Holbrook: ‘Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle’ (column)
“Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Anonymous. Inscribed on a plaque at The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Meditation
Last week, I attended a talk on mental health in Summit County. Over the course of my life, I’ve experienced bouts of depression and anxiety; how many others seated near me, I wondered, might also have had similar experiences? My guess is that many of us, at one time or another, have fought that “hard battle.”
In 2011, I enrolled in a program at The Kripalu Center in Massachusetts. The center is known for its yoga teacher training program, an extensive roster of speakers and ongoing research partnerships with Harvard University Medical School, Penn State University and others.
As I was to discover, it is also a place many people choose — as I did — when they have come to the end of the line.
I had just turned 50. On the outside, my life appeared successful, but, on the inside, it was crumbling: My marriage was on the rocks, and, for reasons I could not explain, I dreaded sitting down to work each day. My finances were precariously overextended.
I developed severe back pain that made it hard to move, lift things or even at times to breath. Literally, I was depressed to the point of immobility. My physician speculated that surgery might be required.
This was not the first time I had grappled with depression. “But this time, I’m 50,” I thought, no longer young enough to bounce back with years ahead of me to figure things out. And, ironically, I had been, up to that point, “living the life of my dreams.” There was no clear path forward, as far as I could see.
I got myself to Kripalu and began what would ultimately be two years of teacher training. While this is not intended to be an essay on yoga, it was through my yoga training that I found my way during a difficult time. Anxiety and depression had appeared in my life before but hit harder this time. I expect I have not seen the last of them. What’s different now, I hope, is greater recognition and acceptance of the ebb and flow of life and circumstances. And with experience has come a few more practical tools to draw on as well.
The practice of yoga made the connection between physical movement and mental health clear to me. Five years ago, when I began to practice yoga seriously, I was relieved — at times to the point of tears — at how much better I felt after a practice. Being more physically aware also led to better eating habits, less “drinking as a way to calm down.” It became a virtuous cycle: The more physically aware I became, the better I treated myself, the better I felt.
When I was too immobilized by anxiety or depression to do yoga — at least I was still breathing! Yogis believe it is the breath that moves the life force, prana, through the body and restores one’s physical and mental well-being. I began a series of Kundalini yoga classes, where the focus was almost entirely on energetic breathing. I went from being inert to on fire — I had come back to life again.
ACCEPT THE DARK WITH THE LIGHT
We come with a shadow side, despite our many good qualities and all our best intentions. Personally, I want to be known for being a loving partner, a good friend and family member, fiscally responsible, successful at my work and basically having my shit together. Rarely am I all of these things; sometimes I am none of these things. I try to accept this. And I try to do better.
FIND YOUR TRIBE
These are the people who are not impressed by the person you feel you should be — but somehow they perceive and appreciate the person you really are. They see you with their hearts. Your tribe will come from all walks of life and may be scattered across the globe. It may or may not include your natural family, and it can expand all throughout your life.
HELP SOMEONE ELSE
My first yoga students were quite elderly. Most suffered physical pain as well as loneliness and depression after the loss of a spouse. During this time, my marriage finally ended, I completely ran out of money and my father died. When I taught, yoga brought my attention to the needs of my students and away from my own troubles. While I focused on helping my students, it was they — and the opportunity to offer something of worth to them — who helped me more than I could ever have hoped to help them.
TALK TO YOUR GOD
I cannot speak with certainty about something as enormous and unknowable as God. So I will just say this: I prayed when I was so depressed I didn’t know what else to do – and it felt like someone was listening, and that I was not alone. And now it feels right, to sit on my mat and give thanks to that unknowable presence: for love that came, late and unexpected as well as for all the ways in which my life is so much better.
When my boyfriend feels moody, he will make a bookcase or maybe a table. Something beautiful, solid and useful. When I am out of sorts, I will write a poem. Creating something out of dark or confused thoughts makes me feel better. Because of its capacity to surprise and to present us with previously unimagined possibilities, creativity gives me hope.
As joy and contentment are a part of life, so are sadness and depression. Now I think of the dismal times as periods where I suffer, not so much from depression, but from a lack of imagination. I cannot yet see or imagine what good things, what happy adventures, lie just over the horizon. But I know, now, that they are there.
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge.
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