“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our hearts, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Back in 2001, I was a freshman in college, and my saving grace from anxiety was a yoga class. More specifically, it was the most glorious of poses we call savasana that kept me sane.
For those unfamiliar, savasana—or corpse pose—is a pose of surrender and noticing thoughts and sensations without judgment, much like meditation. (It’s the pose that looks like everyone is just lying around napping.)
Back then, yoga and meditation were still mostly seen as these hippie things that flaky people do. There were certainly no yoga classes anywhere near my hometown in Connecticut, so I hadn’t had the chance to even try yoga before college. And as far as I knew, meditation was something that monks did on a mountain side.
Without the three physical education credits my college required, it likely would have been years before I experienced the peace that is savasana.
College was a very stressful time for me, as it is for most people. I still had no idea at this point that what I had been experiencing most of my life was anxiety. All I knew was that there was a bee’s nest living inside my chest, vibrating at an angry frequency that made my skin crawl.
I rarely went to parties or out to bars (even though I had my handy fake ID, which was surprisingly easy to get back then). The fear of what the “much cooler” kids would think of me kept me in my dorm room watching Empire Records, Tommy Boy, and The Emperor’s New Groove on VHS over and over and over again (we didn’t have cable and YouTube wasn’t a thing yet).
The worry of making my parents proud exhausted me. The fearful anticipation of being called on in class and not knowing the answer haunted me. The pressure to be at the top of every class crushed me under the weight of receiving a B.
I didn’t know how to escape these feelings. I wasn’t given the tools. I wasn’t told what it was. I was raised in a “suck it up” kind of household and thought I just needed to “deal with it.”
To distract myself from the internal pain, I started inflicting some externally. I’d gnaw at my skin with a dullish blade or dig my nails into my arms—not to break the skin, but to have a more tangible pain to focus on. One that I could control, one that I could look at and point to and know where it came…