When I was approached to write an article about what yoga is to me, I immediately thought of a recent conversation I had with a friend regarding cultural appropriation, capitalism and fitness yoga. You see, it’s easy for me to distant myself from a topic by intellectualizing it. However, underneath the academic catchphrases and meta-theory, there was a deeper story of the meaning waiting to be told.
In my junior year of college I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. I say ‘diagnose’, it’s a neatly packaged term, when I really mean to say my life was turned upside down, violently shaken and put on hold for the next three years.
Depression was at once a thousand things and the feeling of nothingness at the same time. It effectively laid waste to my ambition, my social life, and the worst part of it all, I felt I could only be a passive observer to the fallout.
And then there was yoga.
I was incredibly skeptical that yoga had any use in my life. The idea that a practice involving awareness of breath and movement could succeed where years of cognitive behavior therapy had failed seemed laughable. However, my friends who had begun practicing in earnest at the time were determined to get me on the mat. They continued to extend invites, even when I would decline to spend the day in bed, head buried beneath a pile of pillows. Eventually they wore me down and I accepted.
Yoga became, and continues to be, a tool in my arsenal to combat depression. Some days yoga sinks in so deep I can feel it in my bones and other days, I am merely going through the motions.
Yoga is my key. A key to unlock the door that sometimes is the prison of my mind. A key that allows me to pull back the veil and once more see clearly the world around me, to engage with and embrace life with an open heart.
I won’t say yoga was a panacea for my depression but my mat did become a place in which I could allow the pain, the worry, the numbness to melt into the floor and open up some space in the cluttered attic of my mind. Even now, yoga represents a sanctuary, a refuge where I can unburden my mind and soul of the baggage I tend to pick up along this journey.
For me, yoga represents a practice of existence that is unencumbered by depression. It is a space, a place, a thought that allows me to truly be free.
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu --
may all beings everywhere be happy and free
August 7, 2016
*Photos by Stephanie Glaros & Elizabeth Camp