Have you ever had a moment in your life when you realized how unhappy and out of touch you are with not only yourself, but with your actual body? I was fortunate enough to have this “ah-ha” moment about a year ago. I know it may sound crazy to some, but I feel blessed from this realization. I assure you, I have never felt so lucky. I finally began to awaken and return to who I was before I had allowed anger, pain and my own self-criticism to smother me.
I was consumed with anger for so many years. I went through a deep depression when I was about 13 years old and with that came intense anger. This became my constant, chronic demeanor that resulted in me punching any material object solid enough to hurt my hand. I was put on medication to stabilize my mood, but I don’t think it ever helped. At 25, my body couldn’t take it anymore. I was at work, frustrated and angry as usual when I started to feel as if I was having a heart attack. After hours of testing at the ER, they told me I was fine. I simply had a panic attack. Counseling, anxiety pills and rest—that was my treatment. I spent the next two weeks at my parents’ house searching for comfort, avoiding work and experiencing anxiety over everything. When I eventually returned to work, my meds became my security blanket.
In addition to my mental state, I spent most of my life in chronic physical pain. Last year, I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who told me I had a herniated disc, two bulged discs, degenerative disc disease and the beginning stages of spinal stenosis. His solution? Spinal fusion surgery and a lumbar laminectomy. I was devastated. I sought a second opinion from a neurosurgeon who had helped my father with his back issues. Her opinion and solution were the exact opposite: Yoga. Yoga? Really?
I had heard this advice many times before but never from a doctor. For once, I listened and started to attend yoga classes despite all my fears and self-criticism. I first went once a week and eventually started to practice daily with the guidance and support from my teacher and now friend, Heather Huddleston. Throughout this, I learned I was capable of moving and could actually strengthen my back without hurting myself. At one point, Heather asked if I wanted to try a Nia class with her. When I asked what Nia was, the explanation terrified the shit out of me. For someone who spent most of her life as an introvert, the thought of being in a room full of people dancing sounded crazy. The feeling was familiar to how I felt when I stepped into that first yoga class. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I acted on the feeling of trust. I trusted my friend, and I trusted the fact that trying new things is actually good for me.
Having only danced twice in my adult life—the first due to alcohol consumption and the second at my wedding—I was terrified of stepping into a studio with dancers. I had no experience or skill. The martial arts and healing arts aspects of Nia sounded intriguing, though, and I was finally at a point in my life where I could physically do this. The first class I attended I was shaking. Inside and out. I kept thinking, why am I allowing all of these people to see how vulnerable I am? But something magical happened that night. Everyone was so nice and genuine; it felt like a real community. I received hugs from people I had never met, and everyone tried to comfort me when I told them how nervous I was. They all said to have fun and not to worry about getting anything right. It wasn’t about that; it was about feeling good.
I was introduced to Lola Manekin, who brought Nia to Baltimore. Throughout most of the class, I felt lost and struggled to move my feet and my body. What I wasn’t expecting was numerous people helping me. At one point, Lola yelled out, “FreeDance!” I guess the look of “holy shit” was imprinted on my face. Lola came dancing over, grabbed my hands and helped me get through the moment of fear. After the class, I was sweaty, sore and had blistered feet, but I was happy and content. I felt alive.
Each class is a learning experience of who I am. I’ve cried through a couple classes, tears of release and appreciation for finally sensing myself. One of the most powerful points of each class for me is when we are asked to step in and step out at the end. Nia has become my place of peace, my sanctuary. It opened a door for me and allowed me—hell, who am I kidding, it FORCED me—to get back in touch with myself, my body and emotions I refused to let in for so many years. I spent my life in a state of numbness from loss. I never dealt with those emotions. I shoved them down just trying to stay strong. I never allowed myself to fully breakdown. Now, I realize it is necessary to breakdown if I want to break through. It is safe to let go. I can face all this pain and heal. Now, I am.
My mind and body are a constant work-in-progress. My friends, family and even coworkers have noticed a drastic change in me over the past year. By no means am I done with my work, but the anger, anxiety, pain and self-loathing are now a murmur, instead of a pounding drum in my head. I am finally learning to love myself and my body. My soul has returned to how it was when I was a child. The mystery and wonder of life are exciting and intriguing again, instead of daunting and scary.
By: Hanna Roberts
Professionally, Hanna Roberts is a bridge between the technological and business worlds, aka, a master computer nerd. Personally, Hanna is a yogini, a gamer, a dancer, and a curious seeker of the mysteries and wonderment of life. She lives and dances Nia in Baltimore, Maryland. Connect with her on Facebook.