Journey to The Mat: The MindBody Connection

So it was a little over three years ago, I was living in New York City working as a freelance dancer and figure model for various art schools, and I remember feeling like something just wasn’t right in my body. Something was off but I didn’t know what or why. I remember having persistent aches and pains in my shoulders, lower back and hips. I remember having trouble falling asleep (I would watch multiple episodes of Friends before I could eventually drift off) and I often felt uneasy in my body and I couldn’t point out why. I thought this was normal and part of the dancer lifestyle. I was always in some sort of pain ever since I could remember! Honestly I didn’t even think twice about it, everyone had aches and pains… Of course pain is normal!

This physical pain gradually intensified until the pain in my hip and lower back manifested as a numb thigh and the uneasy feeling manifested as full blown anxiety with melt downs to match! At this point I started questioning everything… I mean EVERYTHING!

What am I doing with my life? … Why are we all here in this universe?… What IS life?! 

These questions scared the hell out of me! Which did NOT help my anxiety!

I went to see an acupuncturist, a chiropractor and a regular old medical Dr. about my numb thigh. The only one that helped was the the chiropractor, but only in the short term. It ended up being a quick fix that didn’t really get to the root of the issue. Around this time I started reading Ekhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ and it was only then that I identified the root cause of my anxiety: my mind! A lightbulb went on in my head… It would take me months before I would realize that it was my mind that was also mainly responsible for my physical pain, both directly and indirectly.

It all made so much sense. Reading that book reminded me of how I lived as a child, totally in the moment. I remember thinking if I stop thinking so much then I will feel better… Thats easy!

So I tried to not think… I tried not thinking as I took the subway… I tried not thinking as I posed for my art classes… And needless to say it didn’t quite work, which of course frustrated me. Being frustrated also didn’t help my anxiety! My anxiety got to a point where I was crying all the time. It was my dad that broke it down to me over a tearful phone call one afternoon, he said “Sit and focus on your breathing.”

After a few minutes of just breathing and about 20 minutes of doing whatever yoga poses I could remember (this was before I became a yoga instructor or even did yoga regularly), I started feeling like my old self again. I was amazed at how effective it was! It brought me to the ‘Now’ Tolle had been talking about, and brought me to a place where my mind could relax and not think and think and think!

Fast forward a few months, I had made a few life changes and moved back to Tobago to live a simpler life. I was doing yoga and meditating regularly and my anxiety had lessened considerably. I decided to take the plunge and get certified as a yoga instructor. I really wanted to share this amazing practice. So becoming a yoga instructor was the next step!

By doing the yoga teacher training and deepening my physical practice, I had many realizations about life, myself and my body. I was able to heal many of my physical issues, when I realized that a lot of my injuries, aches and pains were caused by built up tension from stress and anxiety (i.e. my over active mind). They were made worse by me being so much in my head that I was disconnected from what my body was telling me and ignoring the pain signals it was sending me. Ignoring them year after year allowed them to get worse, to the point where I could no longer ignore them i.e. the numb thing and anxious meltdowns!

It is through the practice of yoga that I learned just how connected the mind and body is. When the body in completely relaxed, every muscle, every organ completely released and soft, it is difficult for the mind to be anywhere but in the present moment. When I am in Savasana at the end of a yoga practice, and I find my mind wondering off on some thought or another, I check in with my body and 100% of the time a few tiny muscles in my face or neck or shoulders are engaged. By relaxing these muscles I bring my mind back to the present, back to stillness and calm. Experiencing this connection was mind boggling to me, it excited me immensely. When thoughts come up that create anxiety I can focus on relaxing thereby helping to stop the anxiety before it really even starts! What a difference!

Whenever I fall off the wagon and don’t practice regularly (which yes, does happen!), I know its my mind playing tricks on me, telling me I don’t really need a practice that day because ‘these other things’ are more important to get done. If I were to listen to my body I’d know that was not the case, but my mind tends to talk louder than my body does. When I do get back to my practice, my mind and body are always so thankful. Yes my mind is thankful too despite the initial fight it makes. On my mat my mind can relax. This is the paradox of the mind, it does not know what’s best for it. I know when my mind is trying to fight the idea of a practice, that that means my body AND mind definitely need it.

It is through yoga that I have learned so much more about myself, my mind and my body than I ever thought I could know. I know there is even more to learn. Everyday is an opportunity to have fun exploring, learning and going deeper within. Everyday is an opportunity to renew yourself and refresh this life we live. This is what yoga has given me. For others it may not be yoga, but I strongly recommend finding that thing that allows you to learn and grown as a person, from the inside out!

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