Namaste, with Architecture

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The studio, looking out at Boston’s Copley Square. (Credit: Vega Vitality Boston)

After months of settling in to my new life in Massachusetts, I found a wonderful yoga studio on Boylston Street overlooking Copley Square. The studio is on the top floor, level with the rooftop of the Trinity Episcopal Church, with large, clear windows offering a view of the church and the reflective 200 Clarendon Tower (also, more commonly, known as the John Hancock Tower). This juxtaposition of a sleek, modern skyscraper against the Richardsonian Romanesque peaks of the church, is a soothing image to look out to while you hold your tree pose for 30 seconds.

I’m a firm believer in the practice of calming your mind by looking out at something beautiful. It’s been discussed that staring out at the horizon can actually lower stress and anxiety, and by being outside and being active, we can live a happier and healthier life. Like many young professionals, my weekday schedule can be hectic—between meetings, sitting at my desk, writing for hours on end, and commuting home (I alternate between the train and driving the 2+ hours one way each day into Boston), having the time to be outside to clear my head becomes an occasional activity.

In a perfect world, I would have time to hike every day, but that isn’t so much of a realistic goal. When I lived in New York, I would trade in my subway commute with a walk, using the city streets as my own hiking trail. I would pass some of my favorite landmarks, enjoying the architecture and design of the city, all while getting the exercise I needed.

I should add an aside here—exercise, for me at least, is first a method of easing my anxiety. Dealing with the basic stresses of each day, my mind has a tendency to wander, and most of the time towards the negative. By creating time for myself to move, get my heart pumping, and stepping away from my phone, I’ve found a guaranteed method to lower my stress and turn my focus towards the positive—holding poses, pushing myself to do that one extra mile, pausing at the end of a hike to enjoy the view—it all helps calm me. The physical benefits of exercise are just a bonus.

So when I relocated to Boston earlier this year, my new challenge was to find a way to balance my work life, my commute, my social life, and still find time to move. My walks seemed more distant as I started following a set train schedule, and the longer I lingered in the city, the longer it would take for me to get home. I was spending too much time cramped up on a train, and I could feel myself slipping.

That is what led me to this yoga studio—I realized that while walking in Boston may not provide me the same relaxation as walking in New York did (I know, weirdest sentence ever, but walking in cities really does calm me), there were other ways to achieve it. I realized that the best thing for me was to follow a strict schedule, something that could help me set aside a specific amount of time each day to exercise.

ClassPass was my answer—through this service, paying the equivalent of a monthly gym membership, I am able to attend classes of all types and at a variety of studios before getting on my train to go home. I register ahead of time, and can do anything from yoga, to boxing, to cycling, and come out on the other side feeling stronger and at peace with my day. Instead of sitting on the train stressing over minor anxieties and letting them grow, now I would focus on the high I felt from my class, and what other activities I need to get done before the end of the week.

This week was when I finally made the connection I needed. In New York, I had the element of a view, something to look at while I cleared my mind. Walking the streets of the city always gave me that, but many of the studios I visit now are windowless, so I can only focus on the activity at hand. That’s why this moment at my yoga studio was so poignant, because as I looked out, I saw the beautiful image of modern mixed with stone, of the old against the new, of architecture, and it felt like home.

I’ve realized in my travels, that these are the moments that make your journey feel real, that when you feel that emotion of comfort mixed with awe, it can really enhance the experience. I keep a notebook on me at all times and record these moments—climbing to the top of a mountain in New Hampshire, sitting on the steps along the Trevi Fountain—making notes to remember those little moments of peace in the chaos of the city.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

A Moment of Clarity at Harts Pass

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After the storm, a rainbow appeared at our campsite in the Okanogan National Forest.

If you type Harts Pass into the Google search browser, you get a listing of images, videos and websites solidifying the danger of this mountain road. It’s description, according to DangerousRoads.org, is the ‘highest mountain pass that you can drive to in Washington State,’ with a summit of 6,100 feet above sea level. At the peak, you can camp overnight among the mountain meadows and the remains of a once lush forest, now reduced to charred skeleton from years of wildfires blazing through the area.

While dangerous, the hairpin turns along the crag of the mountainside will even out, bringing you to the peak, where there you can rest in complete silence and serenity—besides the few campsites occupied by PCT thru hikers and adventurous families, you are completely alone in the wilderness, devoid of cell service, electricity and the stresses of your daily life.

I’m not much of a person for heights—I admit, that while I love hiking, I still experience the dizzying sensation of my vertigo setting in when I look over a cliff (or, to be more honest, a railing). Even with my feet firmly placed on the ground, the image of falling makes me panic—all it takes is one thought of what ‘could’ happen to trigger it.

The idea, though, of what sparks my vertigo made me wonder: What if this sensation isn’t vertigo, but a branch of my own anxiety? The cause is the same—a simple thought ignites a story in my mind of all the ways things could go wrong. And from there, it overpowers me.

I’ve dealt with extreme anxiety for most of my adult life. At some points, the anxiety is minor, but there have been days, weeks and even months when the feelings are unbearable. Mainly it’s social anxiety I’ve dealt with—I tend to convince myself that my friends are annoyed with me or do not want me around, that even though they haven’t said anything to confirm that suspicion, I convince myself that I am not worthy of their friendship. I isolate myself, shut down when these feelings start to appear. I’ve lost friends because of it, I’ve ended relationships with people I truly cared about, just because I was afraid.

Ninety percent of the time these feelings are wrong—I let my analysis of something consume me, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of this, and I try to push through the anxiety until I can feel better. Once these feelings subside, I’m left with a clearer idea of how happy my future can truly be. But what about that other ten percent? Those are the moments I can’t control, the things that make me doubt myself and my inner strength. It’s a constant, uphill battle, where the roads are narrow and rocky, and the only thing you can do is keep going, even when you are afraid.

That was my last year. My worst fears came true—people I once relied on could not understand my melancholy, and instead of listening, they told me to suck it up. I fell deeper and deeper into the darkness, fighting my own inner demons without a hand to hold. I didn’t know who to trust anymore, who to confide in. I hurt people I cared about, sabotaged my own happiness. I felt completely alone.

Things always seem to get worse before they get better. At Harts Pass, even on the clearest of days the road is treacherous. When I traveled up the road, we had been playing chicken with a thunderstorm in the distance. The hope, of course was that we could make it to the peak before sundown, and that the storm would go over us. But as we pushed closer and closer to the top, it became more evident that the worst was going to happen, that the storm would reach us right on the ridge. We were afraid, alone, without protection. And the only way we could go was up.

It’s important to test your inner strength, to remind yourself of your confidence and your ability to survive. For so long, I had lost that part of myself. I had let my own anxieties take over, obsessing over what others thought of me and why, and let that shape my opinion of myself. But at that moment, with lightning crashing through the clouds outside our car, the wind pushing us closer and closer to danger, I suddenly forgot about the party I wasn’t invited to, the people who made me feel like I didn’t matter. I wanted to survive this, to see this through, and to return with renewed energy and confidence.

As we entered the campground 6,000 feet up, we could finally park and wait the storm out. As the rain patted against the window, and the winds died down, I looked out to the sky to see a sight unlike anything I’ve experienced before—there, above our heads and out on the ridge, was a rainbow. In the Bible, a rainbow was a symbol to Noah representing the promise that God wouldn’t bring another flood. It was a sign that everything would be ok.

That was what that moment brought me—it was a reinforcement of confidence, a promise that with so much change and regret in my life, that I would be ok. It was the push I needed to welcome peace back into my life, and begin again.

This may be an apology to those I hurt in my past. This may be an excuse I use to justify my feelings and my actions. But really, what this is, is a release. I know people don’t always like to talk about their own mental health, myself being the number one offender. Anxiety has always been my own personal demon, something that I was ashamed of for so long. But I’m not ashamed anymore. That’s why I want to open up, to be honest with myself in a form I am comfortable with—writing. This is my rainbow, my moment of clarity, my moment to remind myself that everything is ok.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

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I have to remind myself everyday of my strength–it keeps me going.