How Yoga Saved My Life by Zaynah Shehraz
I have been suffering from various mental illnesses (Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder) since my teenage years but in 2017, I reached crisis point. I found myself in the deepest, darkest pit of existence and was plagued with self-hatred. I had stopped getting out of bed, showering and eating. I couldn’t leave the house alone and if I dared to step outside unaccompanied, I was afflicted with hysterical crying and panic attacks. I simply ceased to function and was consequently admitted to a Psychiatric Crisis Home Treatment Team for seven months.
During this time I was just surviving and existing. As expected, my doctors advised me to take up some form of exercise and my mother suggested that I should practice yoga at home. This wasn’t the first time she had tried to lure me into the yoga-sphere. However, after years of abhorring the idea of yoga which I had preconceived to be slow and boring (my preferred form of exercise was overworking my body on a treadmill at the risk of getting shin splints whilst being spurred on by the thumping beats of The Prodigy), I finally surrendered to giving it a go.
Conveniently, The Shala was located just a few doors down from me and I eventually booked my first class in August 2017. Simply getting myself to that class marked a huge milestone in my recovery. I had crippling anxiety but upon entering the studio, I could feel the fear slowly releasing from my body. The combination of zen decor, lemongrass incense burning and the authentic smiles upon the students and teachers faces prevented me from fleeing. I managed to remain in a room with complete strangers for the full length of the class. The success of my first class motivated me to book more. After only one week of daily practice, I was completely hooked and I haven’t looked back since.
To be perfectly honest, prior to going to The Shala, I had been misinformed and rather ignorant about yoga but have since learnt that yoga is so much more than stretching and flexibility. I’ve learnt that yoga isn’t solely an exercise program (although yoga has no judgement if you only want to use the poses to physically challenge yourself). The very fact that I have been made to feel so accepted by the teachers and fellow students has taught me that yoga is incredibly inclusive. It is literally for everyone and that is distinctly evident at The Shala. The students are male, female, young, old, white, black, brown etc. You can’t be too old, too injured or too inflexible. At the end of the day yoga is about showing up on your mat with no ego and no expectations of how the practice should go. And it is with that relinquishment of judgement, I now have an opportunity to freely find a way to be the best version of myself.
Meditatively moving to the ebb and flow of breath has such potent healing effects. It reduces my anxiety and improves my sleep as well as detoxifying my body of negative energy through every exhale. It has also been a great discipline uniting body, mind and soul which is a real necessity for myself as I frequently get lost in the chaos of my mind. Simply being with my breath reminds me that I’m alive and that’s something to be grateful for.
The other lesson that I’ve learnt is that yoga is a lifestyle and that the practice continues off the mat in the way that I connect with others and the world around me.
Within the yoga philosophy, there is the teaching of “Ahimsa” (non-violence) and this has resonated greatly with me because my mental illness has inflicted this sense of self-hatred to which I respond to with shame, disgust and critical thoughts (self-violence). Yoga has helped manifest ahimsa into my life by being a little bit more present, a little bit more accepting of the now and trying to let go of unhelpful comparisons. Yoga truly is the ultimate practice of kindness and self-compassion.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve practiced various forms of yoga with various teachers at The Shala. Whether it’s restorative or dynamic vinyasa, every single teacher creates a safe environment in their classes enabling me to fully immerse myself into the practice of yoga in that moment. The teachers are incredibly personable and they bring such a warm, nurturing energy which prompts you to keep going back.
Physically, yoga has provided me with more strength, a higher fitness level and a little bit of body positivity. Mentally, yoga has helped me discover that the many limiting thoughts in my head about why "I can’t” or why “I shouldn’t” do things are simply untrue. Yoga has been key to my recovery and my journey of self-discovery. It’s made me slow down, be more present and seek something greater than myself. I have such immense gratitude for both The Shala and yoga itself. This little south London sanctuary has gifted me with a sense of community when I felt completely alone, alongside a lifestyle change that is fundamental to my healing process.
Thank you to The Shala for helping me get back on track to journeying towards a life worth living!