Courtesy of Asia Galberth
I was diagnosed with moderate to severe scoliosis when I was 13 years old. My grandmother noticed a curve in my spine while trying on dresses. Throughout my teenage years, I had intermittent back pain, terribly random back spasms, and with my waist so small, the curve in my spine was noticeable. I saw a doctor at 16 and he told me I had the option of having surgery where they would place metal rods along my spine to straighten the curve, or I could try yoga or physiotherapy and see if that helped.
When I was in college, I took a yoga class here and there, but never made it a priority. I felt weird being the only black person in the class all the time and the music from the studios often confused and annoyed me. I was not flexible at all and hung on like a sore thumb every class. I convinced myself that yoga was not for me.
That was until I started working in the corporate world after college. Sitting in a cubicle for seven hours a day forced me to take up yoga again because my back hurt too badly. I had to give it another try.
After years of battling it, I was around 22 when yoga and I fell in love. I moved my furniture around my apartment to have space to practice. I found myself meditating before going to bed at night and taking yoga classes every week. It was fully part of my lifestyle and my back pain was a thing of the past. Things were going well for me physically and mentally, and I even got a new job. And then things changed.
I was working in downtown Chicago in a beautiful skyscraper. I felt proud to start my career after working so many odd office jobs. The very first day at my new job, the moment I saw the cubicles I was to work in, I had a mini panic attack. I figured I was just overwhelmed with so much to learn and brushed it off.
I would do my best to complete the tasks of my job, but the anxiety never really went away. In fact, over the months it had gotten worse. On Sunday evening, I noticed that I fell asleep anxiously and didn’t understand why. The anxiety only got worse. I felt my heart rate pick up a bit when I got on the train in the morning to go to the office. Once turned off, the anxiety picked up a little more as I walked towards the building. Once in the elevator, I would have a total panic attack. Every morning I had to go to the bathroom, close the cubicle, and just breathe, practicing my breathing techniques that I had learned over years of practicing yoga.
It was starting to be a daily routine and I knew it wasn’t normal at all. Why does this place make me feel like this every day? During my lunch breaks, I took long walks and prayed all the time to feel like myself again. Why is this job so difficult? My body was literally rejecting being in that space.
It all came to a head when I came home from work one day, went to the bathroom and grabbed my husband’s hair clipper. Without any foresight, I just started shaving my head. I went down to the kitchen with half my hair down and my husband thought I was losing my mind. I think that’s exactly what was happening. Cutting my hair was my way of expressing that I felt lost. I think back to photos of me during that time and I was extremely thin. My skin had pimples. And although I had my beautiful daughter who was nine months old and was happily married, I was the unhappiest I had ever been.
The next day I walked into the office, walked straight to my desk without speaking to anyone, sat down and immediately started crying. People asked me if I was okay, some even complimented my new haircut. The craziest thing is that I had no idea what was wrong. All I knew was that that day would be my last day there. The stress of work would have killed me if I had stayed another day. I really believe it.
Shortly after, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression. Hearing him tell me what I already knew made me even more depressed. I decided to rely on yoga. It was my only option. I found a yoga studio that offered yoga teacher training and signed up. For the next six months, I spent seven hours of every Sunday becoming a certified yoga teacher. For me, the experience changed my life. Learning so much about my body and my mind, I was hooked. I was eager to share the knowledge I gained and in 2017 I gave my first yoga class.
One thing about me, I know God doesn’t make mistakes and yoga and meditation came into my life for a reason.
After about five months of teaching at different yoga studios and fitness centers in Chicago, I noticed that there were few to no black women taking yoga classes. It really bothered me. I wanted more of us to prioritize our mental health and really have tools to deal with our stress – and I wanted to do something about it.
I created New Yoga State of Mind as a safe and accessible space that was inviting to my culture. I rented a black-owned art gallery in the heart of the city and every Sunday I hosted R&B and hip-hop themed yoga classes. It was beautiful to see a packed room with faces that looked like me, practicing yoga together. The fulfillment I get from teaching yoga and meditation is a reward directly from my creator. I learned to stop and be present in every moment. I learned that if you don’t manage your stress, your stress will take care of you. Yoga, for me, is not only physical exercise. It’s a choice to live my life in a way where I can be a light to myself and to others. The self-reflection and responsibility that I am proud to have, I have my yoga and meditation practice to thank for that.
I am now a Wellness Workshop Facilitator for Corporate Offices where I deliver ‘How to Manage Stress at Work’ workshops, which are based on my personal experiences in the corporate world and the challenges that I have faced. The goal is to encourage a change in this culture in the hope that managers will adopt a more holistic approach to the well-being of their employees.
At this point in my life, I’m trying to be of service to everyone who was in my position five years ago. I wish I had a self-care and stress relief routine when I was struggling with my mental health and having daily breakdowns. Living my life now as a yoga teacher, mother, and stay-at-home wife, I have an outlet to be creative in how I share the many benefits of yoga and meditation. I am beyond grateful that this pivot of cathartic career choice and practice found me.