If you’ve ever taken a Peloton class with instructor Anna Greenberg, you’re likely aware the yoga and meditation teacher is passionate about destigmatizing conversations around mental health. But you may not know why this issue is so important to her. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Greenberg is opening up about her history with mental health issues and sharing the roles therapy and yoga have played in helping her reach a healthier place.
“I really struggled in my late teens and early twenties,” Greenberg tells Shape. “I would hit the ground running and say, ‘I’m going to do this; I’m going to have my life; I’m going to get invested in relationships and life and passion,’ and then I would just hit a wall where I couldn’t continue. It wasn’t necessarily because of anything in particular — it was just the way I was feeling.” (Related: What High-Functioning Depression Looks Like and How to Get Help)
The walls she was hitting were mental blocks, she explains. “I would become very anxious and depressed…I would just not be able to show up, basically. So, everything would fall apart.” She reached a point where she became “incredibly overwhelmed” simply going outside. “I would see all the fresh air and just start crying. I just felt like I couldn’t do life,” she continues.
Eventually, Greenberg sought professional help. She briefly tried inpatient treatment (i.e., treatment at a hospital), then outpatient care from home that included daily therapy. “I had a really clear goal in my mind from that point,” she says. “I wanted to have my life; I wanted to have relationships; I wanted to be able to do things…I would do whatever I had to do.”
In time, Greenberg assembled what she now refers to as her “army of confidence,” which includes her personal relationships, a renewed dedication to honoring her commitments, and regular yoga practice. “Eventually, yoga practice took over as the most helpful thing, in addition to therapy. It gave me such incredible perspective,” says Greenberg. (Related: 5 Ways to Support a Loved One Struggling with Depression)
She uses an analogy to explain just how impactful yoga was for her anxiety and depression. “It felt like I had a helmet on with just mirrors inside, and all I could see was myself and all my problems: how I wasn’t good enough, how I couldn’t do [the things I wanted to do],” she explains. But once she found yoga, “it was like that helmet was just off, and I felt so much more connected to something bigger,” she continues. “I could get out of my own way and feel like these insecurities, these things, that were holding me back were actually not as powerful.”
Although Greenberg has found yoga helpful for maintaining her mental health, yoga alone may not be an effective way to treat mental health concerns. “The evidence in terms of yoga as treatment for depression or anxiety is mixed, so I wouldn’t say we could use it as a treatment,” says Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health and a member of Peloton’s Health and Wellness Advisory Council. “But we know that, in general, things like meditation and yoga can be really helpful in terms of managing stress and managing the impacts of our busy lives,” she adds, calling attention to the way these practices can bring awareness to the body and breath.
While yoga may help bring down stress levels for some, mental health care should rely on a comprehensive program, not just a single tactic, says Dr. Lakshmin. “It really is going to be a combination approach…We often have to try lots of different solutions,” she adds. Alongside more traditional mental health treatments, such as therapy and medication, people may rely on social and community support systems and forms of exercise they enjoy and can fit into their lifestyle, she suggests. (See: The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, According to Experts)
That doesn’t mean once you find a formula that works for you the work is done, though. “Mental health care and wellness is…something I work on all the time,” says Greenberg. “I really try to fill my life with practices and things and people that help me remember my goal, which is that I want to have my life,” she continues.
Although conversations about mental health issues and treatments have become more normalized now than they were in the past, there’s still work to do when it comes to removing the stigma around these topics. “Getting help is often misperceived as weakness, when in fact, getting help is actually something that does make you strong,” says Dr. Lakshmin. (Related: Harry Styles Got Real About Going to Therapy, and It’s Kind of a Big Deal)
Now a popular Peloton instructor, Greenberg is using her platform to discuss the issues that so many face, and drawing attention to the benefits of seeking help. “I don’t think there’s anybody who is a human being, having a human brain with human experiences, who wouldn’t benefit from thinking of mental health the same way they think of physical health,” she says. “Mental health is just part of being a human being.”