I was a corporate burnout. I was working long hours, chained to my desk, fueled by caffeine, fear, and anxiety. For almost fifteen years, I soldiered on until I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I catastrophized at 2 a.m. every morning, certain I would fail. I binged on sweets. Then I finally took a step to save myself. I went to my first yoga class. I knew I’d found something special. 
I began to find peace in the combination of movement and breath with yoga. I focused on being mindful, paying attention to my breath and body, on purpose, without judgment. This mindfulness brought focus, calm, and clarity in the moment. Yoga was slowly quieting my “fight or flight” nervous system and boosting my “rest and digest” nervous system.

Yoga and Stress Relief

I studied the yoga philosophy of self-compassion. The word for this idea in Sanskrit is ahimsa, or non-harming. I began to notice ways that I harmed myself. My anxious thoughts were harmful, as were my unrealistic expectations of myself. I was harming my body with too much sugar and caffeine. Every time I failed to set boundaries and every time I ignored my own needs to please others, I was harming myself.
The acronym RAIN became important to me in dealing with stress and coping with difficult situations. 
R — recognize what’s happening 
A — if circumstances can’t be changed, allow them to be what they are
I — investigate my reaction with curiosity and self-compassion
N — remember non-identification, the idea that we are more than our struggles and stories
I think about RAIN when I am over-extending myself or when I notice negative self-talk.  Yoga helps me to tune into how I’m feeling, and to practice more self-compassion when I’m not at my best.
I’m far from perfect. I still have a sweet tooth. I struggle against the circumstances in my life. My negative self-talk speaks loudly and often. I might as well direct deposit my paychecks at Starbucks. Still, at the same time, I’ve left my corporate job behind and I’m building the life I want. I’ve ended some toxic relationships. I’m sleeping well. And now I notice when I’m causing harm to myself. Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” I’m doing better. I’ll keep doing better. 

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

Yoga involving movement, breath, and mindfulness is a powerful tool for relieving stress. My life’s journey is to realize that I’m more than my struggles and stories. It’s to let myself be imperfect, and to be kind to myself anyway. I invite you to join me as you take your own journey in practicing ahimsa. While the journey toward non-harming can sometimes bring you to your knees, you’ll find support through yoga, and you’ll never be alone.

Annie Wolka, RYT-200, brings a warm and positive energy to her yoga classes, encouraging students to tap into their courage, compassion, and vulnerability to create connection. 

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