I started doing yoga a little over a year ago. Before then, I had written off yoga as something that wasn’t for me, mostly because the only people I knew who did it were self-righteous chardonnay-drinking soccer moms from my neighborhood. I thought yoga was an inadequate substitute for real exercise, and I was skeptical that it had any positive effect on mental health.

In the spring of last year, I was struggling with several disappointments and deep hurts. On a whim, I went to a free yoga class near my house hoping it would be a distraction. I liked it enough to go again, and then again. Eventually, I started doing it on my own with the guidance of YouTube videos.

Morning yoga replaced my morning caffeine habit and became one of my favorite times of the day. I loved how the stretching and strengthening poses made me feel refreshed and invigorated, but overtime something else began to happen. Yoga began to provide an emotional release, bring me in tune with my body, and contribute to the way my view of physical fitness has evolved.

I’ve been physically active since a young age. During my teen years, my eating disorder dictated that I work out obsessively and experience crushing guilt if I missed a day. Today, I view exercise simply as essential to managing my mental health. If I go more than a week without working out, I notice myself becoming gradually more grumpy, achy, and fatigued. I personally need heart-pounding exercises like running, push-ups, and ab crunches to manage my anxiety. Adding yoga practices to my fitness routines has taught me how to honor my body and find ease in motion instead of cranking or jerking myself into a certain shape, as we are so often taught to do in gym class as kids.

I’m hesitant to share about the blessing that yoga has been for my mental health because I don’t want to be perceived as a snob, which is certainly a stereotype of yoga enthusiasts. But being better than other people is the last thing that yoga is about. It’s a simple, yet wonderful gift to give yourself wherever you are in life and whatever you may be going through.

If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.

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