many years ago, we hiked a beautiful trail in Utah’s Zion National Park, called Angels Landing. The trail started off with a strenuous hike up a number of switchbacks on a paved path. After topping the paved switchbacks, we entered a canyon with a gradually inclining, shaded path. Just as we thought we were nearing the end of the trail, the trail turned and revealed that we had even steeper switchbacks ahead of us. We were determined to reach the top of the trail, because descending hikers seemed thrilled to have experienced its breathtaking view and we wanted to see what everyone was talking about.
The path became increasingly intimidating and scary. Heavy chains were bolted into the rock walls to hang on to. On the edge of a cliff, the trail was only a foot wide with a sheer 1,200 foot drop to the river below. Hikers on their way back down encouraged us to go on, declaring that the view from the top was marvelous. Sustained by their support, we continued. We haltingly climbed the same way everybody does, putting one foot down in front of the other and going breath by breath by breath. Once we reached the summit, we smiled and breathed sighs of relief, yet we both knew that we had to go back down the same way we had come up. We worried our way through our lunch and then began the return trip. During our descent, there were moments when we focused more on what might go wrong and less on where the ground was solid beneath our feet. We had to stop from time to time, remind each other to breathe, remember that we were okay, and then begin again.
Sometime after our Zion trip, Rick resolved to walk through the forest near our home as a daily meditation. Having long relied on his steadfast and steely mind to get him through life, he sometimes found that it cut him off from his aliveness. Putting one foot in front of the other helped Rick slow down and connect to himself, which propelled him into a powerful healing journey because he was then better able to feel and be touched by the meditative practices he had done for many years.
Taking one step at a time has helped enable Mary to live inside of herself. Her thoughts used to race ahead of her body, worrying about what would happen next and what she needed to take care of. It was as if her mind lived in a different time zone than her body. After the Angels Landing hike, she silently recited the words, “Step here,”during her morning walks, because it focused her attention on walking as she walked. Gradually her body and mind started moving together as one, making it possible for her to integrate what her yoga practices revealed to her.
Putting one foot in front of the other is so simple that it can become mechanical, allowing our minds to go elsewhere and be out of sync with our experience. As a consequence, we forget what we’re doing, who we are, and where we are. All this forgetting causes painful anxiety. Healing ourselves from this anxiety depends on our remembering again.
We’ve been on a yoga journey together since we met, twenty years ago, and this book is our way of sharing what we’ve learned. We’ve both suffered from anxiety and found that yoga practices help us to remember who we are, to connect to ourselves, and to engage more fully in life. We don’t claim scholarly knowledge about yoga, but we’ve experienced its real and lasting benefits. Yoga has brought profound healing to us and to the people we work with in retreats, seminars, and counseling.
While yoga practices are empowering and safe, they are not substitutes for medical care. Sometimes yoga practices are most effective as supplemental self-care to counseling and medical advice. Professional treatment, including medications, can be helpful, especially if you have a history of trauma or intense anxiety. If you’re receiving treatment for anxiety, please consult with your therapist or doctor before doing the practices in this book.
We teach only what we personally practice, so know that we’re with you as you try the practices covered in this book. And along the way, remember to go step by step—breath by breath by breath.