Managing anxiety with yoga & surf
Today on World Mental Health Day I’d like to talk about anxiety. Have you ever seen that meme that goes ‘I do yoga to burn off the crazy’? Well as a yoga teacher and someone who has dipped in and out of bouts of anxiety throughout her life, I could say this rings pretty true for me. But the question is…just to what extent should we be burning off that crazy? I mean, to quote one of my favourite directors Tim Burton ‘one person’s crazy is another person’s reality’ right?
To begin to understand what I’m getting at, let’s go back to about 5 years ago, when in the depths of a severely crippling anxiety period after some unsettling life circumstances, I was told by my local GP that people ‘like myself’ should NEVER come off anti anxiety medication and that if they did it was at risk of relationships failing, careers folding and life generally never stabilising. And sadly for a while in my highly vulnerable state I believed him! Luckily as I began to find my feet on stable ground again with the help of the medication (I’m not belittling the value of anti anxiety drugs for short term use in acute cases) and the love of those around me, I began to look for other ways to release myself from the debilitating physical and mental symptoms I was living with. Symptoms which unfortunately I was also way too familiar with in my teens and early 20’s.
Now surfing for me is the one thing that totally grounds me. Never am I more present and peaceful than when riding a wave or sat in the lineup waiting for the next set to appear over the horizon. Trust me if I could grow gills then I would! Oh how I would have loved to have given my younger, wilder self a surfboard to help tame the monkey mind beast that I was constantly battling with. But unfortunately for teen me I didn’t discover this life changing passion until I was 30. But better to have found it later than never at all, hey!
Then came yoga into my life; a journey which has armed me with a varied tool kit of movement and mindfulness that I can dip into when the going gets tough. Whereas surfing teaches me to be truly present, yoga has taught me how to be self aware. It’s not only taught me how to self generate my own flow of positive energy and sensations, but also how to sit with things that are uncomfortable and uneasy in a passive and non judgemental way. Whereas once upon a time I would reject these difficult to face emotions and bury them deep back into my physicality and psyche, now I can explore what they are trying to tell me from a place of greater stillness and clarity. Yoga has taught me how to be more compassionate with myself and how to begin to let go of the constant need to control everything, to let go of the clinging to outcomes and to recognise that the journey itself is the destination. Chinese Taoist philosophy has showed me how Yin and Yang are actually 2 sides of the same coin; light and dark codependent, necessary and inseparable in the making of the whole.
I’ve now come to realise that the reason why I’m predisposed to anxiety is not because I’m wired wrong, as the aforementioned GP might have had me believe, but quite the contrary. It’s because I’m so alive and alert in my body and mind; creative, passionate and questioning about so many things in life, sensitive on a physical and emotional level. This means that my mind has a tendency to spin at a hundred miles an hour with a million thoughts, sensations, fantasies and ideas. Understandably at times this can make you feel dizzy and overwhelmed, especially in those times when life gets the better of you and you find yourself stuck in a rut of negative thought cycles. But arguably without these personality traits, would I have the creativity and drive to be an entrepreneur? The inquisitive nature to solo travel the world, and to dive fully into the study of body and mind? Would I have the desire and passion to share all that I learn along the way and to help people feel, develop and explore their own unique energies? So arguably its not that I need to kill off or totally rewire these facets of my mind that can sometimes trigger anxiety, I just needed to learn how to harness their energy and redirect it, and how to turn the full power switch down to a level that doesn’t burn me out.
Now life isn’t always smooth running. Sometimes I’m literally shaking everything from the toolkit open on the ground to try to find a way of coping with it. But this is definitely preferable to drugging myself to the point of dulling down the very essence that makes me who I am, as was once alluded to as a remedy. The great news is that my anti anxiety toolkit is growing ever more expansive by the day: surfing, Yin yoga, breath work, meditation, mindfulness, Taoism, kicking some imaginary butt at my body combat class, taking care of my gut health, plenty of walks in nature, reading, Chinese Medicine, maintaining open dialogues with those closest to me, loving unconditionally, learning to play the ukulele, Tai Chi, lengths in the pool, accepting boredom…I could go on. Anxiety might be something that you feel is constantly bubbling underground waiting to spring up and engulf you at any moment, but with a little bit of investigation and experimentation we can all begin to build our own unique coping toolkit that serves our individual make ups. Finding peace in a crazy world is no mean feat and takes time and practice. But just don’t go burning off all the crazy hey! Remember that out of chaos comes calm, just as out of darkness comes light. Both are 2 sides to the same story.