I used to sit in the den of my childhood home watching TV and suddenly feel by breath get stuck in my chest. It felt like my chest and throat were slowly constricting. I didn’t understand it. My heart would race. I would clear my throat. Get water. It eventually would go away. I was 13 or so. Around the same time in my life, I read an article about yoga in one of my mom’s magazines that I found lying around. I had never heard of yoga. I don’t remember what the article said, but I remember feeling like I needed to try it.
I searched ‘yoga’ on the computer and saw there were classes about 8 miles away, in the next town. It was, I think, the only yoga around at the time. My dad took me there soon after. We signed up for a session — one class every Tuesday night for 12 weeks.
Our teacher was named Erica. She was probably in her early 40s with long, graying hair. She taught beginner Iyengar yoga. Everything about her was gentle and kind. She looked you in the eye when you spoke. She asked how you were, expecting a real response. She taught us mountain pose, ragdoll pose, triangle pose, child’s pose and so many more. I loved it. I took 12 week sessions with Erika until I left for college at 18. She helped me with my senior project — a year-long project required to graduate high school. My project was about yoga for athletes. She was my mentor.
She gave me the warmest hug on my last day. I remember feeling so accepted and grateful to have met her, to have found her class. There is so much that I learned from those classes that still serves me today. I learned different ways to move and position my body when it feels stuck or uncomfortable or stressed. I learned how to breathe from my belly to calm my nervous system. I learned how to tune in to how my body feels. Sometimes, I still get that tightness in my chest and in my throat. But, the minute I start breathing slowly and deliberately and tuning in, I feel my upper body relax and release. It is better.
I know now it was anxiety. I was always an anxious kid; I am now an anxious adult. BUT now, I have these tools to help me keep my anxiety in check. I won’t lie. It is not a cure. I can’t stop that train every time. Sometimes I go from zero to anxious in 2 seconds and no one can stop it. When I can stop it, or slow it down though, it makes all the difference.