Hello! Here is my yoga story so far, and I apologize if this introduction seems too long-winded, but you may find it interesting or encouraging.
I am an IT manager for a financial services company. I’ve always been an overachiever, consumed with ideas of ambition and “success,” but I have been suffering from anxiety and depression for years. I’ve encountered quite a few personal tragedies. The depression has become very bad in the last six months, to the point of debilitation. I’ve ignored my friends, hobbies, and family.
I’ve randomly taken full bottles of prescription medication in a nihilistic/defeatist manner. I had one suicide attempt. I have become so inebriated and out of control that I have wrecked my new Mercedes (a huge liability that brings little joy) twice in one month. I am deeply ashamed of having driven while drunk and cannot imagine what would have happened if I had hurt someone else.
Last weekend, I was a VIP at a hotel convention and the night started OK. Then I started drinking, and buying everyone drinks. A presentation failed due to technical issues, and I drank and drank until my anxiety and depression were dredged up for the public to see. I was on a rampage, screaming at strangers, spitting, kicking tables and throwing chairs and punching windows. I publicly humiliated myself.
The manager of the hotel had the police escort me off the premises and the only reason I wasn’t arrested is because a friend told them my brother had just died in a war zone. I detect they knew it was a lie and had better things to do. Once again, I was lucky.
Soon after, my boss said, “You used to be so gung-ho and now you have fallen off the radar, what’s happening?” I knew I was at the end of my rope and I couldn’t hide it anymore.
What does this have to do with yoga, you ask? Well my best friend lives in Berlin and is very similar to me. Also an overachiever, he has met many tragedies; anxiety and depression haunt him constantly. Recently, he stopped taking Klonopin, an anti-anxiety medication that he has taken for over a decade. This was a major victory in his life. How did he do it?
This was not his only victory. His depression has come under control. Women were always attracted to him, but now they have been swarming him. His diet adjusted itself to conform with his yogic practice. He has been accepted into a competitive PhD program. He claims he has become more balanced, literally and figuratively. He has watched his body transform. He has been able to face huge challenges with a new resolve and has become, overall, more positive than ever before.
He, like me, is not religious and is a major skeptic, but he describes yoga as a miracle.
After months of quietly encouraging me to go, never forcing it, I finally said “what the hell.” Someone had gifted me a Wii Fit yoga mat which I never used, and I pulled it out of the garage and dusted off the dog fur and dirt.
I was terrified of going. “What if I wear the wrong thing?” “What if I fall down?” “What if the teacher and students think I am a fat loser?”
I drove up to the strip-mall parking lot and pulled out my mat. I was 20 minutes early. I opened the door and saw 20 female backsides in a dark room and quickly retreated in fear. “Jeez, I’ve already screwed up and I haven’t even walked in the door.”
I freaked out because I didn’t have a towel, so I went to three nearby stores and eventually found some white kitchen towels. Then I saw the instructor park next to me and get out - I recognized her from the website. She was in impeccable shape and looked very serious. I was so afraid.
I forced myself to open the door. Flushed faces greeted me on their way out. I waited in line to check in and paid for the buy-one-get-one-free class. “This is my first time,” I said, sheepishly. The instructor said that was OK, and that she would adjust the “all levels flow” class since there were a few beginners.
It was hot. She explained that they practice without the A/C. I took my cheap green mat and placed it in the very back corner, scared to death. I was already sweating. The Florida summer was recreated inside; the room was 90 degrees. She closed the blinds and LOCKED THE DOOR.
This is an unusual situation for someone who is used to creating his own rules and living a pampered life. It reminded me of ancient civilizations that burned their own ships so that the soldiers had only two choices - survive and conquer or fail and die.
10 minutes. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. This is child’s play. I won’t have to go into “child’s pose” or whatever it was called.
20 minutes. I was sweating. A lot. I kept up with the movements, poorly, but I felt confident I could keep up with the class.
30 minutes. I was sweating so much that I felt like I was in a shower. A pool of sweat was forming on my mat. I started to feel my muscles shaking. “If they can do it, I can do it,” I tried to convince myself. I stared at the clock, amazed that so little time had elapsed. I felt a spell of dizziness and fell into child’s pose for a minute, just to catch my breath, and then I got back up.
45 minutes. I began slipping on my own sweat, my muscles were shaking violently. I could no longer “breathe with my nose.” I became dizzy and felt like I was going to vomit. I collapsed into child’s pose. I was so embarrassed, but I was at the back and hoped I wouldn’t draw too much attention. After a few minutes, though, I pulled myself up and continued to move.
60 minutes. Dizzy again, I began gasping for air, but I felt as if I were on Mars, devoid of oxygen. The sweat, heat, and breaths of the group had only made the studio hotter and I felt as if I were in the Everglades. I looked at the door and wanted to crawl out and escape if I could. I dropped into child’s pose, dizzy, nauseated, defeated. A few minutes later, I rejoined the exercises, which were now based on sitting positions. I could barely move. The other students were holding their legs in the air; I was struggling to move my legs at all. My eyes were bulging and my face was contorted in uncomfortable shock.
70 minutes. Savasana. I was numb and dizzy and succumbed to gravity. I melted into the floor. My breathing slowed. I grinned a little, then I cringed a bit. After an eternity, I heard a tiny bell several times and was instructed to slowly “come back” to reality.
The teacher thanked us for allowing her to be our guide and concluded with a polite “namaste.”
I pulled myself together slowly. She asked, “How was that?” and all I could say was, “Crazy.”
I walked outside and was stung by the “cold.” I was drenched in sweat, as if I had just emerged from a pool. I stumbled to my car, slid in, and fumbled with the door, slamming it shut. I stared at the wheel and started crying, but quickly choked back the tears. I called my friend. I was shocked and speechless.
“How was it?” he asked. I mostly moaned in agony, but I told him I couldn’t explain how I felt. I was perplexed. Numb. I told him I felt as if I had just been beaten to death by something beautiful. He was so proud for me.
Since that moment, I have been deep in thought. Who am I? What am I? What happened in that studio? How could a cynical skeptic be cracked open to the core by this?
I had brought my ego in the door with me, and it has been crushed, swept up, and deposited in the trash. I felt so weak, but I felt like I had experienced an introspective epiphany, but a chaotic one. I felt as if my emotions were blaring out of my pores like a boombox set between two radio stations. The wires were crossed, but I knew, somehow, that this was something positive and special.
I’m still thinking about it. Parsing through the emotions with my experienced friend, we found that I had choked on my hubris and needed to embrace humility. That yoga wasn’t a contest with anyone, not even myself. That child’s pose is there for me, that I shouldn’t be embarrassed. That yoga is about self-acceptance in the moment, and about small victories. That yoga is about accepting these feelings that erupted from my psyche, good or bad. That I have to respect the practice and respect myself. I never want to drink again. I never want to eat unhealthy food again. I feel like I can be myself without worrying about others. I feel like I can get a grip on my career again. All of this, after just one session.
Only a week ago, I felt my life was at an end, but here, I acknowledge that this is a beginning. My friend said, “The door is open, you just have to walk in.”
Tonight is my second class. I told my friend, “I am so excited, I can’t wait to go…” And he said, “Listen to what you’re saying.” He’s right - yoga is amazing. And I am honored and humbled by the experience and so excited to see where it leads me.