Walking into the local yoga studio, I was immediately welcomed by the heavy scent of Anthropologie candles and relaxing hymns. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety and had reached the tipping point. I could not rely solely on medication to combat my mental health dilemmas.
My doctor urged me to engage in some form of exercise but I immediately resisted. In my opinion exercise brings only two things: sweat and pain. I wasn't prepared to join the institutionalized gym (house of pain) in order to ‘help’ with my mental burdens. Months of frequent anxiety attacks caused me to reach a point where I realized that maybe my doctor was right; I needed to find a release.
Hearing positive reviews about yoga, I decided to purchase a mat and a monthly membership at a local yoga studio. Entering the classroom and placing my mat on the hardwood floor I sat cross-legged attempting to appear ‘relaxed’ and ‘mellow’. Looking around the room, I note the other participants stretching on their mat; It was at this point where I was not entirely sure what I had got myself into. I decided to take a class called Bikram, a combination of both core exercises and mental release. My doctor would be proud.
Promptly beginning at six o'clock, I followed the instructor into a variety of poses. An hour of my lack of flexibility later, the class ended and I was left on my back staring up at the ceiling. Feeling the sweat drip down my forehead, I had never been that exhausted.
Dabbing my forehead with a towel and sipping on the complimentary tea, I attempt to regain my mental consciousness. Exhausted and in physical pain, I dial an Uber to take my home. Tossing my clothes in the hamper and jumping in the shower, I find myself yawning and ready for bed. I usually suffer from some forms of insomnia but I was taken back by how easy it was to fall asleep that night. Waking up fully rested, I picked up my phone and booked another yoga class on the handy app.
During the next class, I realized that something was different; I completed the session and finished with a sense of rejuvenation opposed to exhaustion. Looking at myself in the mirror of the change room, I think to myself: “Did I just engage in exercise and am leaving happy? Blasphemous!”
As weeks passed and my monthly membership continued on for the course of the year, I actively incorporated yoga into my weekly routine. With a normal sleep schedule to boot, I note how yoga has not only helped to reduce my anxiety levels but regulated my sleep and eating patterns. In the early stages of monitoring my anxiety, relaxation became a concept that I was not 100% familiar with. Finally being able to relax my mind and body through the use of yoga I gained a new understanding and appreciate for exercise as a tool to combat anxiety.
To quote Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands!”. While I may not be living out the film Legally Blonde, Elle Woods has a point. It's proven that exercise can enhance the quality of life for those with mental illnesses. The sense of release that is experienced through physical exertion has enough power to ease anxiety.
Mental illness does not just take a toll on your mind, but on your body. If you are prescribed medication to combat illness, I cannot stress enough how medication should be taken in combination with exercise, or stress relieving activities. Whether you are interested in yoga, aquatics, football, or running, it's important to find YOUR yoga. Find an activity that provides you with the physical tools needed to combat mental illness.