Throughout my childhood, I had many experiences (a house fire, losing our home and beloved pets, floods where we lost all our possessions, bullies, car accidents, heart break, a physically disabled father who was constantly in and out of the hospital, death of loved ones to name a few) that lead me to develop an anxiety problem at a fairly young age - grade 6 to be exact.
As I tried to navigate elementary school and high school, this anxiety caused my mind to race and also caused frustrating insomnia and at times, seemingly hopeless depression.
Occasionally, I became hijacked by my nervous system and panic attacks or asthma attacks would leave me worried and afraid. It was a scary and unsettling feeling, to lose control of my breath. Intense physical pain would come.
Other times, I felt like my chest was caving in. Like an imaginary force was crushing my body and suffocating my lungs. These physical experiences of anxiety and panic would often trigger a full blown asthma attack.
More than once I found myself in the hospital with blue lips, face and fingers from hyperventilation and lack of oxygen. On time in my teens, I awoke from unconsciousness hooked up to an oxygen machine in an ambulance rushing me to the hospital. I also experienced heart palpitations that caused me to worry even more about what was happening to my body. I felt helpless. What I could do to prevent these types of attacks from coming on? I had no idea. The more I worried about it, the more unexpected attacks would arise out of seemingly nowhere.
Many people know what anxiety feels like, the way it controls the mind, produces pain, aches or nausea, the way it can create a sense of disconnect between mind, body, spirit, and the world around us. The isolation.
Once anxiety takes hold, it can manifest in a variety of ways—from panic and obsessive-compulsive behaviours to post traumatic stress, phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder. Today, over 18% of North Americans are affected with anxiety disorders, many of them children.
My journey with yoga began in 2003 when I fell completely head over heels in love at my very first class. I walked out of that room as if I was floating on a cloud, I blissfully wandered back to my dorm room. I had never felt such peace. I had the best sleep that night, the best sleep I’d had in years!
I began to practice yoga daily because I loved the relaxed feeling it gave me as well as the sense of inner stillness and peace. The more I practiced the more I felt a much needed sense of balance in my life as well as emotional resilience. Not to mention a progressive reversal everything I was struggling with in my mental health.
Finally! I had found something that was relieving all of my anxiety symptoms as well as healing my asthma. It was an amazing feeling, learning the pranayama (breathing techniques) and feeling like I finally had control over my breath and my nervous system. I could feel my lungs getting stronger. It was incredible.
Over time I went from worrying every night as I tried to fall asleep to drifting off into a peaceful sleep easily and care free. I noticed the effects of this ancient science pouring over into every aspect of my life. I knew I was going to be a lifelong student of yoga and meditation. I made a promise to myself (taking the advice from a dear teacher) that once I had been practicing yoga for ten years, I would take my yoga teacher training and deepen my practice. This was a long time tradition of the lineage practiced at the studio where I first found yoga.
I studied under Randal Williams of the Kripalu Centre for Yoga and Health for my 200 hour training. In essence, the word Kripalu translates into ‘being compassionate’. Neither posture sequences nor instructions are standardized, so no two classes look alike. Because of the creative nature of Kripalu Yoga and being an art student myself, I found it was the perfect yoga teacher training for me. Randal, renowned for his yoga nidra retreats at Kripalu was gracious enough to allow me to be his assistant and I am so thankful for his mentorship and for introducing me to nidra, the practice that I am most grateful for in this world.
Learning about yoga and meditation became my favourite thing to do. I continued my education, branching out into yoga nidra & integrative restoration, intensive meditation courses, energy medicine workshops, chakra intensives with Seane Corn & Anodea Judith, and studied my 500 hour training in yoga psychology under Ashely Turner another 300 hours in classical haha tantra under Tiffany Nicholson-Smith. 100 hours in classical Ayurveda. Prenatal & postnatal, trauma informed yoga, aerial yoga, stand up paddleboard yoga… you name it and I’ve probably done a training in it! (Seriously though.)
Eventually, I began leading Yoga Teacher Trainings in the Amrita Yoga Tradition with Tiina Kiviven and am honoured to now be the co-director of the program.
The more people I met on this journey of learning, teaching and sharing, the more amazing humans would ask me to make recordings or post my classes online. I felt scared and nervous and procrastinated for a long time.
I’m so grateful that it did because it’s connected me to so many incredible yogis and meditators across the globe!
Nothing is more fulfilling than spreading the incredible benefits I have found in yoga with others. I was a person who struggled with debilitating anxiety. Today I am not. In the future, as life brings more challenges, I know that I now have the tools to get through it.
It has been over a decade since I’ve experienced a panic or asthma attack.
I’m eternally grateful to the teachers who have passed these tools down for thousands upon thousands of years. Tools that allowed me to completely re-wire my nervous system.
It brings me joy to spread these wonderful tools into this community. I am grateful that I get to do this work. Thank you for reading my story. I hope to see you soon in the comments or on the mat.
With all of my love, Namaste.
Ally Boothroyd is a yoga educator and meditation teacher with a passion for yoga nidra and the healing power of conscious rest. She is the founder of Sarovara Yoga, a yoga space and women's retreat centre in Ontario, Canada. A sanctuary on the water where she fosters local community and supports health, personal growth, emotional resiliency, authenticity, awareness, and awakening. Ally also leads Retreats and Yoga Teacher Trainings in Nosara, Costa Rica
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