Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Teaching Yoga

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” — Jack Kornfield

Disclaimer: This is not a “how to” blog, or one with a cohesive message. It’s a jumbled spurt of inner funk, meant only to shed some light. Thank you. 

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It’s no secret, that the people of our society are under pressure— to be successful, to make money, to be good, to live well. As a Yoga Teacher, this pressure is sometimes experienced tenfold. We often seek out yoga as a means of healing– to find ourselves, to face our shit. Those who yearn to teach often do so for the same reasons, but we don’t necessarily go around exclaiming this. Yoga teachers are supposed to be enthusiastic, confident, strong, joyful people on the fast track to Samadhi (enlightenment), right?? Wrong. The truth is, yoga teachers are just the same as you. They are struggling, they are conflicted, they have the same experience of emotions as anyone else. You may be thinking that this is obvious, but how often do we show up to a yoga class and expect a teacher to really bring it? We’ve come to expect the fun music playlist, the high energy, the wit, the spiritual insight. But what happens when the person who is expected to facilitate such an experience is struggling? What happens when it’s the teacher who wants to curl up into a ball and hide under the covers?

Self compassion has been my biggest hurdle, the tallest brick wall, the most complex and confusing maze, puzzle, test, and challenge of my life. I had my first panic attack at the age of eight years old. I left public school at the age of fourteen because my anxiety was too out of control. I had panic attacks through the entirety of my first teacher training in 2006, and through virtually every savasana for the next year. Why can’t I relax? Why can’t I be normal? These thoughts haunted me. I began to envy those around me who seemed (key word, as things are not always so) to have their shit together. I began to feel such deep hatred for myself and my inability to get it together. I began to think of the ways that I would end it. Yeah, end it– this life. I didn’t want it anymore. But when your best friends mom kills herself, it sort of changes the way you feel about that…

As time passed, I learned, not necessarily how to stop the anxiety and the waves of complete terror, but at least how to manage them. I taught anyway. I showed up to class and brought it to the best of my ability. I was still always a worry wort. I still cried myself to sleep often. I still threw up from time to time. But I tried. I decided that giving up wasn’t an option. It became a blessing in disguise, because the knowingness of that dread, fear, and terror made me see people with softer eyes. It made my heart feel more deeply and it made my capacity to understand pain stronger. I still teach anyway. I have cycles where it seems that all anxiety lies dormant, though it still rears its ugly head from time to time.

The point in all of this? To serve as a reminder that we’re people too. That we can’t always bring it full on, but we still love teaching, otherwise we wouldn’t do it anymore. We still love you, and we still eat and breathe this shit. Sometime our energy is lower or our minds may be occupied, but know that we teach because, for some unknown reason, we feel that we have to. Know that this is our medicine, and though we know how to take it, we don’t always know the dose.

I have to share the path that has been closest to my heart and hope that in some small way, it helps people heal. I have to show up, even on the days where I feel incapable, because I care so deeply about your experience on the mat. This is my life, and though I’m so grateful to share what I love and believe in, I too am doing so in those moments when the light is dim.

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