I Am A Yoga Girl - Joanna Barrett

Yoga saved me, it saved my life. I know that’s a big statement, but if I didn’t step into my first class when I did 10 years ago, I’m sure I would have committed suicide by summertime.

My sister and my best friend both encouraged me to try yoga to help reduce my crushingly high stress levels, as well my deepening depression. I was petrified to go to the yoga studio and had no idea what to expect. But at the same time, I was desperate to do something, anything, to alleviate the emotional pain inside me. The fear of the unknown was actually what propelled me into my first class. I wasn’t sure what my future would be and was uncertain what the answer to my problem was. But suicidal thoughts entered my mind every day, and I lived with the uncertainty of if, when, and how I would make it happen.

Then one day in the freezing cold month of March 2009, I stepped onto a borrowed mat at the local studio. I don’t remember anything about the class except for the feeling of my feet on the ground, stable and comfortable in my body in Mountain Pose. I could feel the steady beating of my heart. Despite feeling so deep into a hole that I couldn’t crawl out, I knew that by standing tall on my mat, I was still alive.

One class a week led to two, followed by three. I dabbled in various classes, and even though I wasn’t aware of what was happening in and out of my body and mind, the stress reduction I felt on the mat trickled into my everyday life. My migraines lessened and my chronic fatigue eased. I could finally relax the tension in my shoulders and neck, and my severe acid reflux began to subside. Nearly every day I sought the peace I felt with yoga; I shut my bedroom door, lay on the floor, and felt my breath underneath my hands, which made a gentle connection to my torso. I would tune into sensations that I had never felt, and I began to see my depression more clearly. I experienced the mind-body connection and came to realize that my emotional health was not only important to my livelihood – it was crucial if I wanted to live.

I began to see that through yoga, the universe may have a future for me. Several months after I began my yoga journey, I was finally empowered to change my life and relocate to a new state. Through my yoga practice, the veil of depression lifted just enough for me to see the future possibilities for my life and the need for a fresh start. Maybe the universe had a plan for me, a plan that was yet to be revealed.

In my new city, I woke up to my new reality of practicing yoga daily. It would be just like washing my face or brushing my teeth daily; it soon became part of my regular routine. I was able to attend a class daily, sometimes two. I was hooked on daily practice and, not surprisingly, my depression eased during this time. I loved being in the studio, and pretty soon I wasn’t even aware of the deep depression I had been hiding for over 15 years.

Feeling “stuck in a rut” was an everyday occurrence for me prior to my daily yoga practice. Once I began connecting my body and breath with movement and meditation, the depression lessened, my self-esteem increased, and I felt empowered to take control of my own life. I witnessed my internal world and focused on self-directed compassion. My external world became clearer through my eyes. I realized the transformation that was possible when the connection of my body, breath, spirit, and soul connected in union.

As a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Yoga for Emotional Wellness Instructor, I see individuals for whom the depression, anxiety, and trauma are weighing too heavily on their spirits, and I encourage them to reach out for help. I’m not going to pretend I reached enlightenment; I’m far away from that status. I’m also not going to pretend that I haven’t had any depressive episodes; I have. And yet, I started seeing the value of my life more clearly, and I have never returned to that deep well of despair that I experienced during the darkest, most debilitating periods of my life.

My wish for you is to see that you are worthy, and your life matters in this world. You are responsible for living a glorious, joyful, and fulfilling life. You can find what your soul is searching for by taking the first step forward to the rest of your life.

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