Since early childhood, I have struggled with anxiety. I have worried nearly everyday in what ifs, worry that has swelled in waves of heart palpitations. This anxiety of mine is ongoing and unfolding. Some mornings, I wake up with it and feel it for the rest of the day. Other days, breath manages to keep the buzzing at bay.
I spend nearly my whole life within the bounds of my mind: reading, studying, praying, thinking, and creating. When I am anxious, I retreat further into my mind, as though walking into a dark cave, where I am both protected and isolated. The fire of my mind, so often fueled by my anxiety and vice versa, must be worked with and spoken to. It is to be harnessed, not frosted over with pills of false peace.
While my mind is sharp, agile, and growing wiser, it seems my body reluctantly follow suits. I feel awkward dancing in front of people I don’t know well. I easily suppress bodily desires like hunger when I am preoccupied. I slouch, shrouding myself from attention. Sometimes my upper back aches so much from tension, my body feels like armor holding me in one shape.
This tense dualism between my body and my mind is part of my human condition. I try to find more ease with my body. I practice yoga and posture exercises. I feel in my body when Jack is near, when we can touch each other. I feel calmed by the safety of his stronger, bigger body next to mine. Even still it is challenging to land in my body and feel at home within it.
When asked in my yoga teacher training to draw a picture of my body, I drew a pink circle. A classmate looked over my shoulder. “It’s an ethereal representation,” I said. He responded, “Huh. You’re an upper chakra chick,” which was a nice way of saying, “You live only in your head.”
When I feel the anxiety rise, I instinctively press on my sternum to remind myself that this whole experience (my awareness, my emotions, my love) happens through my body. I remember that my heart, no matter how fast it is beating, is encased in tissue and bone. My heart has weight. And each beat is a sacred and astounding gift. My body, with its many particulars, carries my soul through recovery, discovery, pain, and joy.
I recognize that my relationship to my body and my relationship to my mind are interwoven. One affects the other all the time. Though the challenges are distinct, both require similar compassion. Needs of the mind (stillness, quiet, inspiration) and needs of the body (breath, movement, physical intimacy) should be given as peace offerings. We are not to overcome or dominate either the body or the mind. We are to recognize the aches, their ways of protecting us and asking us to pay attention, and respond with kindness.