It is clear cool morning and lukewarm rays of the sun stream into the hall illuminating it with a golden glow. As I sit there basking in the warmth of the sun, breathing deeply from one nostril and then another, I feel a sense of calm taking over me. My head is slightly light from the breathing; my body is full of energy, and my mind as fresh as a daisy. In short, I am ready to take on the world.
Until only a few months ago if someone would have said that I could be in a space like this, I would have laughed—a nervous, anxious, hopeless laugh. It was impossible to even imagine that my dark mind would be able to see light again.
I do not know when depression hit me and when I turned into an anxious bundle of nerves. Did it happen the day I lost my unborn child, or did it occur when I gave up my flourishing career; was it a result of a post partum depression that had run much beyond its course, or did it make way into my life when I lost touch with my friends? I cannot say, but one fine day I found myself in the grip of the condition that engulfed me in ways I did not know was possible.
The signs were all too familiar. It started with insomnia and fatigue. I could not sleep all night and would be tired and groggy through the day. I felt angry, sad, distressed, and dejected at the same time. I shouted for no reason; I wept for nothing. I either ate too much or starved myself; I did not want to talk to anyone and yet felt alone and unwanted. Waking up in the morning had become a task, carrying on with basic life functions was a challenge. I knew what the symptoms were pointing at but did not want to accept it. How could I, a woman who had always been in complete control of her life, lose her mind? And so, even though I felt afraid and unsure, unworthy and useless, afraid and restless, I continued to pretend to be okay. Like, I reckon, a lot of us do.
The worst thing about anxiety, depression, polarity and chronic stress is that they not only affect you but also those around you. However hard you might try but keeping your symptoms from your family is impossible. As long as my condition was affecting only me, it was okay to suffer, but when it started affecting my children and family, I knew I had to do something. That is when I turned to yoga.
It started with the simplest asanas.
Stepping into the yoga class after 10 years was intimidating to say the least. In these 10 years I had not only accumulated unnecessary weight on my mind but also a lot baggage on my body. While at home I could hide under the layers of clothing, in the class I felt naked and exposed. My heart raced before every session and my instinct was to go back to the security of my quilt. There were physical challenged too: My body ached with the simplest of step; my mind grew uncomfortable with every breath. This was not what I was looking for.
“Your mind is very restless,” observed a teacher one day. I had been trying desperately to stay straight during the relaxation phase, and had been failing miserably. “Don’t worry, you have the soul of a yogi, just give yourself some time”, he had smiled. I remember looking at his face and envying the peace on it. I wanted to be like him.
The thing about yoga is that while it seems fairly simple, it is quite complicated. The practice not only makes you contort your body into strange postures but also challenges your mind: you cannot get an asana right if you are not into it completely. With all that was going on in my head, naturally my postures were far from ideal. While I felt awkward with my clumsy moves looking at others move gracefully to the rhythm filled me with self-doubt: will I ever be able to do this?
But I was also determined – there was no way I was stopping without getting it right. My extremism and lack of balance had caused me much trouble in life, but here it helped me stay put in the practice despite everything else.
Since it was impossible to twist and turn my stiff body into correct forms with an absent mind, I had to bring focus to the practice. This meant that for at least those 2 hours I was not thinking of anything else. It also meant that my body finally started to listen to me. As the breath got steadier, my movements got smoother; my mind became calmer.
Studies have shown that physical activity helps the body produce Oxytocin, the hormone that promotes the feeling of love and happiness. According to NCBI, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.” I had always read about this, now I also experienced it.
As my body eased into to the asanas, my fears no longer controlled me. Logic was easier to apply, emotions easier to handle. Even though I struggled with complex postures, I did not feel obligated to perfect them just yet. “Your body needs time,” said one teacher, “Listen to your body,” said another; “enjoy what you are doing”, “feel you body filling up with energy,” were some other instructions given. I decided to follow them all. I had nothing to lose.
It has been 13 months since I began the journey and even as I type this, I cannot believe I am the same person. Instead of fear I am filled with gratitude, instead of anxiety, I have hope; instead of hiding in my bed all day, I am doing things I was always afraid of. This however does not mean that all is perfect. There are days when uncertainty fills my heart and sadness takes over my mind, but those days are few and far between and managing them is much easier – all I need to do is a few rounds of Pranayama in the sun and I am ready to take on the world.