Deep breath in through the nose, hold it, and a long exhale through the mouth. Lengthen the spine. Breathe in strength and exhale toxins. Focus. Find your center.
I was a freshman in college, taking a $5 yoga class offered by my university, the first time I took these words seriously. My inflexible and lanky legs were trying to cross themselves on top of a cheap yoga mat, and my eyes — much like my thoughts — were swimming around aimlessly in my head. I took a peek while everyone else was finding their centers in this 600-square-foot dance studio, and I noticed that I was the only one not at ease. My state of mind needed a major makeover.
I decided that mindfulness would be a more effective outlet for me than crying on the phone to my mother twice a week.
Mindfulness is the act of putting other thoughts out of your mind so you can focus more fully on the present. Obviously at that time in my life I was not walking the path of heightened awareness and serenity. I was a sheltered Southern Californian trying to survive a Seattle Winter in which the sun sets at 4 p.m., and there's more rain than there is air to breathe. My energy levels were at an all-time low. I was either sleeping through my classes or skipping them. Either way, it was clear that I was just not adapting well to my new environment.
One day my roommate suggested that we sign up for the university's new mindfulness program that offered a wide range of yoga classes and meditation sessions to help students who were struggling with their mental health. I decided that this would be a more effective outlet for me than crying on the phone to my mother twice a week, so my roommate and I signed up for our first class: Vinyasa Flow.
I'm an athletic person, and I had played sports all my life, but flexibility is not my strong suit. The first class, like many gym-related activities for beginners, was intimidating and difficult. The second and third classes weren't much better. However, I found myself slowly making these yoga and meditation classes a priority because of how much better I felt, both physically and mentally. My body felt less tight, my posture improved, and I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle. From an emotional standpoint, I found myself less overwhelmed by college and better able to meet deadlines because I could hear myself think again.
Not every single one of my problems disappeared from me learning how to breathe again, but practicing mindfulness and living in the moment made everything more manageable. I accidentally used MLA format instead of APA and my professor knocked off 5 percent of my grade? Breathe. I walked in 10 minutes late to a 500-person lecture and tripped up the stairs? Breathe. Another pointless group project? Breathe. I learned that prioritizing your mental health is an integral part of being a successful student because of the many ways stress, anxiety, and more can affect you academically.
Since then, I've graduated college, but I still use meditation to keep my life together, and I often think back to what I would have done if my college roommate had never brought it to my attention. For that, I'll always be grateful.