THE BLOG
01/27/2016 03:49 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

The Gift of Anxiety and the Practice of Peace

Anne M. Samit

"For out on the edge of darkness there runs the peace train." -- Peace Train, Cat Stevens

A new instructor had arrived on the scene, and instead of bowing with a Namaste, he put his hands in prayer with something new to say.

"Om Shanti. Peace. Peace. Peace."

After several years of practice I was surprised not to have heard these words before! In fact, I could hardly hear them now, because he seemed to murmur them more so to himself than to the rest of us.

I wondered what he knew that I didn't, and so when I got home I looked up the chant on the Internet.

I'd already learned about the word, Om. We say it all the time. It represents the universe, and it means everything. It's all the colors and all the sounds and even all the moments in time.

Shanti, however, was a new word for me. It's defined as the state of being in peace, and it's usually chanted three times. The first time addresses divine disturbances from unforeseen forces; the second time addresses upsets in our immediate environments, and the third time addresses the turmoil found inside of us.

For a while, I'd almost given up on the idea of peace. It has proved hard to come by. But the thought of calling it forth with a chant was intriguing.

Until recently I thought that peace existed only in the absence of anxiety, something that's been a challenge for me. But lately I've felt a peace so deep that I know it must come from something more. Sometimes it actually overcomes me, as nothing I've ever felt before. And so when it's here, I stop what I'm doing and make sure to offer up some grace.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," I say aloud from my room or my car or from wherever else I am.

I don't know if it's really possible to write about this bottomless peace, because I don't know whether it can adequately be described. A good start would probably be a discussion about the harmony of opposites as found in the Book of Tao, but that could take a long time. If I dared to say it in one sentence, I'd say that to truly experience something good, its negative counterpart must be fully understood.

This winter we experienced the biggest, baddest blizzard in decades. Stuck inside, I watched this divine disturbance through my kitchen window like a black and white movie. Outside was quiet and without color. Even the sky was white. The thick snowflakes that first fell languidly from the sky quickly turned into tiny white ones which spun in circles for days, as if the outside world wasn't sure which end was up.

Before long my house was wrapped in a white blanket. I was tucked inside, protected from temperatures so cold that a state of emergency was declared.

I was lucky enough to be able to prepare for this storm. I charged my phones and cooked up some soup, just in case the power went out. I also brewed some coffee in anticipation of possible decaffeination. And I hired a snow removal service in advance, so I could count on a way out.

It's not always easy to anticipate a state of emergency. I know this because I've weathered a few of my own. These upsets were always a surprise. I'd be struck unaware without the chance to prepare. And so I suffered high anxiety, and my thoughts would spin in circles like tiny flakes on blizzard winds.

I worked from home the day the blizzard began. With no commute, I had an extra hour's sleep, and I awoke in a deep state of peace. I said my three thank-yous and got up to make coffee. Friends and family checked in, and I ran a quick errand before the roads got too bad. Then I picked up some lunch and worked from my kitchen table for the rest of the day. That evening I watched a movie under my favorite blanket and slept hard again, waking up the next morning to a peace as deep as the snow.

Recently, I read that anxiety should be considered a gift. The article said it was a red flag for inner turmoil. I was flabbergasted at the idea, as I personally wouldn't wish it on anyone. But then I got to thinking. Could anxiety be the color we need when all we can see is a black and white movie?

The article stated that anxiety serves as a personal warning mechanism, an alarm that sounds when we're living outside of our boundaries. And it said that we should embrace our anxiety with stillness and not combat it with fear, because only then are we quiet enough for the answers we need to hear.

Yoga has regulated my anxiety in a big way. I have found stillness in a practice of movement! But strangely enough the practices that are best at teaching me how to be still are the ones that are like storms themselves.

One instructor, in particular, takes us through what is a rather grueling practice. I have to prepare beforehand, hydrating well and eating properly. And I have to move with faith in myself, so I can be strong and balanced and know which end is up, especially in the inversions.

After the practice, we lie in Savasana, or final resting pose. The instructor walks around, helping us wind down with her soothing words and three spritzes of lavender water.

"Relax your body and still your busy minds," she says. "You are done moving now."

The silence echoes throughout the room that only a moment ago was filled with breath and music. It wraps around me like a blanket of peace, and I lie still until we're called to our seats.

I can't really say that I'll never get anxious again. I suppose it's to be expected. But at least now I have the practice to prepare as a way out, so I know I can get to the other side. In fact, I'm over there now, and the calmness is startling. At times, the peace is so deep that I wonder where it came from.

How did it get here? What have I done?

I really wish I knew, because when I feel it I'm free. I'm able to realize that all is really okay with me. And then nothing that's ever happened before really matters so much anymore.

We close the practice with one joyous Om. And as we bow to say Namaste I silently add a few words of my own.

"Shanti, shanti, shanti," I say to myself. "Peace. Peace. Peace."