When you're down, get on the mat...

As mentioned I found myself recently back in that same dark place I was in almost a year ago when I realised I was really ill and I needed help. It came completely out of nowhere and it was so intense that at one point I considered going to the doctor and starting the medication I was potentially going to be on last year. I knew it was a silly idea though, not because I don't believe in medication- I do, but it was silly because I haven't been exercising. Exercising seems to be the one 'drug' that works more than anything else for me. I injured my knee 6 weeks ago and it rendered me useless at the gym, I couldn't do any of my normal classes and being there, not taking part was just boring and heartbreaking. So, I stopped exercising altogether. BIG MISTAKE. 

I thought I would be fine. I thought since everything was under control now I wouldn't slip into old habits. I was so, so wrong. Within 4 weeks the insomnia was back, I was dealing with racing thoughts, sweaty palms, irregular and fast heartbeats, exhaustion, confusion and just an overall sense that I really couldn't 'do' life. I was struggling at one point to send simple emails to clients or cook a simple meal at home, I was confused and tired and surprised that it got so bad so quickly again.

Two Saturdays ago I dragged myself out of the house to my dear friend's birthday party.  I wanted to see him and give him his present and also I wanted to stop myself from hiding in the house for yet another evening. Thank god I did - light in the darkness comes from the most unexpected places as my other friend was there, and we talked...About the good stuff, the bad stuff and the hard stuff. I immediately told her I'd had a hard week and she just understood, she got it and it went a long way in getting me back on track. She told me she was about to go overseas to train to be a yoga instructor so we spent a good amount of time talking about how amazing yoga is. She mentioned that she goes to a class near my office and that on Friday I should join her. I immediately said yes and spent a week 'white knuckling' through my anxiety and hoping my knee would hold out for this much needed class.

My heart was pounding on the way up to the class. What if I got the wrong time? What if she's not there?  What if there's not enough space?  What if I pass out? What if it's too hard? What if I got the wrong building???? Yeah, nice one brain. I go to yoga and you still make me believe that there could be a 'worst possible scenario' on the 5 minute walk to the studio. 

I made it. I made it there and I made it through 90 minutes of intense yoga in the searing heat of a hot yoga classroom, around 30 degrees celsius. I was rough and my knee hurt but I was so incredibly grateful throughout the class that at one point I had tears in my eyes. I was breathing normally for the first time in weeks, my heart rate came down dramatically and some of the poses meant that my stiff tired body got a chance to reset. Afterwards, I'm not sure how I can really describe to you how I felt. After about 2 hours, my anxiety was gone. Completely. Getting the relief from it was honestly like being high. I felt incredible, almost a week later and I still feel incredible. Mostly because I am functioning as normal again and somehow the class seems to have helped with the knee injury and I'm back at the gym.

I know I run the risk of sounding like a hippy dippy witchy woman but I knew, I knew right away that the yoga had somehow allowed me to Ctl + Alt + Del my body and brain and got me started on the right track again. I did a little bit of research on how yoga actually helps with anxiety:

  • Yoga is entirely focused on the present. How you are feeling in each pose and your breathing helps you create a healthy emotional distance from distressing thoughts.
  • It activates the pre-frontal cortex of your brain - this calms your anxiety. By practising more and more you get better and better at by-passing the effect of your anxious reactions to dark thoughts.
  • There is research that suggest yoga increases GABA in the brain. A neurotransmitter that anti-anxiety benzodiazepam medications are often used to increase.  
  • Like any exercise it reduces the stress inducing chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline.
  • The sweating, although disgusting - it's detoxing us like mad.
  • By breathing properly, the signals from our body to brain change and vice versa. Everything becomes more controlled and calm.
  • There is a constant element of mindfulness, letting go and accepting that what you are doing on the mat is good enough. You are good enough. 

If you've never tried it and things sometimes feel like they are getting on top of you, I cannot sing it's praises more. In the last year or so I have done hundreds of yoga classes and I have never once walked away from one feeling worse. I have always walked away with a sense of peace, calm and strength. It's almost like magic, except it's not. It's real and it works. As always, I never mean that yoga is the cure-all, if it is just one thing that you do that helps, do it. If a hot yoga class is too hard, or Hatha becomes too repetitive, try a Vinyasa flow class. Or take it down a level more and try a Yin Yoga (absolute bliss) or even a Yoga Nidra (meditation) at home. Find what works for you, find what you're most comfortable with. Above all know that this is an ancient practise and the mat will always, always be there for you.

I seem to be doing fine since my brush with the darkness these last few weeks. I have my friend, my mat, yoga and my healing knee to thank for that.


Angela Nicol