Throughout college, when time was plentiful, I’d treat myself to hour-long yoga classes, loving how each session made me feel: My mind was alert, my mood was elevated, and sometimes I was even euphoric. Feeling hopeful and energized by the classes, all the stress of the week would just melt away. A total reboot.
And yet despite the incredible feelings of well-being, bliss, and mental focus, I had a hard time sticking with it or creating a set regimen—especially as I got older. Confession: I’m one of those annoying people who is always telling other people that they should do yoga and then I forget to do it.
I knew it was good for me. I knew I needed it. I knew I couldn’t afford to not do it—for both my physical and mental health. Yet I would skip it. Self-neglect is a habit that is easy to start and hard to break, especially when you have mental health issues, as I do.
During those college years I was also smoking a pack a day to deal with stress, I wasn’t really exercising, and yeah, I was partying. I was surrounded by bad choice enablers and the party lifestyle was my norm. But in my 20s—like a lot of people—my poor lifestyle choices didn’t really manifest themselves on my body. I could drink like a fish and eat pasta every night and still sit at about 120 pounds.
I realized that if I was going to be a happy and productive human being, I was going to have to center myself mentally and physically.
That all changed when I hit 30, however. Thirty is the moment of reckoning. Your midsection grows, the bags under your eyes became more pronounced, and the aches in your muscles begin to hurt more and more. Exhaustion hits you harder and lingers longer. Your body doesn’t bounce back the way it used to.
And my problems were not merely physical. In my early 30s, I began to suffer more from stress-related anxiety and I had trouble focusing on work. Getting out of bed was an arduous task and facing the day filled me with anxious energy.
I realized that if I was going to be a happy and productive human being, I was going to have to center myself mentally and physically. So, at 32, I quit smoking, I quit drinking, and I began to do yoga again.
I decided to challenge myself to do yoga for at least half an hour, once a day. I wrote a post online saying that I was doing a month-long yoga challenge and a friend from college reached out to me saying she wanted to do it too. The thing is, I live nowhere near anyone else, out in the country, surrounded by woods. To get my yoga fix, I couldn’t just drive to the nearest yoga studio and meet my friend at a local strip mall. So my friend and I started to do yoga together through Skype.
My Skype yoga buddy and I both have high-stress and time-consuming jobs. So we kept it simple: We picked videos to watch and followed along together. Since we had both previously done yoga, it was easy to slip back into it.
At first my mind was restless. It resisted. It wandered as I moved through the poses, not totally present. The first week was definitely a challenge, and I would be winded by the end.
By the end of week two, though, I really started looking forward to the sessions. Chatting with my friend and getting that energy boost made me feel happy and excited. I was sinking deeper into the stretches, I was picking up the pace, and my joint stiffness and muscle tension was decreasing. By week three I was doing yoga outside of session time! My flexibility was increasing and I started to be centered in my body again. And I’d preempt it, stretching when something was tight, instead of waiting for the knots to build like I had done before.
I was sinking deeper into the stretches, I was picking up the pace, and my joint stiffness and muscle tension was decreasing. By week three I was doing yoga outside of session time!
By the final week of the month challenge, my energy level in daily life increased significantly. It was easier for me to focus and get work done more quickly and more efficiently. My thoughts became more positive. Each time I worked through a physical blockage, a mental knot loosened up. Most importantly, I found myself coping better with the stress that led me back to yoga. Combined with not drinking and not smoking, this was making me feel so good.
I’ve been able to stick with it, thankfully. Having an accountability buddy keeps me motivated and it’s a fun way to catch up. This in itself is a morale boost, but once I feel the deep hug of yoga, I begin to remember that I am there, to not forget myself, to love myself. Having our daily online yoga sessions allows us both the freedom to meet when we can, and hit that psychic refresh button before diving back into our busy lives.
Yoga gives me the workout that I need because it brings my mind and body together simply by working my way through the various poses. Getting to spend time with a friend while getting a burst of endorphins and peace of mind is the daily ritual that keeps me going. I get a good workout, I feel refreshed, and I get to squeeze in some friend-time. I just wish I started Skype yoga sooner.