It actually wasn’t until I was in the middle of my yoga teacher training that I realized my true reason for sticking with yoga all these years. It was while I was visiting the Oregon coast one weekend (pictured above) that I suddenly experienced something I had felt in my body a couple of times but hadn’t had a name for. It was like all of my nerves were overly aware. Where my legs met the seat, there was enormous pressure, everything itched, if I touched anything, I was aware of the painful pressure on my fingers. This has a few names and it is something that stems from anxiety. It can be called hyperawareness, depersonalization, or hypersensitivity. I recently read a description that perfectly resonated with me:
In depersonalization disorder we are often hyperaware of our bodily sensations and our environment. An important component of overcoming DPD is mindfulness, but sometimes mindfulness can lead to hyperawareness OCD, where we become aware of our own awareness and develop fears about this.
This most commonly manifests itself in sensorimotor OCD where a person becomes very aware of their breathing, swallowing or blinking and then is distressed, usually developing a catastrophic fear that this “will never stop and I’ll never be able to function again”.
Hyperawareness OCD is basically when our own mindfulness process becomes hijacked. The real solution is not to distract ourself (avoidance) but to actually amplify our mindfulness of these thoughts and realize them for what they are: just thoughts (exposure).
I hadn’t taken my anxiety all that seriously until it caught up to my body like this. Our bodies keep score. That is the fitting title of a good book called The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
In my final part of teacher training, we had to select a topic for a research paper that related to yoga. In my paper, I researched the relationship between depression/anxiety and exercise. As you may guess, depression/anxiety is usually worse when there is a lack of movement in a person’s life. Now, there are certainly a good amount of people who need medication to correct a chemical imbalance. But, otherwise, having a movement practice was incredibly helpful in many cases because of how effective exercise can be in reducing stress, which is the leading cause of these disorders. In our culture, there is so much emphasis on being efficient. We can get so caught up in the rush of things. But, if we are truly after efficiency, we have to take some time to breathe and move. Balance is the most sustainably efficient route.
Hyperawareness can be a vicious cycle of being hyperaware, getting distracted and forgetting your discomfort for a moment, then noticing that you forgot, leading back to your awareness of the hyperawareness. The way out is to be truly mindful. That is to not only be aware, but not judging your sensations or thoughts. Yoga is a mindfulness practice. It gives us time to notice what is going on in our minds and bodies without judging the experience.
It can be a vulnerable thing to talk about anxiety, but I hope that through yoga, I can connect with others who may suffer from it too. Even if a student keeps it private, I know that our mutual practice of mindfully moving and breathing can bring us closer. That’s the great thing about doing yoga with others, we are all there to feel more balanced within. Union with others in finding union within.