From the Icy Darkness of My Depression to the Yoga Room

By Brian Smith

I ran a mile.

It was the only thing I could think to do. I was severely depressed, isolated and watching bad television through the bottom of an empty whiskey glass.

It was the night before the calendar turned to 2013 and the winter had left the sidewalk caked in ice, sleet and snow.

While the studded soles of my running shoes gripped, I was ready to slip. Often, I would stand barefoot on my snowy porch, look at the moon and try to hold myself together.

Then I would wake up, take handfuls of vitamin D and trudge to work in the dark, biting Alaskan morning. I was in denial that I was in bad shape again. While I didn’t want to kill myself, I didn’t feel that I had much to live for.

Months earlier, I ran under my own motivation for the first time in my life. My co-worker who ran ultramarathons encouraged me and soon I was running every morning.

I felt a new physical and spiritual release during those early sweaty jogs. I signed up for a 5K, then another, and started to train for an early-September half marathon. After 13.1 miles, I placed last among men. I gave it everything I had and felt great. A new high.

Then the snow fell.

Well, I could take this week off because I ran a half marathon. Right? Next thing I knew it was New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t stand the way I felt — like an old tractor that had been left for the farm weeds and raccoons.

That New Year’s Eve I strapped on a head lamp and laced up my sneakers. I ran like a bulldozer over wet ice. And I did it again the next morning. I didn’t dare stop.

Running became the best part of my day. I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love with a sport all over again. But I did, and we were great together.

As the calendar turned to 2014, I found myself working in Idaho. Again the winter came and I found myself slipping. And again I put on the sneakers and signed up for my second half-marathon.

On race day I was in the best shape of my life. I ran strong and smart. I finished, drove home, puked and passed out on the kitchen floor.

Cue the post-race blues. I felt more depressed than when I signed up. My body felt energized, but my spirit was flat.

By then I had owned this feeling, this depression of mine. I knew what it was and knew I couldn’t let it control me. But my bruised toenails and sore legs wouldn’t let me run again.

I had seen yoga advertised at the gym where I liked to punish treadmills with all 280 pounds of my Scotch-Irish frame. Flashes of the first time I did yoga — with my mom and about 30 other women — came to mind. I gagged.

Honestly, it scared me. So I bought a yoga mat and signed up. Indeed I was the only dude. I worried I’d make the class uncomfortable. Men who do yoga are often ascribed nefarious intentions by their female counterparts. I’m here for the down dog, I swear.

Through the months, I began to relish the physical feeling of yoga with the added benefit of mental clarity. While running, I didn’t so much try to quiet my mind as much as try to block it out by blasting it with The Clash.

I haven’t felt depressed in a long time. But when I look in the big yoga room mirror I’m still comparing myself to my classmates, still unsure, still feeling like the chubby little boy I once was.

It’s the feeling that was the reason I never thought to run before.

Somewhere I came up with the idea of doing 100 days in a row of yoga. It wasn’t so much the physical challenge as it was my lingering mental reservations. Yoga was something chicks did on mountain tops and put on Instagram.

I was not yoga, but it called me. I knew my hesitations were skin-deep. But, I wanted to own it on my terms. To be comfortable in my own skin.

I wanted to strap on that headlamp and plunge into the icy darkness again.