Thursday, March 20, 2014

A letter to my Instagram Friend

I double clicked on the perfectly square picture on my Instagram newsfeed. A gentle path winding out into a lush forest of pines. I read the comments and saw my Instagram friend had posted information about her blog, which covered the topics of anxiety. In an effort to connect, I posted a link to my own story about anxiety which is featured on 

Her response made my heart beat. 

She described her feelings after she had read my story and asked if we could make contact via email so that we could talk about breathwork...the key to my recovery from my own debilitating anxiety. 

I agreed. And in her email to me she invited me to share how I had done it. How I had rid myself from the grip of fear. This is what I wrote:


I am so happy you read my story and that you felt comfortable in contacting me. I read in your email that anxiety has been impacting your life in a way that is disruptive and disappointing and that you only received minimal relief from participating in yoga. I hear you and hope that what I am about to share will give you some ideas on things you can start doing to decrease the impact of that anxiety and fear.

If you are seeing a doctor or therapist, please check with him/her to make sure these items will work well for you. If you aren't seeing a doctor for your anxiety, please consider doing so just in case your situation isn't completely clear to me. I don't want to steer you wrong....

I am going to tell you exactly what I did that helped me get better. What I suggest you do is try a few of the activities, read some of the material that influenced my mind-space and see how it feels. When you try an activity, don't create too many expectations about how it 'should' feel. Just let it be what it is. No judgements. No self criticisms. When you read something, only absorb the information that rings true to you. For example, I read a Buddhism book. There were countless ideas in that book that changed my ideas forever. But the part about reincarnation and some of the things about Buddhas and gods wasn't for me at the time. I just took what made sense to me and left behind the rest. 

It all began with Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a groundbreaking zen-Buddhist-based therapy created by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington. I used this therapy to learn how to manage my overwhelming emotions (sadness and fear). "The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook" by McKay, Wood, & Brantley is what I used to practice distress tolerance skills, mindfulness, and emotion regulation. 

After I truly dedicated myself to practicing DBT with the use of a journal for about 6 months, I chose to attend Buddhist meditation classes. I didn't care for singing, but the meditation and topics covered in the discussions helped me learn how to control my racing mind even further. This is where I purchased and read "Eight Steps to Happiness" by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. In this book I learned how to stop being dissatisfied with my past, my present, and the unknowns of the future. It was another very meaningful read in my recovery. 

Now, I had been doing DVD yoga, very haphazardly, for many years. The meditation at the end was nice but I hadn't gotten a lot of lasting mental health results. Then I took an Anusara immersion in Belligham, WA at Eight Petals Yoga. Alexis Britton taught the course and it really turned the tides for me in a crucial way. She asked us to read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This ancient script is published in many different ways and analyzed by many different authors. I chose the edition written by Edwin Bryant. In this book, I learned what yoga really is...and it turned out to NOT be what I had found on the DVD or even in most yoga classes I'd wandered into. Yoga was all about stilling the mind! So I read it, I journaled, I shared with other yogis what they were learning and we practiced yoga in a whole new way. If you could make it to one of these immersions, I think you may find a whole new side of yoga that can help ease your busy mind. One of Alexis' immersions is happening on April 6th in la Conner at Crescent moon Yoga, if you are interested. She labels it as teacher training, but it's really just a deep-rooted learning of how beautiful and wonderful the practice of yoga can be. 

Sooo, with all the mind-training from the DBT, the Buddhist principals, and the Sutras, I began practicing yoga from a whole different plane. I did the whole postures thing and moved through all the poses but the new focus was on staying solid, practicing balance, facing my own insecurities on the mat...which equated to doing those things in my mind when I felt weak, unbalanced, and fearful out in the real world. 

I've saved the best for last.....the breathing. Oh the breathing! Thank the universe for the breathing. It turns out that when we get scared, feel fearful, or anticipate something bad, our sympathetic nervous systems acts different. We breathe faster and less deeply. When this happens, it triggers our parasympathetic systems (small parts of our blood flow system) to tighten. This creates an increase in blood pressure & heart rate and adrenaline. So, what I did was to learn how to regulate the breathing so that my blood vessels will stay relaxed, my heart rate will stay low, and my adrenals won't pump out adrenaline. The basic breathing that I try to do as much as possible throughout my day is abdominal breathing. Google it. The Anusara immersion will also teach you. Bee breath is another technique. I use it when I'm feeling poorly. It truly calms you. Also found in the Anusara Immersion with Alexis. And on Google. The third, that I use about three to four times per week is alternate nostril breathing. It immediately calms me and also reduces blood pressure and heart rate if practiced regularly for four months or more. I use it when I drive or when I'm stuck somewhere for too long. There are has many articles on breathwork. 

Also, I started running. I use it to expel the energy that sometimes builds up in me. Anxious energy. When I run, I feel tired after, and that forces me to let go of some of the things I am holding onto. 

A couple tidbits I do:
Child's pose...when I feel overwhelmed. I stay there for up to 10 minutes or more. 
Hip openers...they truly expel tension that builds up. Hold these types of poses for longer and longer periods to experience more of the 'release'. 
Inversions.....use these poses to feel a sense if calm. My fav is supported headstand (learned in that immersion). 
Anusara...this type of yoga is heart centered, emotionally balanced yoga. Find teachers at eight petals in b'ham and Crescent Moon in La Conner, WA
Music...I listen to Tibetan bells when I want to get still. 
Oils...I use lavender oil on my temples and pillow to create calm. 

I hope this helps. Please contact me and tell me how things go. Maybe you can blog about your experiences and send me the links when you do. 

Love & light to you,



  1. OMG! My heart is beating so hard right now! I too found you through your article in Yoga Journal and was planning on contacting you. (Just needed to get the courage). I am going to send you an email right now.

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