by Catherine Spinley
There is no question that physical activity is absolutely crucial to maintaining my mental health and wellness. I used to run 6 miles daily until my knees said, “No more.” I floundered for a few years trying to find a replacement for those near-religious-in-experience runs and finally decided to try yoga after a prolonged bout of depression and anxiety. That was 4 years ago and I’ve not looked back since. In fact, both my therapist and psychiatrist are adamant that cognitive talk therapy + medicine + exercise and mediation is the equation to a healthy and happy life. In fact some research suggests yoga may (literally) be great for our brains.
But, I’ll leave the medical studies to the experts. Here are the 5 things I learned from practicing yoga (4 to 5 days a week are optimal for me!):
I CAN’T CONTROL THE WORLD BUT I CAN CONTROL HOW I MOVE THROUGH IT
“WHAT I CAN CONTROL IS HOW I DEAL WITH SADNESS, ANXIETY, GRIEF, CHAOS, ETC. I CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE TO SET ASIDE TIME EVERYDAY TO WORK ON MY PRACTICE, WHICH HAS TAUGHT ME TO FOCUS AND BREATHE AND GIVE MYSELF A SPACE TO HEAL AND RECHARGE.”
I know, that makes life seem so easy, right? Just worry about yourself! Stay in your lane! Those cliches are not what I have in mind here. Instead I’ve learned there isn’t a whole lot I can control in this world: politicians will drive me to the brink of insanity and heartbreak, my job will cause me stress, people I love will not be with me forever and I will grieve them. What I can control is how I deal with sadness, anxiety, grief, chaos, etc. I consciously choose to set aside time everyday to work on my practice, which has taught me to focus and breathe and give myself a space to heal and recharge.
CONFRONTING YOUR DEEPEST FEARS IS COURAGEOUS
I practice Baptiste Yoga and one of The 12 Laws of Transformation is: Be Willing To Come Apart. When I heard this it struck me that humans who choose to confront the uncomfortable, to speak about the unspeakable, who dare dream of something better are the ones who are also willing to face down their fears. And, it takes guts and a lot of courage to take yourself apart and put yourself back together again. We aren’t toasters, people. From time to time I sit down and think about what’s causing that nervous rumble in my stomach or that tightness in my chest and I write it down (more on that later). Once I can see the obstacles slowing me down, the smaller they seem. They are tangible. Instead of a mirage in my brain causing constant trepidation, my fears are items on a list - which is something I can face down.
“WHEN I HEARD THIS IT STRUCK ME THAT HUMANS WHO CHOOSE TO CONFRONT THE UNCOMFORTABLE, TO SPEAK ABOUT THE UNSPEAKABLE, WHO DARE DREAM OF SOMETHING BETTER ARE THE ONES WHO ARE ALSO WILLING TO FACE DOWN THEIR FEARS. AND, IT TAKES GUTS AND A LOT OF COURAGE TO TAKE YOURSELF APART AND PUT YOURSELF BACK TOGETHER AGAIN.”
THIS ISN’T YOUR 13-YEAR OLD’S JOURNAL
I may love to write but I cannot stand journalling. At best it’s indulgent, I reasoned, at worst it’s pathologically narcissistic. Then I was challenged to journal for 40 days, not everyday but regularly, using some provided thought starters. At first, it was like flossing; I said I did it regularly but that would be an enormous lie. Then one day I found myself on a slow subway ride (yes, redundant, I know), with a dead iPhone and no book so I decided to pull out my journal and put pen to paper. I started jotting down random thoughts as they floated through my brain and a few stops later I gasped as I uncovered the revelation that my rigid life scheduling and self-imposed “busyness” was my way of avoiding any kind of spontaneity and potential disappointment. I was blown away by this discovery and have been a believer in journaling ever since. Nowadays I journal for about 15 minutes on Sunday nights and write down goals for the week. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Don’t lose your shit at work.” There’s not a set format or right way to do it - some people rave about the 5 Minute Journal and app. The point is it’s a space to dump a bunch of your thoughts; you may be amazed at what takes shape.
ALL IN DUE TIME
When all is wrong in my world, when I can’t see my future and envision any positive outcome, when all hope is lost, I close my eyes and think, “...and tomorrow I begin again.” It’s important to give myself a clean slate, a new day, another chance to make a difference in this world. Yoga taught me that anything worth achieving takes practice and dedication. I try and apply that to my life - not one day can make me or break me. So, tomorrow, I begin again.
ALL I CAN BE IS ME
The root cause of many of my struggles is my lack of self-acceptance. I spent part of my life trying to become something that, ultimately, didn’t suit me and part of my life hating the person I was relegated to be. Nowadays, I try to be kind and accepting of myself. I won’t lie to you, it’s fucking difficult. I had this vision of what I’d accomplish, of where I’d be in life at this stage and *whoa* that self-made map was all wrong. I can focus on what I am not or I can focus on what I am. I finally decided my legacy will be the imprint I leave on the people I meet. I may not become a CEO or a famous writer, but I can be a loyal friend, a loving daughter, a thoughtful member of a community. And, that’s pretty spectacular.
Interested in practicing yoga and live in New York City? There are so many great studios. I practice at Lyon’s Den, which is the only Baptiste Yoga studio in Manhattan. If you’re not into a heated, vinyasa flow, there are plenty of other options to try! Here is a search of Well + Good for some great yoga intel.
CATHERINE SPINLEY IS THE EDITORIAL DIRECTOR AT THE SUNDAY ISSUE AS WELL AS A FREELANCE WRITER AND SOMETIMES-PHOTOGRAPHER. WHEN NOT STALKING OTHER PEOPLE’S DOGS OR YELLING AT PEOPLE WHO REFUSE TO WALK UP THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ESCALATOR, SHE WORKS IN THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY AND PRACTICES YOGA. YOU CAN READ ABOUT HER AT WOREPAINT.COM AND @SPINDERELLA1110.