One Breath at a Time
Four years ago, while loafing around galleries in New York, I stumbled upon a graffitied wall that read, “Relax And Enjoy Your Pressure.” In that moment, something clicked. I recognized myself in those words. All my life, I’ve wrestled with both anxiety and depression. Two sides of the same coin. At times, it’s felt like I was trying to overpower my very nature. Seeing that graffiti made me think about what I would do if the pressure never lifted. Could I find a way to relax into it?
Finally, two years ago, I hit a wall. I was tired of feeling sad. Tired of feeling tired. Tired of dithering about. I needed an outlet.
Self-conscious and unsure, I signed up for a beginner yoga class. The experience was awkward, to say the least. I didn’t have a childhood background in dance. I’m not a very coordinated person, despite the pride I have in my ability to walk in 5” stilettos. I spent the hour flailing my limbs and contorting my body into unnatural shapes in a sad attempt to mimic my neighbors. When the class ended, I was eager to slink out of the studio and never return. I felt defeated yet again.
Before I could escape, a graceful creature with the build of a ballerina approached. Julia. She offered a few simple modifications to assist me with the basic postures. We chatted for several minutes and she revealed that she was a yoga instructor. I accepted her card and walked away. A few days later, as I felt myself retreating into despair, I thought of Julia and how her simple act of generosity had helped me that day. I decided to email her.
I spent the next year taking private lessons from Julia. Every week, we would drag my coffee table into the kitchen to make space for our mats. I was rigid at first, physically and mentally. Resistant to the very thing that I sought. This must have been frustrating for her as a teacher and sometimes it felt like neither one of us wanted to be there. But we both kept showing up, week after week, and for that I am grateful.
Last spring, I decided to undertake a yoga teacher training program. Although I had been practicing daily, I didn’t consider myself an impressive yogi. But I wasn’t becoming a teacher to inspire others with my physical prowess or perfect form. I was—and still am—chasing something. I craved the challenge. I wanted to continue to explore the connection between body and mind. That program proved to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It was rigorous and physically demanding. However, it afforded me a unique opportunity for introspection and the chance to examine my life through a different lens.
It’s been six months since I completed my training and—at the risk of sounding like a total cliché—yoga has transformed my life. As a complementary pursuit to my art practice, yoga has made me more confident and aware of my body. During those months spent practicing in my living room with Julia, I learned to pay attention to sensations. Without a mirror in the room, I had to look inside myself to see if I was inhabiting a posture correctly. How did it feel? I had to learn how to listen to my body and, in doing so, I learned to turn down the volume of my mind. In the silence of yoga, I found that I could tune out the constant swirling of self-doubt.
For me, yoga is a release. It allows me to let go of burdensome thoughts and feelings. I know now that I can acknowledge emotions without surrendering to them. The physical aspect has conditioned me to really inhabit my body and the meditative aspect helps me to feel grounded. Self-acceptance and gratitude are learned behaviors. Yoga has taught me the value in practicing these behaviors so that I may be present and authentic in my relationships with others.
These days, I do many things to support my physical and mental well-being. I’m not always consistent or successful. But I’m always okay. Yoga has been the most effective remedy for mitigating my anxiety and depression and it has helped me to feel more at peace with myself. One breath at a time.