When I was younger, I played every sport you would expect a young kid to. From swimming to tennis to dance to softball, I had all the bases covered. I was never the best at any of them, but these activities made me happy. When I graduated from fifth grade, I found myself becoming more interested in the performing arts than sports. I was in every school play and won several state titles in prose debate competitions: a piece of dramatic interpretation performed in eight minutes.
Performing allowed me to take a break from reality, to transform myself into different characters, many of which I had nothing in common with. Many of the characters I played in high school were drug addicts, schizophrenics and girls with no ambition (see: Frenchie from “Grease”). These opportunities allowed me to become something I would never be, and I loved that.
Many of my teachers asked me if I was going to continue theater in college, and I always had the same reply: “I hope so.” Eager about what was to come in my final year of high school theater, I was convinced I would pursue performing arts in college.
When senior year rolled around and I auditioned for the fall musical, I was devastated when I saw the cast list. I was in the chorus and only had one line. Just the year before I was the lead. I was crushed, upset that I’d lose the community that gave me a stage to grow both physically and mentally.
My senior year of high school was tough. I had smart classmates to compete with to get into the most competitive schools, and I knew my test scores were not as good as those of my peers, which took a toll on my confidence. I stopped eating, my hair started falling out and my relationships with my friends suffered.
Overwhelmed by the fact that I had no control over my future, I instead controlled what I could: my diet. I became very weak, growing fatigued during simple day-to-day activities. I wasn’t restricting myself because I wanted to lose weight — in fact I was so anxious that I didn’t even think I was restricting myself. I wasn’t eating because how could I when I woke up each morning unsure if I would fail another AP Calculus exam? Or get rejected from another school? Looking back, I’m embarrassed by these negative thoughts. They consumed my consciousness, tugging at my mental and physical well-being, and I didn’t even realize it.
Flash forward a year and I’m sitting in a lecture hall at one of the best public universities in the country. I started taking medication for my anxiety, eating real food again and doing yoga. I’d tried yoga in high school, but eventually dropped it because of my busy schedule.
I quickly found that yoga was the escape from reality — even if just for an hour a day— that I was missing since I’d left theater. Don’t get me wrong, yoga is a physically demanding activity, but I took comfort in the fact that, unlike cycling or CrossFit, I didn’t feel like I was being ordered to do anything I didn’t want to do. All my teachers made it very clear that you should only perform poses that serve your own unique body. I had never heard that before, and the acceptance I felt coming to yoga every day helped me to overcome a lot of my mental hardships that were still unresolved. I finally felt in control.
After becoming a regular yogi, there was still one pose that I just could not get right: Chaturanga Dandasana. Practiced in almost every yoga class, it serves to reset your body and begin a new sequence of poses or “flows.” Lots of instructors call it a “yoga pushup,” and I learned that it is, indeed, a yoga pushup. From the moment I was introduced to the correct alignment of the pose, I told myself I’d never be able to do it. I’d never even done a regular pushup before.
Doubt ran through my mind every time the instructor called the pose — and I didn’t realize how much this anxiety was limiting my practice. Yoga helps you experience different postures, although they might be challenging to hold, training you to deal with the negativity that floods your mind the moment you doubt your capabilities.
I knew that I wouldn’t nail this pose on my first try. Lots of yoga poses take months, even years, to master. I started slow and with the help of my teachers made minor adjustments to my alignment so that I could start to push my physical edge. Often, I felt like quitting just because I didn’t succeed the first time. Or, in other words, letting my anxieties paralyze me. But through my dedication to yoga I’ve learned the challenges that may have seemed impossible might actually be within my reach. It’s all about opening the heart, mind, body and soul, coming up into upward dog, lifting my heart to the world. I feel satisfaction by simply doing it, but also relief that I didn’t give up — didn’t let the little doubts and anxieties control me.
I didn’t start yoga because I needed to work out, I started because I needed to make peace with myself. I needed to learn that sometimes I fall down and that’s okay.
I know this sounds cliché, but I have come to learn in these past two years that I’m more capable than I’d ever thought I was.
I have found my new stage, and performing on it makes me feel better inside and out. I no longer need someone to give me the lead. I can perform all that I am capable of in a space that allows all beings to be happy, peaceful and free.