Joni A.

IMG_8334Ever since childhood, I have struggled with deep-seeded internal anxiety, the garden-variety kind suffered by many but not readily seen by others. It grew early on as my loving but messy (rather large) family grasped for normalcy after my father’s sudden death when I was 7 and the ensuing addiction and depression of several family members.
When I turned 12, I learned that running not only felt good physically but gave me the mental green space to deal with the feelings of fear, dread, shame and guilt triggered by my anxiety. For more than 30 years, I used running as therapy. Three years ago, I suffered a terrible leg break, the result of an undetected stress fracture. The spiral break traveled up my tibia, twisting and shattering it in six places and snapping my neighboring fibula. No longer able to take 10-mile runs, my anxiety turned into all-out panic, most of which took root in my stomach.
After four and half months on crutches, a friend invited me to try Bikram yoga and assured me it was the one thing she could count on to make her feel like she’d taken a nice, long run. I agreed to give it a try, and with my newly plated and screwed (in every sense of the word) leg, I entered the hot room and teetered and wobbled and breathed. I fell down a few times. I breathed. I gasped for air sometimes and even breathed through an open mouth. But I focused on the breath, and it began to heal my soul. My leg healed, too.
My grandmother once told me that when I get nervous and overwhelmed, I should try to breathe as if I have a nostril under each toe, a rather Eastern and weird idea for my Missouri Nanny. I have used that visual my whole life, and can almost feel air enter through my feet, travel up my legs, spread up through my torso and arms until it reaches my oxygen-starved brain. I use that visual during Bikram practice. It gives me green space – like an entire prairie – and assures me that the risk to remain tight in a bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.