October 22, 2019

This is what Yoga is For.

I live alone and I have anxiety.

I don’t know if it’s the disorder kind; it’s just that when I’m not working or looking for more writing work, I get this pale, existential nausea that makes me feel like every moment isn’t quite right. Like I’m slowly—or rapidly, I’m not sure—wasting all of my time. It feels like something’s coming that I need to prepare for. But what?

I take the edge off by drinking.

It all gets the hardest in the early-to-mid afternoons. I’ve done some good client work; I’ve walked my dog; I’ve had my lunch—but I don’t feel like sitting down to work again quite yet. I gaze absently at the off-white walls and ceiling, the gray carpet of my living room and…I don’t know, hope for a sign.

Once I have a little buzz going, I can shrug it off. I relax and get back to work or do some dishes or something.

But I started doing yoga in the mornings recently—just with internet videos, on the floor in front of my coffee table. I get up, put on enough clothes to keep from shivering, find my laptop, and go fishing for a new 15ish-minute video that I haven’t tried yet.

Sometimes, while I’m working to mirror the instructor on the screen, I remember my overweight mother marching around my family’s cluttered living room in the early 90s to her Richard Simmons tapes.

Assuring myself that this is different, I take the big inhales that the teachers talk about. In child’s pose, I really do feel like I’m breathing into my lower back. In the lunge poses, I “sink into my hips,” twist, and reach for the ceiling. Immediately, I start wondering how long I’ll have to stay like this. Tempted to hold my breath and squeeze, I rest my eyes gently shut and fill my lungs slowly with as much air as they’ll take on.

Then, I exhale even more slowly—because the video said to, but also because if I do anything faster than this, I’ll tip over. The deep inhales and long exhales steady me; they make holding the pose easier. Once I find firmer footing, I notice that my next inhale has room to be a little deeper than the last. Even if my legs or shoulders start to shake, it’s within a stability that makes me know I can wait for the instructor to signal for release.

Earlier this week, I caught myself doing some mindful breathing hours after I’d finished my yoga for the day. I’ve noticed it happen again several times since.

I take a deep breath to try and touch my anxiety for a minute, and I’m involuntarily reminded of when I did this same thing just a few hours earlier, on the floor in front of my coffee table. A simple, deep inhale, especially its latter half, feels…better, somehow, than it ever did before all this yoga. It even relieves just a little of the urgency I feel to go drink my anesthetic.

This 15-or-so-minute practice that I’ve done almost every morning for maybe four weeks now has changed something. The change is small, make no mistake. But it’s the first one. It’s the first indication from the other side that I’m doing something right.

This is what yoga is for, I think. Uncrumpling the you part of your body, a teensy bit at a time. The feeling isn’t beholden to what you do on your mat, of course. It happens all over the place, usually by accident. All these poses and breathing are a method of trying to make it happen on purpose.

Soon, you find more ways to make it happen. This is what is really meant, I think, by the phrase “yoga lifestyle.” It’s finding all the ways you bring up that feeling you first happened upon that morning on your yoga mat.

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