July 07, 2021

My Journey With My Mental Health and How I Deal, Part One: Yoga

Our contributor Christine shares insights into her mental health journey and lifestyle and biological influences in a series of articles. In this first piece for From the Lived Experience she discusses the impact of yoga, which has many benefits, including alteration of the stress response. Through movement and breath work yoga affects the nervous system and so much more — not all yoga is the same so be sure to learn more here!

By Guest Contributor, Christine Bushrow

I can barely remember how it felt to live without anxiety, depression, and CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder). I was diagnosed almost fourteen years ago, at fifteen years old, and at the time, I had no idea how much it would affect my life. 

Even then, I was frustrated and isolated. All I wanted was to be a “normal” teenager like the rest of my friends. So I swallowed all of my emotions, trauma, and confusion, put on my brave face, and assimilated the “normal” teenage behavior. At that moment, I believed what I was doing was okay. I thought if I pretended I was fine, I would eventually be fine. Everything would roll off my back. Looking back, though, I can so clearly see how lost I was, and, unsurprisingly, that tactic of pushing away everything I was feeling didn’t eliminate my problems—in fact, suppressing everything for so long did way more harm than good. 

While my depression seems to come and go in waves over the years, my anxiety and CPTSD triggers have remained relatively constant in my everyday life. Learning about triggers and managing anxiety requires daily effort. Even though I feel like I still have a lot to learn about my mental health – and I do! – it’s a relief to know I’ve found some tools that help get me through the day.

The first tool I uncovered was yoga. My mom used to bring me with her to yoga classes at our local gym as a teenager. It took some time for me to connect with the practice fully, though. I’d pout a bit initially and just go through the motions, not wanting to do any kind of physical activity. I didn’t know it at the time, but my depression had sapped all of my excitement and energy away. But after a while, I began looking forward to those classes with my mom, and we eventually started taking classes at an actual yoga studio, too. We still haunt this tiny yoga studio, and it’s become a beautiful place of familiarity, love, and community.

While it may sound a bit cliche to tell someone to do yoga for their mental health, it’s a fantastic practice and is recommended so often for a reason. In my experience, yoga soothes my anxious mind by helping me focus on my breath. It’s awfully hard for my mind to wander when I’m focusing on my breath and getting into each pose. I was thrilled to finally find a way to control my worrying, even if only for an hour per day. 

Yoga is also empowering and has helped me feel confident and strong in my body. Even when my limbs are shaking, or I’m dripping sweat, I feel proud of myself, connected with myself, and have compassion for myself. I tend to shed a few tears at the end of each practice, during savasana. Whether I’m practicing alone in my basement or a room full of other yogis in a studio, it’s easy to get emotional during such a moving and essential part of the practice; it’s a chance to rest, reflect, and heal.

Christine Bushrow is a passionate freelance mental health writer and mental health advocate. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, spending time with loved ones, practicing yoga, and exploring the outdoors in a constant state of wonder. www.christinebushrow.com