NotSoZen YogaJen

Posts Tagged ‘anxiety

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I’ve been on a yoga rampage and going to five or six classes a week.  I count on these classes to calm my anxiety, clear my mind, give me energy and focus, and reconnect me with myself.  Yoga classes give structure to my days, and I schedule which class I want to take and when far in advance, and then plan the rest of my day around that.

But on Friday, there was a kink in my plan.  Or rather, a kink in my back.  It started out in class as a brief surge of pain in my arm, but then I felt fine.  On Saturday morning I woke up and the kink was back in my arm.  But, I told myself, set on going to my pre-scheduled 10am intense Vinyasa yoga class, it could go either way.  Yoga could make it feel worse, but it could stretch it out and make it feel better.  The only thing is, I’ve had this thought many times in the past, and going to yoga with a tweaked out anything always, always makes it feel worse.

So early on in saluting the sun on Saturday morning, the pain spread from my arm to my back, and from an ow to an OW!  There was no avoiding/denying it any longer.  I would have to cozy up with Ben Gay and take a break from yoga until I felt un-tweaked and un-OW-ed again.

I have perhaps, possibly, casually, once or twice, maybe mentioned my yoga addiction.  Now, I’m not doing yoga by myself in a dark closet, or guzzling coconut water out of brown bag.  Yet.  But I am addicted to yoga, and I crave it.  I tell myself that I need yoga classes to have the calm, centeredness, energy, and clarity that I need for the rest of my life.  I tell myself that without my almost daily yoga classes, things (me), might (definitely) start to fall apart.

But now, here I am.  The yoga break is working to heal me, and the tweak has lessened, and moved from my back to now only my neck.  But it is still there and it is still OW, so I am on Day 2 of no yoga, and I am not feeling better enough yet to start penciling which classes I will take into my calendar for the rest of the week.  My heating pad is at the ready, and the faint, but oddly pleasant, aroma of Ben Gay permeates my apartment.

And yet.  I feel calm.  Centered.  And clear.  My mind is quiet, and I’m not anxious.  And without the 3 1/2- 4 hour chunk of time that yoga sometimes takes up, between commuting to a studio in Manhattan and taking a class, I have a lot more time in my day to focus on things that I may or may not have been avoiding.  Like my writing.  The absolute inability to even think about going to yoga class has mixed up my routine and freed up time in my schedule for my other passions that sometimes take a backseat when I am on a yoga bender.

This injury and subsequent forced abstinence from yoga class reminded me that:  1)  Asana is only a small piece of yoga and it is possible to take yoga “off the mat” and practice it in other ways, mentally and spiritually, in day-to-day life, and 2)  The effects of yoga are cumulative, and lasting, so that even if I can’t get to class for a few days, I am not going to lose the benefits of calm, centeredness, and clarity.

I am still in a bit of yoga withdrawal and excitedly anticipating getting back to class.  But I’m not sweating and curled up in the fetal position under my desk, and I don’t have the shakes or anything.  And I can see and feel the benefits of taking this break, mixing up my routine, and having time and energy for other pursuits, all while continuing to practice my yoga in different, non-physical or athletic ways and still maintaining a calm, centered, and clear yogic mind.

How do you deal with injuries that force you to slow down?  How do you feel when you can’t get to yoga class for whatever reason?  How do you then practice yoga in other ways besides asana?


In the aftermath of my panic attack last week, I was discussing it with my good friend.  Let’s call her “Jane.”  Jane is a beautiful, smart, successful writer and entrepreneur with an effervescent personality and a dry sense of humor (and no, this is not a thinly veiled device for lavishing compliments on myself, Jane is a real person who is not me, and just happens to not really be named Jane).  And Jane has anxiety.

Now, if you were to meet me or my friend Jane at a book reading or yoga class or hanging out in a coffee shop, you might think that we were cute, bubbly, chatty girls, excitedly engaged in our lives and filled with optimism.  You might not suspect that behind closed doors, we struggled with depression and battled anxiety.  You might think we had everything going for us, and not a care in the world.  You would have no reason to think otherwise.  Unless I happened to tell you about my most recent depressive episode or anxiety attack the first time I met you, which I generally wouldn’t do, although occasionally, I would.

But Jane and I, we have a secret.  Or, in my case, thanks to this blog and the miracle that is the Internet, a not-so-secret-anymore.  We have anxiety, that, on some days, threatens to overtake us.

We’re not recluses with matted hair and crazy eyes and nary a social skill, sporting the latest in straight jackets.  We are cute, bubbly, chatty women in our 30’s, who are (often) excitedly engaged in our lives and (sometimes) filled with optimism.  We are creative and ambitious and warm and friendly and enthusiastic and…anxious.

So we decided that it’s time to make anxiety trendy and sexy.  Enough with the stigma and the hiding and the shame.  Tons of trend-setting celebrities have an exciting array of anxiety disorders!  And if anxiety is good enough for Oprah, then it’s good enough for me and Jane.

And it’s sexy to rock your anxiety loud and proud, to be a full, complex, messy human being accessorizing with a whole juicy range of attributes, from sparkling to anxious, panicked to serene, and everything in between (OK, maybe serene is a bit of a stretch).  Besides, anxiety usually comes on when you are taking risks and breaking out of old limiting beliefs and behaviors, and it doesn’t get any hotter than that!

So now not only can we have a Xanax-sprinkled cupcake eating anxious club, but we can get stylish t-shirts, too, to declare our trendy anxiety to the world.  Mine will say, “I’m Bringing Sexy Back…One Anxiety Attack At A Time” or “Anxious is the new HOT!”  It will be hot pink, of course.  And bedazzled.  What will your t-shirt say?

Rock it, Baby!




Hi, my name’s Jen, and I’m a yoga-a-holic.

I have a highly addictive personality and I’ve always been grateful that this has manifested in relatively harmless soft addictions like coffee and email, and not hardcore drugs, alcohol, or even cigarettes. (Full disclosure: I smoked cigarettes in high school and college but I never got addicted and just stopped cold turkey when I wanted to.  Now I smoke approximately one-half of one cigarette every year and a half.  Usually this only happens when I’m really pissed off and I’ll call my friend Karen and say, “I’m so mad I want to blast gangsta rap and smoke half a cigarette!”)  ANYWAY, suffice it to say that I definitely lucked out with my addictions because given my, um, tendencies for being extreme, things could have gone in a whole different and much worse direction, addiction-speaking.

But lately I’ve developed an addiction that’s not only soft and relatively harmless, but dare I say, healthy.  I’ve become extra-addicted to yoga.  Over the past few weeks I had hardcore anxiety, and every day became mostly about just managing my anxiety.  I’d wake up and think, “OK, I have to get through this day, and I have X, Y, and Z to do, how can I do this given my anxiety?”  And the answer was usually, “Go to yoga.”  Make no mistake:  I’d be super-anxious regardless of if I did yoga or not, but if I did take a class it would bring my anxiety down a couple of notches to slightly-less-super-anxious so that I could do what I needed to do instead of curling up in a ball of anxiety and calling it a day.  At 8am. 

In yoga last week the teacher asked us to notice how we felt at the end of class, and then instructed us to let this be the motivation to bring us back to class.  I’d been noticing enough of a difference to motivate me to go to 5-6 classes a week and take 7:15am classes on many days, even though I am so NOT a morning person and when my alarm goes off at 6am I go through all five of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression, during which I hit the Snooze button and hard, and finally, as I drag myself out of bed and reach for my yoga mat, Acceptance.  There is an addictive edge to my yoga practice these days because going to class feels like a compulsion and like I don’t have a choice; I am addicted to how it makes me feel better, and also, sometimes, varying degrees of terrified of how I will feel if I don’t go.  But is this a bad thing?  If I’m going to have an addictive personality, it seems to me that the best thing I can do with that is channel it into healthy addictions.

At a yoga class I took years ago, the teacher talked about how we have these obsessive thought loops going all the time in our brains, but we can use that to our advantage.  Instead of just defaulting to the “I’m shit, I suck” thought mode and then hitting the repeat button and listening to that message day in and day out, we can plant an uplifting thought that makes us feel good and then obsessively repeat that.  I know, easier said than done.  But I love the idea of co-opting our obsessive tendencies for our own good, instead of letting them torture us with destructive thoughts and addictions.

On a side note, I accidentally didn’t have coffee yesterday because I was at an event all day, and this morning I had an excruciating headache, was nauseous, and had shakes.  I told the baristas at Starbucks about my withdrawal symptoms and one said, “This is a wake-up call,” and another one said, “Does this mean you’re going to stop drinking coffee?” to which I replied, “NO! It means I’m going to hook myself up an IV coffee drip and make sure I never have to go through withdrawal again!”

You won’t find me in coffee or yoga rehab anytime soon.

Do you think some addictions can be good for you?  What are your healthy addictions?



Postscript:  My massive anxiety passed, as it always does, and now I am happily back to my normal baseline level of regular anxiety.

I went to an awesome yoga class early this morning at a studio I’d never been to before with a friend.  The awesome teacher created a really great flow, a totally fun vibe, and played hip-hip and R&B music to boot, which, whenever my two favorites of yoga and hip-hop/R&B are combined, the result is Nirvana.  After class, my friend and I were talking to the teacher, and I told her about my new yoga blog and she asked me what it was about.  “Well,” I said cheerfully,  “it’s about how I’m really anxious and depressed and how yoga really helps me!”

You’re depressed?” she asked.

“She hides it well,” my friend said.

“I’m highly functional!” I said.

I might possibly be one of the most upbeat and optimistic people you’ll ever meet.  But I’ve also struggled with severe depression for much of my life, which you wouldn’t know unless you walked in on me crying on the floor of my apartment.  I’m dramatic, so when I’m depressed I like to go for it full-out and hit the floor.  I live in a studio which makes it really convenient – I can cry on my bedroom floor, kitchen floor, and study floor by just moving a few feet this way or that.  And my favorite floor, when I reaalllyyy want to relish in my depression, and made popular by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love, is the bathroom floor.

At my last job, I had a co-worker who used to ask me, “Has anyone ever called you Polyanna?” and “Are you ever not in a good mood?”  I’d smile and shrug in way that subliminally conveyed, That’s me!  Always happy!  I hide it well.  I’m highly functional.  But I’m not so into hiding it anymore.

I’m getting better at managing my depression, which isn’t to say that it still doesn’t take me out every once in a while.  But yoga makes me happy.  There are studies to support this but I don’t know what they are offhand so I’m not going to cite them here, and this may not be true for everyone, but for me, yoga lifts me up when I’m feeling down.  It puts the brakes on my thoughts when they’re racing fast and furious.  And when I consistently practice, it helps me to live in a more equanimous and balanced way day-to-day.  I’m rarely completely balanced and blissed-out, but it takes the edge off my high highs and my low lows.  To quote Naughty By Nature’s Hip Hop Hooray, yoga helps me “Smooth it out now!”

What benefits do you experience from your yoga practice?  How do you feel when you get away from it?  And then when you go back to it?



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