How Yoga Prevents Mental Breakdowns
The Benefits of Yoga
by Blair Armstrong
I discovered the benefits of yoga — mainly hot vinyasa yoga — when my oldest was about 18-months-old, and I was in the middle of the mental holy-shit transition of accepting that I was actually a mom. When you really stop and think about that task, it’s fairly impossible to take (even remotely) lightly. Like, this kid is yours forever, and you are responsible for making sure he or she turns out physically, mentally, emotionally, culturally, and humanly successful and well-rounded some day. Ummmm, what? Wasn’t I eating Cheetos in a dorm room like five minutes ago? What happened here?
To an over-thinker, that is pretty up-there on the serious scale.
Needless to say, my mind needed to find a way to have a time-out from all of that being blown to bits by enormous responsibility, and I figured my ass could use a few down-dogs too, so off I went to my neighborhood yoga studio. Couldn’t be that hard right?
It took me a long time to figure out what the hell I was doing in there. Physically and mentally. The first few months that I went I felt like a total fraud and embarrassment to the yoga universe. The idea that I would ever learn to do it without looking like a complete and total asshole seemed like an entirely laughable notion. The mental benefits seemed even more out of reach. It seemed more likely that this graceful army of enlightened contortionists would meet me in the parking lot, shake me down for my lulu gear, and bitch slap me with my new Manduka black mat.
They totally didn’t do that though. I was all worried about them watching me and thinking that I was a zit on the face of their cirque du soleil synchronicity, but really they were thinking about themselves, not about me. As I came to understand later, yoga is about looking inward. Not at your shit-show of a neighbor. It’s one of the best things about it. None of them cared that I looked like an asshole. At it’s heart, yoga is about introspection.
Eventually, I found my sweet zen spot and learned how to get down with the yogis. I would get to the end of a 90 minute class and realize I hadn’t thought about a single thing except for moving my body and breathing for the entire time. This was a truly amazing accomplishment for me, someone who could barely go 90 seconds without 90 thoughts the rest of the time. Miraculous, really. I decided yoga had to be a part of my life forever.
Five years later I can say I’ve had some profound, altering moments while sweating profusely in down dog. I’ve had epiphanies, shed a tear or two in savasana, and had moments of inner and outer strength that I didn’t know existed in me. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself as an adult. It is a coping mechanism that rivals things like wine and girl’s weekends in Miami. Once, an african man named Mabuy (Mah-buoy) practicing next to me, even stopped me after class to compliment my “energy.” I skipped out of class that day like it was the best day of my life. That comment from that man held some important validation for me. I think it had a lot to do with his accent. It made it seem like a bigger deal, but I was stoked nonetheless. I felt like I had mentally arrived to a better place.
I rely on yoga at certain points in life to be the only thing able to bring me back from the mental abyss, where over-thinking sufferers like myself occasionally find themselves. I have had moments, weeks, and even months, where I am in that amazing place that all the blissed out zen-bots could get to when I first walked in the door (and all I could do was stare in envy and yoga lust). There have been times where I’ve even felt like one of them. I can’t say every day that I’m there is like that, but setbacks are inevitable in all things, am I right?
Sometimes it feels like its my first day again and I have a running dialogue in my head that is everything yoga isn’t. My hamster wheel of a brain doesn’t cooperate and I lose my zen, my focus, and my cool and get it all wrong. I get anxious or distracted, and my mental spiral goes somewhere that it shouldn’t. I become the anti-yogi.
Look at that girl! Her legs are perfect aren’t they? Her thighs are like 47 inches apart. I think I’m getting spider veins.
Who is breathing like a pug? Maybe that guy over there. That’s exactly why I can’t get a pug even if they’re cute.
Why did I wear this perma-stank top? I’m throwing it away.
How much longer do I have to keep my arms like this? I feel like I may actually die right now. Perfect leg girl and pug guy are going to have to resuscitate me.
My butt is definitely two inches away from the guy’s face behind me. Literally two inches. Nice to meet ya mister.
How much longer can this class possibly be??? Where the fro-yo at?
Those days I have to admit defeat and just get through it. Forgive myself and move on. Yoga is about clearing and freeing your mind, but failure is bound to happen. It mirrors life for me in that way. Sometimes you are so on, you feel untouchable, and strong, and awesome….but sometimes you just suck and that has to be ok. There is always somewhere to go in yoga, and there is always somewhere to go in life. So, onward and upward….all we can do is try.
…Have you ever done yoga? Do you still? Tell me in the comments!