Practicing Yoga to Understand My OCD
Words by Jules Shapiro
My brain was hijacked by overwhelming fear at the age of twelve. A fear so strong that it eventually took over my whole being. At the time, I did not understand why all of this was happening to me. Why I was the one who had to be saddled with it. This was my life and I had to learn to accept it. So I thought. Through a journey of trial and error, and a chance encounter with the practice and study of yoga, I would finally find peace and acceptance. It would also give me the opportunity to create a life and business that allows me to help other women do the same regardless of what they may be struggling with.
I can see my 12-year-old self standing on the steps at the water park waiting to take my turn on the waterslide. I was tasting my first real experience of independence with my friends without parental supervision, I was officially becoming a “grown up” and it was awesome. As I progressed up the stairs, I felt something on the bottom of my foot. I picked up my foot, thought “eww gross” and flicked off the band aid that was stuck there. I casually made a mental note to wash my hands before eating lunch and continued taking trips down the water slide. It wasn’t until, we finished eating lunch that it dawned on me. I had never washed my hands. What if that band aid was contaminated with HIV positive blood? Like a broken flood gate my brain was flowing uncontrollably with irrational thoughts that were unstoppable, this was just the beginning.
By the time I was 16, the anxiety and my reactions to it were just overwhelming. My parents had me go to a therapist. I learned that the uncontrollable thoughts and behavior patterns I was experiencing was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For the first time I finally had a reason for why I was acting the way I was. What it did not do however, was quell my fears and negative sense of self. While I was eventually convinced that I was not physically sick, the OCD was still lurking. As I went on to college, I stumbled through my freshman year navigating delicately. However, I could not keep the charade up for long, the obsessions and compulsive behaviors became extremely apparent. I needed to start taking action and I asked for help.
Around the same time that I sought the help of a psychologist, I also found yoga. At first I thought it was just glorified stretching and since the therapist suggested I add physical activity and meditation to my prescription of tackling positively, not only the OCD, but also the negative self-image that I had developed, I figured I might as well give it a go. Unbeknownst to me it would be exactly what I was looking for. I came to look forward to yoga and as I practiced I became more in-tune with my inner self and found that yoga helped to alleviate and reduce the anxious sensations.
Intrigued, I continued and found that I could minimize my anxiety through mindful breathing and being present in each moment. I gained an understanding of how and when I was getting anxious as I listened to my body. I realized that there were physical triggers and feelings that I had never noticed before. The combination of regular exercise and yoga was powerful. At the time I still just associated yoga with exercise, and did not truly make a connection between mind and body and specifically yoga until later. What I did come to understand though, is that I had the power to create the life I wanted by taking control and learning to shut down anxious thoughts and feelings.
Seeing what positive changes were happening with me, I knew wanted to share that with others. As a personal trainer, I was working with amazing women who struggled with different issues in regards to weight and negative body image. I noticed that anxiety regardless of thecause had similar traits and attributes. My goal was to empower these women to take action and make positive changes in their life. But something was missing.
A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a yoga class with her. Lying in savasana, I knew exactly what I was missing: yoga. Through yoga teacher training I was able to truly make the connection with yogic practices and my emotional well being. My voice and attitude with myself and clients changed. I was able to take the knowledge from yoga teachings to my clients and their lives transformed. Learning to be more compassionate with themselves they gained insight that showed them that forcing and pushing for results was actually blocking them from seeing true success.
Through yoga I have come to understand that I have the ability to not stand in my own way. I can now effectively keep my OCD at bay. I now teach women regardless of their struggle to be empowered to change their own lives. Embracing and implementing yogic philosophy, one will see true change. Success lies in walking the journey. Living with compassion and mindfulness facilitates this journey. Each day I am given a choice, live in the past, holding on to fears that do not serve me, or live in the present, acknowledging the challenges that stand before me, and move forward with an attitude of grace. The latter gives me an opportunity to enjoy each moment to the fullest. This is what yoga has given to me. This also holds true for my clients, and I make sure to share this empowering truth with them and now you as well!
Jules Shapiro is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and 200hr Yoga Teacher. As the Successful Women's Wellness Mentor, her mission is to help goal-oriented women find clarity and self confidence so they can show up to their business and life with full force. Through the power of yoga and strength training, Jules helps women enhance their fitness, in a nurturing and positive atmosphere.