by Nathalie Edmond, PsyD, E-RYT
I had just submitted the written requirements for my 300 hour advanced yoga teacher training and was preparing for the oral component which is to teach a class to 22 yoga teachers that I had spent a lot of time with over the last 15 months when I noticed all the sensations of anxiety. I felt the tension in the body and the mind that kept exploring different sequences, music options, variations of a theme. Even though I was an experienced yoga teacher, having taught over 1000 hours I couldn’t escape the anxiety. I was also struggling with a cold all week which was making me more vulnerable to emotions. This anxiety lasted for almost a week. It varied in intensity and frequency but definitely increased the closer I go to Friday evening when I would teach my class. I had volunteered to go second so didn’t even have the benefit of seeing many of my cohort go first. I knew that it was probably better for me to be one of the firsts to go than sit with those feelings for another week.
During this week of low to moderate level anxiety I found myself using mindfulness to tune in and befriend. I accepted that I wasn’t likely to rid of myself of the anxiety before I taught and I could use strategies to not feel hijacked by my nervous system. I was in stress response. My life wasn't in danger and yet my nervous system was recognizing that teaching this class was important to me. I wanted to pass. I wanted my passion for the fusion of yoga and psychology to come through to people I respected and admired. I had traveled to Philadelphia one weekend a month for more than a year and fulfilled all the other requirements. I was 485 hours into achieving my E-RYT-500 status. It mattered. I was in a sympathetic response which mobilizes people into action. Typically in a sympathetic response we move into fight or flight. We want to do something to deal with our stress. As long as I can stay awake to the experience and keep my frontal lobes online to communicate with my amygdala (my alarm system that notices danger) I can use the energy of stress response to my advantage.
Think of a bell curve. Too little energy or anxiety and there isn’t much drive to motivate you into action. Too much energy or anxiety and the mind can tend to shut down because you are on overload. I want to be somewhere in between in the sweet spot where I can channel the energy into productivity.
Staying awake to the experience can be challenging. That’s where my daily meditation practice is so key. I can tune in to my internal experience. SIFT through what is happening inside and outside. Sensations, Images, Feelings and Thoughts. Just observe from a place of curiosity and nonjudgment. Come back to the breath. Relax into the reality of the moment. Come back to the breath. Accept rather than resist. Come back to the breath. Check the facts. Come back to the breath. Reassure myself if needed. Come back to the breath.
I remind myself of what is true- I know what I am doing and whatever I teach is an offering. It says something about me at this moment of time and doesn’t define who I am. I am good enough just as I am and this experience matters to me. I want to be viewed in a positive light. In a couple of months this will be a distant memory. All the time I spent this past week imagining the sequence and planning was an act of love. What would happen if we thought of everything as an offering- a gift to the world? What if our to do lists and our worrying are acts of love and a desire to make the world a better place? How do we not get caught up in the worry to the point where it leads to paralysis or unhealthy avoidance?
There is a path to liberation. My theme for my class was about integrating the masculine and feminine energy within all of us, the left and right sides of our brain and helping us all get free by finding freedom in our practice and connecting with one another. The class went well. It was great to go second because the first class helped me drop into my body after a week of not being able to exercise because I was sick which is such a great stress management tool for me. The class I taught wasn’t perfect but it was beautiful and a true offering of who I am at this moment which is always perfect because I cannot be any other way. As soon as I taught the class my nervous system went back to steady state. Thank you nervous system for being there for me.
Want to learn more about befriending your nervous system and including more meditation in your life.
Check out my upcoming meditation classes as well as yoga for depression and anxiety series at mmcounselingcenter.com
May you have a nourishing holiday season.