The first time I found the courage to attend a yoga class, I shook from the minute I walked in the door until the final minutes in savasana. In the gentlest of poses, my heart rattled against my chest and my breath, unlike the rhythmic sounds of those around me, caught in my lungs and my throat.
Despite the overwhelming anxiety I felt being in that space and trying something new for myself, I felt good, even empowered, when I headed home. I took that first step. My brain fought against it and repeatedly told me lies about how terrible I was and how dumb I looked. But I was able to acknowledge those messages as what they were — and then let them go.
That was why I shook.
Letting go is work.
After a few more yoga sessions, I learned how to shake less. How to walk to my mat without fearing I might pass out. How to let myself breathe.
When I could do those things, I was able, too, to hear wisdom my teacher shared: Every day is different. Every body needs something different, which means it’s important to honor what it is you need right here and right now. Yoga isn’t about how far you could go or how much you can push yourself. It’s not about what your neighbor is doing or what they look like. It’s about finding comfort in the poses and being able to breathe with ease.
With that insight, suddenly everything about my own mental health made sense.
For so long, I believed the answer to feeling better was in pushing to do things that were good for me or that would allow me to ignore my mind. To ignore pain or the feelings of discomfort I found. To ignore the insecurity, the myriad of ways I felt like an impostor in my own life. We’re taught culturally that engaging in activities to forget about our feelings is healing. That it’s being strong.
But mental health is not a light switch you turn on and off. It’s a dial you, and only you, learn how to manage.
Yoga, despite some of the popular media manifestations, is not about rigidity. It’s not about grace or making pretty shapes. It’s about being flexible, about finding balance between strength and ease, about honoring your own body, mind, and breath. Yoga is the practice of being noncompetitive: you don’t try to do what the person next to you is doing because you are not that person and you don’t necessarily need what it is they need.
More, you can’t compete with yourself. You’ll always be as strong as you were the week before, but your body might be asking you to not push to that limit this week. It may want you to turn your attention to breathing.
That, sometimes, is the hardest work.
Yoga is also about learning to stumble, to fall, and to pick yourself back up again and listen to your body tell you whether today’s the day you try again or the day you acknowledge that what you really need is the time to rest.
No one but you can make those choices. It’s called a practice, not a routine, for good reason.
Just like my regular yoga practice is about finding comfort and honoring my body, every day that I wake up is another day of finding comfort on the dial that is mental health. Some days I run colder. Other days, hotter. But in observing those shifts along the dial, I’m able to serve myself with what I need right where I am. I meet myself and I greet myself where I am. I don’t push too hard when I can’t, and I let myself expand and grow where I can.
I’m learning, day by day, to practice loving myself right where I am.
Our 5th Annual Run For It 5k is happening April 15! Sign up for the local race (Satellite Beach, FL) or as a virtual runner. What will you run for?