My 60-Day Yoga Transformation

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As I've mentioned here before, I recently finished a 60-Day Bikram Yoga challenge. Now that it's over, I could describe how the challenge pushed my body and mind to extremes I've never encountered. I could detail how it left me stronger, calmer, more confident in my abilities to set goals and meet them. And it would all be the truth, but it wouldn't be the whole truth. You see, the whole story is the one that scares me to share as it's the most personal account I've ever related on this blog. Yet it's also the one that most bears telling for its testament to the transformative power of any formidable journey. It begins not in March with the start of the challenge, but rather last December when I did something incredibly foolish: I stopped taking Prozac without medical guidance. Cold turkey.

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I’d been on antidepressants since college and had recently received my doctor's clearance to taper off. However when the chaos of the holiday season caused me to forget my dose for a week, I reasoned, ‘I’m already in withdrawal, so I might as well just push through.” What I failed to take into account is the fact that Prozac has a long half life; it stays in your system for a while after you stop taking it, so you don't immediately feel the effects.

Couch

Before the end of January I'd realized the consequences of my ill-advised decision. My usually sound sleep habits were in shambles. My moods roller-coastered from sullen to anxious to irritable and back again. My weight ballooned seemingly overnight, and most disconcertingly, I stopped menstruating. I chalked it all up to quitting Prozac and did my best to stay patient. Surely I'd be in the clear soon!

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Then the panic attacks began. By early March they were occurring with tidal regularity, tossing waves of despair over me every day at 1 pm. I'd collape on the sofa, incapacitated by sobs I couldn’t explain even to myself let alone to my family and friends. My productivity plummeted, I was exhausted all the time, I’d gained even more weight, and my menstrual cycle was still AWOL. Yet I was determined to stay off antidepressants. After a decade on medication, I wanted to experience life without it. 

Stairs

March also marked the start of the 60-Day Bikram challenge. I instinctively latched onto it like a drowning sailor to driftwood. Every afternoon when a panic attack arose, I coached myself through it with the mantra, ‘You don’t have to do anything but survive this and go to yoga.’ Getting to class and focusing on what my body could do provided a welcome distraction from all the ways it was betraying me. Moreover, the structure and familiarity of the Bikram sequence—26 asanas and 2 breathing exercises—gave me a sense of stability when my emotional and physical existence was spinning into a terrifying unknown. My yoga mat was the one place I felt safe.

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Spring progressed. Life revolved around doing yoga, completing what little work I could manage, walking the dog, and doing more yoga. As the end of the challenge neared, a glimmer of light appeared in my tunnel. The panic attacks ebbed. My moods leveled out. The weight began to creep off—and what’s more, I minded it (slightly) less because Bikram made me feel strong no matter what the scale read. In the penultimate week, my period returned after a five month hiatus. When I finished on Day 60, tears of gratitude and accomplishment merged with the beads of sweat on my face.

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While I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the physical detox and meditative benefits of Bikram decreased the duration of my symptoms, I have no concrete evidence to confirm as much. What I do know is that yoga was a sustaining force during this extraordinarily difficult time. I can only imagine how agonizing, even dangerous, the withdrawal experience would have been without it. And today as I continue to weather the ups and downs, I return to the words of my favorite instructor—words that carried me through the overwhelming heat, humidity, and exertion of 60 Bikram classes in 60 days: "Be still. Keep your eyes open. Breathe. This will pass."

P.S. I cannot emphasize it enough: DO NOT discountinue medication of any kind without supervision from qualified professionals. I'm extraordinarily fortunate that my withdrawal, though difficult, did not have dire consequences for myself and others. As well, I'm incredibly thankful to my loved ones for supporting me through the process, and to Bikram Yoga Pasadena for providing such a welcoming and encouraging community. Images courtesy of Emily Johnston's Instagram.

  • http://www.odddaughterpaper.com katie

    Anne, thank you so much for sharing about such a personal topic. I deal with anxiety and absolutely hate it, and I’m thinking yoga could be a good tool to help. You rock, lady. Know that!!!

  • http://coocooforcoco.blogspot.com/ Colleen

    That’s really an amazing story. Good for you!

  • http://www.bybun.com rox

    as a somewhat frequent reader of your blog, I appreciate how real you just got with this post. I just went through my own physical commitment/challenge, so I took comfort in reading yours. so for that – I thank-you! seems like yoga somewhat saved you through that tough transition. the body/mind is an amazing thing man…good for you. xo

  • http://brianamorrison.com Briana Morrison

    Wow, what an overwhelming experience! It’s so nice to hear that yoga was such a strong force of good during your struggle. I have a hard time keeping a regular practice but am inspired to seek out and complete a 30 day+ challenge, just to see what it can do for me.
    Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.thebeautyfile.com Lisi

    You’re just extraordinary for sharing your story with us. I hope that with every passing day you continue to get stronger and more at peace. I will be thinking about you : )

  • http://www.avantgardedesign.blogspot.com robin pulsifer

    wow anne, a powerfully honest post. i know we have all found ourselves in need of that something that pulls us through and i’m so glad that your low coincided with the yoga program. i’ve never met you but i KNOW you are strong! stay strong! thinking of you…

  • http://Www.astylistslife.com Raina

    Anne,
    I had no idea. What a incredible thing you did.
    Thank you for sharing your story. As we all know social media has a way of making everyone’s lives look so happy and perfect. I would have never known otherwise what was going on these last months. I wish only the best for you. X r

  • Pat Schneider

    PLEASE be very careful with regard to the meds. While you need to know what life is like without them, do not discount the fact that you may need something. Possibly you should “shop” for a new dr.? I say this out of pure selfishness—I enjoy reading your blog and want you to be well!

  • steph

    Oh how I can empathize! Thanks for sharing.

  • Christina

    Dear Anne,
    Most bloggers shy away from sharing personal stories, but when they do, when you do, it’s truly inspiring. It’s a chance to connect beyond pretty pictures. And it made me feel less lonely in my own journey.
    Your 60 day yoga challenge inspired me to get back on my mat and go back to my studio after an 8 month absence. Things are finally starting to feel back in balance again, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
    Thank you for inspiring me to make every day pretty (to wear pretty things, to remember to take pictures), but also for making it okay when things aren’t very pretty.
    Namaste

  • anotherann

    Thank you so much for sharing that, Anne! you are a brave soul and I love your blog, been following for a few years now. I”ve never left a comment on any thing but your entry compelled me to thank you. As one who had struggled with depression for 8 years, I can appreciate some of what you have gone through. And the societal cultural taboo it is to mention it. So thank you in your lovely way to share with us your journey.

  • Judy

    I’ve only just found you, but have to say, this is a beautiful post. Well done for getting through it – wait, that’s totally understating the massive effort – you deserve a medal!

  • Wiola

    What a great story and most of all your achievement Anne! We’ll done you as I can only imagine how hard it was for you at the very beginning. I had also found yoga very therapeutic when it comes to deal with every day life and stressful lifestyle. I live in London and 3 years ago I realised how I am waisting my time, that I don’t live my live the way I should. Leaving in a big city, morning rush hours, long days at work … It all dragged me down to a dark hole! I was always tired and could not find any happiness. Until one day when my colleague from work invited me to a yoga class. To cut long story short, I just fell in love with the piece of mind that yoga gave me from the start. It’s been over 3 years now for me of practicing yoga and Pilates. I learnt to slow down, let others to run on the underground, I just simply keep with my own pace. I know it sounds unrealistic but I swear it changed my understanding of living. I am more creative right now, I changed my job, my confidence grown and I am thinking about launching my own homeware online store. And I am sure you will be doing great, believe in yourself! You had already achieved a lot! Love xx

  • Jenny

    Your honesty in this post is incredibly brave and greatly appreciated.
    It’s a breath of fresh air in the blogosphere. Why is this (extremely common)struggle still taboo? Psych meds are so routinely prescribed, yet people are so averse to admitting to taking them. I take them, and find even the SUBJECT makes most people uncomfortable.
    I NEVER comment on blogs, but I just want you to know how strong, capable, and inspirational I think you are. Best of luck with everything!
    J

  • Dan

    Thanks for being so open, Anne. This entry and others you’ve included over the past year have helped me to better understand and support my daughter, who struggles with depression and body image issues. I admire your strength, and hope you recognize how much you are helping others. Thanks again. Dan

  • http://amandamagee.com Amanda

    Amazing. Thank you for sharing beyond your comfort. I shared your post about starting yoga and I love coming back to find how it’s gone. How *you* are.

  • 180360

    I saw the photo you posted on Instagram but am so glad I read this post. Now I’m even more impressed! :) I quite like quitting things cold turkey. (I did the same many years ago with Prozac, cigarettes, etc.) You did well to find something so rigorous and clarifying to help you over the hump. Wishing you all the best in these coming months. xx

  • http://www.rebeccaatwood.com/blog Rebecca

    Wow! Anne that sounds like such a tough time, and I’m happy to hear that you’re in a better place now.
    While I don’t have depression, the winter months are always tough for me emotionally. I’ve started practicing yoga regularly last October and it has made such a positive impact on my life.
    I hope that you continue to gain strength and peace from it, and listen to what your body and mind need.