By Krista White
My heart beats to bursting, my vision starts to waver, and I rush to leave the room. I can’t do this, what a terrible mistake. I feel defeated. But after a little coconut water and some encouragement, I come back into the studio. My first experience with Bikram Yoga is basically a panic attack cloaked in asanas. I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so I keep coming back.
I've been practicing this 90 minute, 105 degree, 45% humidity yoga for three months now. It hasn't really gotten easier, but I am learning to work through the discomfort and live in a place of not-quite-there. And boy, does that final savasana feel good every time. Breathing through the stress and occasional panic has given me more than just yoga street cred -- I'm gaining tools that I use in concert with medication and therapy to deal with my Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
My experience coping with mental illness has felt like untangling an intricate web. My anxiety is worsened by attention issues, and perfectionism in turn blends with anxiety to create an unproductive cycle of procrastination. Like the icing on top of a horrible cake, depression cloaks everything in a heavy fog, pulling me further into a negative spiral. Therapy, medication, family support and heart-to-hearts with my girlfriends have all helped me in my path to healing. I am so much stronger than I once was. Exhibit A: the other day it took hours to get a tow for my misbehaving car, and I shed not one tear. Not one!
Still, my mental health, and my anxiety in particular, has required a continuous care from every angle. At the beginning of 2016, I started to feel as if my healing had plateaued, and sensed a low-level anxiety buzzing inside me like ambient sound. Enter the overwhelming combination of stress and release that is Bikram Yoga. If I had known what I was in for I probably would never have signed up. A few postures are still so hard for me that my heart races madly in anticipation, sometimes forcing me to sit one out. Then I take some deep breaths through my nose and rejoin the class. The act of being knocked down by this practice challenges my militant perfectionism and helps me reframe it with the gentler, kinder goal of “try my darndest.”
One of my mantras during class is “stay in the room.” It’s so tempting to concern myself with how flexible the girl to my left is, or how my tummy sweat looks in the mirror, or whether I should have chicken or tofu for dinner. I worry about disappointing the instructor with my subpar tree pose and wonder where she got her cute shorts. Any other day, I could easily spiral into a cyclone of worries and irrelevant thoughts, leaving the moment for the frenzy of my own mind. But in Bikram, these thoughts are cut short by the physical realities of my body, the heat of the room, the strain in my muscles. “Stay in the room” is more than a mantra, it’s a lifeline. Forgetting to breathe could result in injury, an embarrassing spill, or even a fainting spell. This form of yoga is no joke, and it is teaching me just how strong I am.
I’m never more closely aware of my body as a vessel of power and energy as I am during those 90 minutes. This body of mine carries me through so much pain, joy, love and heartbreak. Belly fat, stretch marks, acne scars and all, this body I have is capable of so much. By unlearning toxic core beliefs about where I should be, I begin to meet myself where I am. Oh, today we’re feeling emotionally exhausted, and cry a little in rabbit pose? That’s just fine. Self-love is central to the unlearning. Years of unwittingly internalizing societal “should” statements about women (and Black women in particular) has had a huge effect on my self-perception. Race and gender play no small part in my mental health, and learning to love every part of me the world has called ugly is indescribably cathartic. Drenched in sweat and dead-tired, I’m learning that this Black, female body is simply phenomenal.
I took my teenage sister to Bikram with me the other day. I was surprised at how eager she was to try this scorching, difficult class on a bright Sunday morning. It made me beam with pride to have her in there with me, sweating out toxins and insecurities. Cementing our sisterhood in savasana, soaking in the power of our beautiful bodies.
Krista White loves working with Black Girl In Om because race and gender is so often ignored in mainstream discussions of wellness and BGIO’s warm, loving community makes her feel safe. While she left her heart in New York City and her inner-child in Chesterfield, Missouri, Krista’s adult self is plenty happy in the Bay Area, California. Find Krista online on Instagram and Twitter: @kristanicki and via her blog.