If you experience anxiety you are not alone. Statistics show that 18% of Americans report anxiety and it’s predicted that 31% of adults, will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. For many of us, it is our struggles with anxiety that led us to our yogic and spiritual practices in the first place. If you have been seeking solutions like I was and are still dealing with limiting beliefs, uncertainty, anxious thoughts, worry, or fear, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, or that anything is wrong with you.
Our mind likes to think in black and white, and that can block our progress. I want you to let yourself off the hook and take a deep breath. There are things in your life for which you have had no control over. Our programming runs deep, most of which was not implanted by us. So be kind to yourself on this journey. But, if you struggle for an extended period of time, what I want you to know is that there is a grace within the universe that offers you a way out. There is a way into a new experience; into deep joy and inner harmony. And we can find answers in the practical and ancient teachings of The Yoga Sutra.
By the time I was thirty-five, I’d tried everything from traditional treatments such as individual and group therapy and medication to alternative medicines like sound healing, acupuncture, Yoga, chakra balancing, meditation, herbs, and oils. They provided me some relief, but I was still struggling with anxiety.
Trauma and Anxiety
By the age of thirteen, I had been emotionally, physically, and sexually abused and was homeless, neglected, and abandoned. As an adult, I reflected on this experience when I took the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) questionnaire. It includes 10 questions that identify your level of childhood trauma and the effects it can have on your life. It is a test where ten out of ten is not a good thing. I scored a nine out of ten. When I was twenty-six years old, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). With this perspective, there is no wonder that I have experienced anxiety for years. But you don’t have to have a high ACE score to experience suffering.
While it was true that I’d experienced trauma as a child, I didn’t want to be labeled by it. I grew up thinking I was unworthy and needed to be fixed. I was tired of that. So I searched for something else. To do so, I followed a need to solve my inner suffering. In 2005, I enrolled in my first yoga teacher training. Getting accepted into that Yoga teacher training was the beginning of a rebirth. It was the first time in my life I wasn’t being motivated by fear. I was listening to my heart.
Then in 2012, I learned about a Yoga teacher, Robert Birnberg, who’d spent years traveling to India studying with T.K.V Desikachar, a revered yogi. At the time, he lived in Los Angeles, teaching students what he’d learned, which centered around an ancient foundational text of Yoga called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which also happened to be the same work one of my more holistic-minded therapists had loosely introduced me to almost a decade earlier.
The Yoga Sutra and how to Reduce Suffering
The Yoga Sutra is a complete guide for living, and describes one of the oldest systems of healing on the planet. It includes a set of teachings and practices designed to help people reduce suffering and create more sustained joy in their lives by transforming the mind.
The Power of Practice: Abhyasa and Reducing Anxiety
Through this relationship with my new teacher, I experienced a powerful shift in my perception. Abhyasa is a Sanskrit word that means practice. But it is not the practice of touching your toes or standing on your head – I could do all of that, and I was still internally bound. Instead, it is the daily continuous practice of becoming on the inside what you want to experience on the outside. Abhyasa refers to the practice or discipline of achieving a tranquil state of mind and a state of harmony with one’s self. I realized I had to make a decision. Would I continue to practice becoming less anxious, or would I commit to becoming confident and joyful? Would I commit to living in trust or fear? It’s easy to mistake the tool for the answer, but the spiritual tool is there only to serve your commitment to reclaim your joy and reconnect with who you truly are.
I decided to practice actually believing in my worthiness instead of trying to prove it to others. I decided to imagine best case scenarios for my future instead of catastrophic outcomes. And I committed to a daily and consistent practice of becoming more peaceful on the inside so that I could experience more peace within the conditions of my life.
Being in a State of Wholeness
Samadhi is a Sanskrit word that means “to be in a state of wholeness or completeness.” When we are in this state, our mind is free from anxieties and fears. Our intuition and joy can truly emerge when we are in this state. As we go through life, we can become blocked from this part of who we are. We build a protective layer to hide our fears and limiting beliefs such as “I’m not enough.” Then, we create an image or façade which we present to the world. Being in a state of deep joy involves both the letting go of this façade and the embracing of a new identity, all of which requires trust and faith.
How I finally reached this experience in my life was by living and embodying the teachings and principles I outline in my new book If I’m So Spiritual, Why Am I Still So Anxious? I’ve been on this journey for almost twenty-five years. The gratitude I feel for where I am today is beyond words. I know for sure it is the inner work that will detangle us from our anxieties and fears. Spiritual life is not an academic endeavor. It is a practice of unlearning and awakening.
Do I ever still experience anxious feelings or self-doubt? Yes. That’s part of the human condition. But I exist on a new footing. I am established in the truth of who I am, and through consistent, committed practice, I have created a positive and empowering chosen identity and a way of relating to myself and my life. You can too. Our anxious mind likes familiarity and therefore wants to keep us where we are. To that end, it creates obstacles, worst-case scenarios, and stories about why we’re not enough or not doing enough. But these stories aren’t the truth of who we are, and they don’t represent what we are capable of.
My hope is that by sharing a piece of my story here, and more in-depth in my new book, that it will help you know that you too can reconnect to your inner guidance system and create a new and liberating reality for your life, free from the suffering of anxiety and self-doubt.
About the Author:
Joy Stone is a professional speaker, a mindset and spiritual life coach, a best-selling author, and a positive psychology and Yoga therapy practitioner who is educated in Yoga psychology. Known for her ability to deliver profound spiritual teachings in a practical and modern way, Joy works closely with spiritual seekers who want more than symptom relief for their anxiety, fear or self-doubt. They want inner peace and to connect with who they truly are. Joy’s Soul School Coaching Program blends eastern and western psychology and philosophy, and has helped countless spiritual seekers move from information overload to lasting inner transformation. With more than two decades of personal anxiety experience, Joy shares her professional experience with the world through workshops, retreats, books, and speaking engagements. Joy received her positive psychology education at the Whole-Being Institute under Harvard Professor Tal Ben-Shahar, and her Yoga teaching certification under the Anusara style. (Reprinted from LA Yoga magazine)