On Finding Calm in the Chaos – How Yoga Can Help in Managing Anxiety


A sweeping, dangerously powerful wind.
Big waves in the sea so strong they steal the sunglasses from your head.
Very loud, thumping music.
Crowded Saturday-streets, and flashing lights everywhere as night falls and you suddenly find yourself alone in your head; alone with your thoughts.

 Quick! Run! The bar! The fridge! The gym! ANYWHERE to escape spending time with this egotistical and self-centered, ugly body I’ve found myself inhabiting.

 Hold it right there. Breathe.
Look around.
Sure, it’s chaotic. The outside; everyone rushing to be here or there, meet so and so for dinner or drinks to discuss where they went for dinner and drinks with him or her or what’s the latest on THAT guy and how’s your mother doing and what about those politicians, eh? Sorry I have to dash I’m not too drunk I just can’t be around all these people and all the thoughts in my head at the same time because I end up spinning around before we even start to dance and then I look in the mirror and remember what I should have worn instead and also have to do tomorrow and where the hell is my purse and what is that guy staring at my hair must be a mess and dear GOD please just get me out of here.

So leave.
It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to think these things, and feel that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation – I’ve been the one to leave and run away from my problems, finding other ways to forget about and ignore them, and, more recently, I’ve been the one to stay and push through. To remain where I am, and work through the unbalancing extremes of thoughts and emotions that send my head reeling and wobbling on a regular basis.

In yoga, what do you do if a pose makes you wobble?

You do your best to straighten the hell back up, is what you do. You push down through your feet, and certify your stance; your position; your space in the world.
Because it is yours.
It’s about the only thing we don’t have to pay for in this world – our bodies. It’s an involuntary, but rent-free location, that we somehow have to figure out how to stand up straight in, and learn to navigate through whatever environment we find ourselves.
It’s not an easy task. Don’t listen to anyone who pretends it is, or who pretends they’ve never struggled. Because every single person does.

 The asanas in yoga are merely a physical manifestation of our mental state – I know if I’ve had a particularly off-day or feel unusually anxious about something, my yoga practice is weaker than normal and I tend to wobble and lean and shake quite a bit more than usual. Because I have succumbed to the external chaos. I have assimilated it into my body, a place that has been created and cultivated for singular, simpler, and more straightforward thoughts, with no consideration for the external chaos that may or may not happen on any given day. I’ve let it in.

When we consider how many things in life are uncontrollable by our own bodies and minds – the weather, the financial state of the country, the popularity of a bar or restaurant or public place from which we suddenly want to hide, to list but a few, it’s remarkable how blurred the lines can become when we start thinking we have influence over more than just ourselves.

In taking control of our own inner situation, we are taking responsibility for the little space we inhabit on earth. Sure, we may not have asked for it, but we are here now regardless, and may as well make the most of it.

 My yoga mat has travelled with me, and shown me that it doesn’t matter where I find myself; chaotic, over-populated, noise-polluted city, or tranquil, isolated and balmy beach miles from anywhere – I am always, always within myself, and returning there is the only way to truly find this ‘peace of mind’ or satisfaction we so often seek in all the wrong places. Yoga serves as a reminder of this. A healthy, lighthearted little poke in the back that injects a sense of calmness into even the most uncontrollable and chaotic situations.

 Things don’t have to be so complicated.
Breathe. Just breathe. And Be. Even just that is more than anybody has ever asked of you.

Just in Case – A Thought on Progress…

The unpredictable and erratic Irish sunshine is shining in on me this evening through a window graffitied with stubborn raindrops from earlier on. The world both inside and outside of my room seems calm, as although the weather doesn’t suggest it, it almost feels as if things might be coming to some kind of even keel as the escaped hubcap of my life spirals slower and slower to a managable pace where it finally nears stillness – still dangerously exposed and raw in the centre of the road, yet standing there strongly, and balancing alone.
The sun and rain go on around it, contrasting elements living in direct relation to one another, which have recently been spending an increasing amount of time together. It leaves me wondering are they growing apart, or growing closer together? It seems we can’t have one anymore without being half-prepared for the other, many shops in town boasting attractive stalls of both umbrellas and sunglasses side by side in displays of diversity that would leave Aldi and Lidl speechless.
But co-exist they do, and ginger hair and pale skin aside, one without the other wouldn’t be a comfortable climate to live in either. In considering my emotions and progression over the last number of weeks, I’ve come to a similar conclusion and final acceptance (after years of awareness) that the bad does not necessarily always have to be bad, and must exist in order for the good to be as rewarding as it is. Basic and elementary as this realisation may seem to some, it has only been through putting the extremes and contrasts into practice, subjecting myself to their power and destructive abilities and consciously suffering the consequences of them that I have once and for all come to accept them for what they are, and finally, finally, slowly and reluctantly come to learn from it.
I’m ready to let go now of what I know does not serve me. The length of time between acknowledging this and being ready to do so was far, far longer than even I could even have anticipated, the struggle in between proving more confusing and unpredictable than a badly-kicked rugby ball. Yet my body and my mind have suffered enough, and letting go seems easier now that I can see myself and true potential for what it is.

I don’t know what the next month holds in store for me, or where my next pay cheque is coming from. I don’t know where it is I would be now if this low had not happened or been allowed manifest it’s gripping, grumbling emptiness within me. I can’t possibly know any of this, nor change how I was before. All I can do now is keep moving forward, building on the mistakes that were made and shunning the negative tendencies that will forever remain etched as a reminder of the strength of my own human will to do whatever it is I set myself out to do. Just because I’m not certain of what I’m setting out to do yet does not mean I won’t do it well, because now, instead of worrying and jumping to conclusions I cannot possibly predict or know the outcome of, I’m progressing forwards, in the comforting knowledge that I have been able to deal with and adapt to changes I didn’t expect or plan before, and I’ve made it this far to tell the tale. The tools I’ve gained from getting here will remain with me as long as I just remain aware, and maintain a certain balance in myself which only I can maintain.
I do not, and cannot know whether a rain jacket or a bottle of Factor 50 will be necessary when I leave the house tomorrow. But I know that both are packed away safely and neatly accessible in my bag – just in case.

To Tea, or not to Tea…

Dad is waiting for the kettle to boil. Like waiting for the explosion to go off in the split second after a bomb’s been released. Waiting for a train. Waiting for a pregnant aunt to go into labour as you peer innocently up over the huge swollen mass of her belly at her half-hidden face, and wile away your new cousins’ final hours of incubation playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega.
All of these things have a definite (or at least, expected) outcome. Deviations may occur, of course, but ultimately they will resolve themselves in a relatively predictable way. The kettle will boil. The bomb will explode (providing it has been correctly assembled). The realtime screens at the station say the train will arrive in four minutes. The baby in my aunts’ belly (now a 6-foot, nineteen-year-old rugby player) will eventually decide that enough is enough, and try to get out.

The most terrifying thing about mental illness is that there is no certainty – no physical, concrete feeling, test or proof that something isn’t right; no way to determine if what I’m going through is a genuine illness or disorder, or just a broad term used to describe something that people generally have difficulty in pinning down using a few words.
I feel like I’m standing waiting for the kettle to boil, fully aware that it is in fact, empty, and that waiting with such fruitless prospects and hoping in vain for a cup of tea will amount to about as much as ringing the doorbell of a house you know has just been vacated. No answer. No response. No emotion…blank.  What is it that I’m expecting to happen? Will these feelings ever be validated or nullified..?..are they even feelings at all? All the while I’m still waiting for something to happen, something to signify and put an end to the confusion.
Because depression is more than just feeling down for days on end. If that were the case I wouldn’t be as relatively functional and sociable as I appear.
I go out, I meet people in bars, I go to work Monday to Friday and I sleep in far too late on Saturday. I have plans to travel, I buy far too many clothes, and I don’t have any long-term goals past making it to the end of my 6-month contract in work in one piece. In many respects I am an average twenty-two year old, just out of college and struggling to find meaning and a way in a world where it seems every occupation and path is already clogged up with lines of other graduates and talented youths, all clawing their way desperately to payday and the prospect of a week or so of living in luxury and being able to buy those boots in Topshop we’ve been looking at since last month. But then the process starts all over again, and all of a sudden I can’t help but get down and slip back into bleak thoughts and dark spirals of wishing I didn’t have to get out of bed and contemplating absolutely every single other possible outcome of the day should I give in to the crippling apathy again and just stay there.
It got so bad one day last week that I was lying in bed, comfortable enough physically and not particularly exhausted – yet I was bursting to go to the toilet. I couldn’t even motivate myself to get into a vertical position to walk the 4 to 5 steps or so into the bathroom to relieve myself. I couldn’t see the point. Because there was none. Nobody was going to know or care if I lay there in my own filth; it wouldn’t make a difference to anyone elses’ day. Nothing else was going to stop because of it. In the end I got up and went, but the mental effort required to do so was only achievable because I’ve become somewhat accustomed to the ebb and flow of my own emotions, and learned how to recognise their irrational tendencies. At the time, however, nobody else would have understood if they’d asked me to explain why I’d remained in such discomfort for so long. I didn’t even understand. I just didn’t care.

Because even in that small and basic human need to relieve myself – I am alone. We are alone. We are all so isolated and terrifyingly alone in this world and in our heads that we have allowed ourselves to assume a facade of being ‘one’ and connected with one another by forming and adhereing to social constructs and boundaries. We need something to make us feel connected to the bodies around us; we need affirmation on a daily, hourly basis that the way we are living our lives is ‘correct’, ‘proper’, or ‘expected’ – because nobody has the balls or the recklessness to admit that none of us have a fucking clue what we’re doing or where we’re going. Navigating our way around this world using tools set in place for navigation by people who searched and searched and still found nothing…where exactly is it that we’re going? What am I hoping to achieve in life? Is there any requirement that says I must achieve anything?

For me, depression is a magnified sense of this isolation – it’s a simple lack of care or emotion, let alone any kind of hope or agenda. It’s hopeless and empty search for some kind of purpose and meaning, combined with a heightened sense of apathy and lack of will to complete any kind of day to day tasks that allow most people to keep beating onwards; a distraction from thoughts that don’t scream so loud.

These thoughts and questions melt my brain, blocking out any kind of rationality and making me want to stay in bed forever in a cocoon of physical comfort so as to ease the turmoil that continues in between my ears.
Their extremity is counteracted by an alternating surge of energy and drive for life that takes over at other times, a happiness and contentment that seems so perfect and blissful in that moment that the existence of any other emotion seems ridiculous – or does the high only exist because of the low? Are they relative to one another, the worst seeming so bad purely because of the bliss of the best? Is it even worth thinking these questions and wondering these things when I seem to have no control or sway over them whatsoever?

I’m not going to lie  – I still don’t understand it. And I’m not sure I ever will. But sometimes writing about it like this kind of teases some sort of clarity out of the jumbled up mush of my head.

In an effort to make this article seem less morbid, here’s an image of how it feels when I manage to stifle the thoughts briefly….and the kettle actually boils ….
Also on payday!!!