Yoga cured my anxiety ... and saved my life
If you’re fortunate enough to take a yoga class with Misch Gomez, it’s hard to imagine a time when she wasn’t glowing with radiance. Misch masterfully walks the line of strength and vulnerability, holding space with confidence, but also leading with a sensitivity that makes you feel like you’re the only other person in the room. You can tell when she hits the mat, there’s a sense of joy, relief, and of coming home. When you take one of her classes, those feelings are transmuted to her students too.
But before Misch found yoga – or yoga found her – she battled severe anxiety and PTSD. “I don't know if I would be here to be honest without something changing. I couldn't keep going the way it was,” she says. “For me it was very physical. I'd have severe panic attacks where I had to be in the foetal position in order to recover. I still have a scar on my inner thigh where I would scratch myself from anxiety-induced itchiness. I used to throw up constantly to the point where I've now got damaged teeth and stomach ulcers. I would literally be sick because I was so anxious.”
Here, Misch opens up about her journey, and how yoga healed her anxiety and saved her life.
When did your journey with anxiety begin?
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and panic disorder in my teens and had been prescribed a variety of medications which I was never very good at taking consistently. I’d been dealing with it for a very long time but I wouldn’t say I was actually managing it well at all, a lot of the time it was barely under control. I would have severe panic attacks and anxious episodes multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day when I was having a bad patch. It was at times debilitating. I had days where I couldn’t leave my house, couldn’t interact with other people, couldn’t even get out of bed and prepare a meal for myself. If I had a panic attack in public, which was often the case, I would dash to the nearest bathroom and lock myself in, take my medication and just wait for it to subside. Some of my symptoms were psychosomatic which means the anxiety physically manifested for example as an itchy part of my body that I couldn’t stop scratching until I was bleeding, or I would start throwing up uncontrollably. It sounds so crazy on reflection and this was less than a decade ago... so much has changed for me.
WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE BEFORE YOU FOUND YOGA?
When I think about it, I think, how was I even functioning? I hid it really well. I was just trying to get through the day to day. It just felt like nothing was working. Like I was doing all the right things. I got my degree, I have a good job, I had a husband and I just felt like shit all the time. Like nothing felt good. There was no joy. I had lots of friends and I was excelling at everything I did. But it didn't matter how much I achieved. I didn't feel good.
HOW DID YOU FIND YOGA … OR HOW DID YOGA FIND YOU?
Yoga found me when I wasn’t looking! I fell head over heels completely by accident, it truly was love at first asana. My best friend Aaron taught me a vinyasa class beginning with alternate nostril breathing and ending in savasana. What we did in between escapes my memory but I remember feeling incredible afterwards in body and mind. I messaged him the next day asking what was that? He directed me to an online class with LA Power Yogi Bryan Kest and have practised in some way, shape or form every single day of my life since!
What was it about yoga that made you come back to the mat every day from the first time you tried it?
I'd meditated for a really long time, but I'd never experienced that level of reflection, and yoga was really good at because it felt like I was clearing the channels. At points, it was horrible. Like every time I was on the mat I was like facing these demons. But one of my teachers Michael kept saying, "Keep going, keep going. You'll get through it. It'll get better. This is you clearing decades of stuff that your body's just been holding onto."
How soon did you notice yoga start to have an affect on your mood?
Once I started practising yoga it became almost an obsession. A way to be so physically distracted from my anxiety, landing in my body and getting out of my head that I practised at least daily, sometimes two or three times in a day depending on when I could fit it in. I noticed a change immediately in my ability to improve my mood through the practice. Afterwards I would remain in a kind of “bliss state” which I’d never encountered through any other kind of exercise, different to the endorphin high from lifting weights or doing cardio. Everything looked and felt slightly different - the world seemed to burn a little brighter, I was much more able to see the beauty in my day to day. I can’t quite pin point when it changed from a coping mechanism to actually changing me for the better but I know now it was incremental, it’s like putting small deposits into a bank account and then one day soon you have a thousand dollars. I would say it was about six months in when I realised I hadn’t had a panic attack in a while and that I hadn’t needed to take my medication at all.
“ The world seemed to burn a little brighter…it’s like putting small deposits into a bank account and then one day soon you have a thousand dollars”
How did you make the jump from yogi to teacher?
I was practising yoga consistently twice a day, morning and afternoon at Humming Puppy when I decided I should go on a week long yoga retreat in Bali. While I was there immersed in my own daily practice, a fellow student asked me if I was a teacher. It took me a moment to respond as the universe opened up around me as if singing “YES” whilst replying haltingly “no”. That is the exact moment I decided that I needed to chase that feeling that yoga still gives me every time I practice and offer the practice.
What do you love most about teaching?
I love offering and holding the space for people to just meet themselves. Whether it be a sweaty vinyasa class or a nourishing yin practice, there is always an opportunity for you to just be you, even if it is just for an hour in your busy life - you have complete permission to move like you. To give yourself exactly what you need in the moment and begin to observe, to connect with you on a much deeper level. To drop into the present moment and tune in. When I feel that serene energy in a room full of students it is truly magic. The practice becomes a moving mediation where I am just the guide and each student is having their own human experience on their mat. I am humbled and delighted to teach yoga, offering students a deep breath and a few moments of joy.