Yoga as a Coping Tool: A Personal Journey

It was around age 12 that I started having panic attacks. At the time, I had no idea what they were or what that meant, but I remember being convinced I was going to die. As a child, these feelings were catastrophic to me. Thankfully, anxiety is not fatal but I remember thinking that I didn’t want to go on living if this is what it was going to be like. As my mother so delicately puts it – high school wasn’t always a happy time for me either. Although I currently work in the substance abuse treatment industry and believe it’s much more common than most people care to admit, I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of teenagers don’t abuse drugs as their most prominent coping tool.

It ultimately occurred to me that something wasn’t quite right when I was a senior in high school. I had quit playing both soccer and lacrosse and lost interest in photography. Around the time that friends of mine were getting excited about going off to college in the Fall, I was sitting, scratching my head in something called “credit completion” that they make you do when you miss too many days of school. I recall feeling fully confident that I was an excellent candidate for a high school diploma because my grades were good, but apparently this was not the case. Me and the New Jersey public school district did not see eye to eye. They want you to actually go to class. Strange, I know. There’s something about being high all the time that makes you not-so-blissfully ignorant about planning for your future.

Growing Pains. Circa 2006
Sometimes you have to learn from your own mistakes

It’s funny to look back on all this now because I rarely even take so much as an Advil and I put oregano essential oils on my feet if I feel like I’m coming down with something. In my early 20’s I put down substances but picked up a slew of other bad habits. Sure, I wasn’t using drugs anymore but my healthy tendencies were slim to none. I smoked and ate mostly pre-packaged garbage. I didn’t sleep nearly enough and spent hours baking in the sun at the beach without sunscreen.

I also dabbled in unhealthy relationships. One particularly toxic one comes to mind. There is something about an abusive relationship that makes you stay, out of fear for what might happen once you leave. I stuck around even after thinking it was strange and disturbing that this person increasing isolated me from my friends. Even after having my car keyed and my computer smashed. Even after watching this person put their own fists and head through drywall when I didn’t want to spend the night at their house. You read that correctly, put his own head through a wall. Even in the midst of it all, I remember that struck me as very odd. Looking back on it now I am amused with the obvious absurdity. Eventually I got the police involved once the physical abuse was pointed in my direction and I am eternally grateful to all of the supportive friends I had (and still have) in my life, particularly during that time.

And so began my slow journey towards Wellness

In 2010 I went to my first yoga class. Ironically, it was my abusive ex-boyfriend’s idea. So for all the shitty things I could say about him, I do credit him for making this suggestion in the first place. To start, I hated it. I cannot tell you why I ever went back to yoga because that first class was incredibly unpleasant to me. I suppose something inside me just knew it was exactly what I needed.

Once I started practicing yoga regularly, everything began to change

Pulling out a pack of Camels directly after stepping foot outside a yoga studio is not a good look and as it turns out, not a good feeling either. I eventually quit smoking. I switched from a steady soda intake to drinking water because being hydrated all of a sudden made more sense to me than corn syrup. My diet changed as well because the more I practiced, the more it mattered what I was putting in my body. I didn’t want to feel shitty during class. I would like to say that I had a massive transformation in the span of a few months and elaborate on my quick turn around but that was absolutely not the case. Like all great things, it has taken time. 

My perspectives on mindfulness shifted and I made self care a priority.

The physical benefits were the first kind I experienced from yoga but I wouldn’t say those are the most important. The most valuable thing I have learned is the concept of looking inward and developing a practice of accepting unpleasant feelings. It is no easy task to sit with overwhelming human emotions and see them for what they are – fleeting and temporary. Anxiety, for example, is very good at appearing permanent and scary but it is ultimately self limiting. It cannot go on forever. Your body will literally run out of stimulating chemicals. There is a direct correlation between holding an uncomfortable pose in a yoga class and breathing myself through uncomfortable feelings with a sense of mindfulness. Although, I will say that I find the latter to be much more challenging. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to do them both at the same time (sarcasm).

Adversity is the biggest catalyst for growth after all

As far as mental health goes – some shit works for as long as it works until it doesn’t anymore. Then you find new shit. Better shit.

In my experience it’s best to give others the opportunity to help you because all that shit can get exhausting on your own.

I went from self harm and abusing drugs to sniffing essential oils and getting in touch with inner wisdom through the practice of yoga. Honestly, they all “worked for me” to a point. Certainly, I was miserable when I was getting high. I was an empty shell. But those awful coping tools allowed me to survive for a time and ultimately led me in the direction of self care. Had I never experienced such low lows, I would not have had to work so hard to take care of myself or developed such compassion for others. I have gained so much positive from all of these seemingly negative experiences. I even met my husband as a result of working in substance abuse treatment.

Be kind to yourselves. Be kind to each other. Until next time.

All the best,

thehappinessjones

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