleep more, I have to study, savasana takes too long, I could be doing more useful things, etc. While still in school, I attended sunrise yoga starting at 6AM, and after graduation, and the not so pleasant responses my body had to the medication, I started a monthly membership at Yogaworks. 

For the past three months, I have been attending classes anywhere from 4-7 times a week. I like to take a variety of classes (such as hatha, vinyasa flow, restoratives) and create a balance between the intensity levels they require. I used to think that using blocks or taking child’s pose in between poses during yoga was for people who were beginners, or not very good at yoga, but now I realize that they allow me to control my breathing while allowing me to deepenen my poses. Yoga isn’t about being super flexible, being a very spiritual person, or even a buddhist as some might think, it’s rather about getting to know your body, listening to your body, and responding to its needs, all while controlling your breath. 

I have tried practicing yoga on my own at home, and sometimes still do, but only for a short amount of time. Attending classes has a certain sense of community to it where you are surrounded with people who for whatever reason are brought together in one room, onto their mats to practice yoga. There is rarely any direct interaction between everyone in the room, but I always feel the energy of those around me and think of it as a group effort when I enter different poses and feel the support of the people around me, along with the instructor there to guide me through my practice. I find it very true when instructors say that showing up to class is half the work, meaning that we made it! Now the second half of our effort goes into our practice. 

Yoga has brought me so much self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a more focused attention towards how my body is feeling throughout the day, especially when I am feeling stressed. We have been given one body, a body that spends 24 hours a day keeping our blood flowing, our lungs breathing, our brains thinking, and digesting our food to keep us alive. This is why I have chosen to always incorporate yoga into my life. After practicing yoga I have noticed a significant difference in the way my body feels, the way my mind works, and how much control I have whenever anxiety tries to take over. 

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© 2016 by Ailar Poormoghaddam