Just Breathe

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

"Do you know how to breathe?" said my psychiatrist in a soft voice.
What kind of stupid fucking question was this?
It wasn't even five minutes into meeting this woman and I already hated her. I was young (ten years younger to be exact), angsty, had a hot attitude that was quick to trigger, and no patience for rhetorical questions.

I gave her a poker face while she proceeded to explain how knowing how to properly breathe would benefit me in situations my anxiety attacks turned into seizures. For the next hour I spaced out while she spoke about something that clearly kept her occupied before lifting a pen to her notebook and saying, "you should try yoga." I stood perplexed before walking out of the small room that she called an office. (It was really just a glorified walk-in closet.)

"Yoga?" What kind of old person recommendation was this?
But I decided to try it anyway.

The closest studio was in Carol Gardens, and that's where I took my first Forest yoga class at.
Naturally, everyone was YT and I was the second darkest thing in the room other than the mats on the floor. There was no sense of personal space, everyone sighed and exhaled a little too loudly, and it was harder than I anticipated. But the easiest part of the class started with off with breathing exercises!

With eyes closed, and with every deep inhale and even deeper exhale, my heartbeat wasn't going off like fireworks. And it was actually pretty calming. The hour couldn't have gone by any slower and I couldn't wait to leave as the teacher kept calling me "Zoey," and corrected every movement I did in front of the entire room. I was internally burning with rage... so much for "beginner friendly."

I immediately went home and learned via Google that there were many different types of yoga. Maybe the psychiatrist was on to something- but it was up to me to figure it out. An hour later I booked my first class on Halloween at an aerial yoga studio. 

Blocks away from NYU, I found myself walking up to the second floor where this studio was above a pizzeria. Only 2 people showed up. I remember walking into the room and saying "woah," as the hammocks derailed from the ceiling. This felt like playing instead of doing stupid poses while breathing on the floor. My favorite was Handstand Pose aka (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). Being upside down was uneasy and doing a handstand without the support of the silks was really challenging to hold for more than a milisecond. But with silks? Anything was possible. I left the class feeling amazing, and then realized it would be too expensive to do on a regular basis. Minimum wage was $8 at the time, and a drop-in was $25. I ended up finding a Groupon and got a 3 month membership. It wasn't until I had a skating accident where I tore a tendon in my mounting foot and wasn't able to do aerial anymore. And was on crutches for a few months.

On a walk to the train one night while leaving an internship, I noticed a black door that said "Y7 Studio," written in white text. What was this? Of course I hopped on Google and looked it up. "Sweat dripping, beat bumping, candlelit yoga," stared right back at me from the screen. On Instagram, everyone was seen sporting cute two-piece active wear sets, and would pose in front of their infamous "Poser," mirror. It sounded really different than other classes I had taken and hated- and I wanted to try it.

The following week, came 6:29pm, everyone was tropping in with their mats, nonslip towels, face towels, and Swell water bottles. Here was walking into the unknown.

It was HOTTTT like 90 degrees hot. And dark. And they played rap music, everyone had their own designated space, and there was no mirror for you to look at yourself. I feel so at peace not having lights on, barely being able to make out the person next to me, and wasn't listening to waves crashing or a wind chimes, or people humming "om" for longer than they should have. This was sick- and after that first class- I kept on going.

It was a lot to get used to. Flowing in the heat, getting used to being uncomfortable in the heat- holding poses in the heat- it was all really difficult. The only thing that made it feel easier was consistently hydrating myself and- breathing.

And that's when it finally hit me- in moments where the class got too intense I had to learn to maintain consistent- steady breathing- just like with real life. Once I started applying this in situations where I was loosing control- I would remove myself from the moment, go somewhere quiet with no noise- and just close my eyes and breathe. Over time I learned what I was feeling in the moment was just temporary- and after a few minutes or a few hours- it wouldn't even matter anymore. And it made a tremendous difference with my anxiety and frequent panic attacks.

While I'm not an aggressive teen anymore (some might say this is still debatable), I rarely get panic attacks or seizures anymore. After 2 sessions with my psychiatrist, I stopped going- but continued doing yoga on and off throughout the years. Back in February I started going daily again, and now, on a weekly basis. It's something I really grew to love with some trial and error and it's become so routine for me.

So I leave you with this: Just breathe, exhale out the bullshit- and I promise you'll be ok too.

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