Trigger warning: story contains mentions of self-harm
At 3.58 pm, Tsamara Fahrana was already waiting in the Google Meet lobby, early for our 4 pm call. With sunkissed skin, long beachy waves, and a soft-spoken voice, Tsamara exuded a serene demeanor, and I felt immediately at ease. In contrast to my rapid fire of questions, Tsamara paused frequently to collect her thoughts before giving gentle, articulate answers. We talked about her first experience with yoga, her decision to leave corporate life, and her tips to deal with chronic anxiety.
Chatting with Tsamara felt like a much-needed pause in a society driven by the constant pursuit to chase achievements. In her previous work as a consultant, she too fell into the trap of discontentment and stress. She chased promotions and prestige, ignoring her deteriorating mental health. Now as a yoga instructor with a master’s degree in Neuroeconomics from the University of Amsterdam, Tsamara feels much more fulfilled and energized with a clear purpose in life – to be a full-time advocate for evidence-based mindfulness.
Who and what inspired you to get into yoga?
My colleague first introduced me to yoga. I was a management consultant working long hours every day, and she saw me crying in the office. I was feeling stressed and stuck in my career. She invited me to go to a one-week yoga retreat in Bali. That was my first experience with yoga, and I felt truly connected to my body. Yoga taught me to start paying attention to my feelings. I’ve felt a sense of curiosity since then.
When did you know that yoga was more than just a hobby?
I went back from the retreat and told my boss that I was going to resign. He told me to wait as he thought that I was too caught up in the moment. He offered me to take a two-month leave of absence, which I took. In my last month of absence, I decided to take a yoga teacher training, where I learned more about its history and philosophy. I then returned to BCG thinking that I would do better now that I learned how to take care of myself, but I wasn’t better; I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety. I decided then that the prestige of working in a consulting company just wasn’t the right reason for me to keep going.
How did you friends/family react? How did you deal with their judgment?
The biggest hurdle was definitely facing my friends and family. When I handed my resignation letter, my close friends asked, “What did you just do?” But resigning felt right for me. I was always an overachiever, and this process helped me realize that I’m more than my achievements. My personal values are more important than how other people perceive me.
How did you deal with doubts of leaving job security?
The doubts came more from other people than me. Others may love their work as a consultant and that is why they could handle the stress. I knew in my gut that I couldn’t spend one more day dreading to go to work and going to bed feeling upset. If I stayed, I knew that I’d constantly worry about getting promoted or making more money. When I decided to leave, I felt an immediate sense of relief.
When was the lowest point in your life?
In high school, I physically harmed myself. That was a time in my life when I was just so angry – at my family, at my boyfriend at the time, at my school. I had a major falling out with someone at the time, and that was the trigger for my attempt. I was thankful for my support system who calmed me down. I also used my journal as a non-judgmental space where I processed my emotions and feelings. I took a picture of the accident and included it in one of the pages to remind myself how foolish I was to attempt self-harm just because I was feeling hopeless. From that experience, I learned to not suppress my feelings for a long time because internalizing doesn’t solve the problem. Someday, holding negativity in will be too much for us to handle alone.
As a full-time yoga instructor, do you still struggle with negative thoughts? How do you shut them down?
Definitely. The thing with our thoughts is that we can never control them; they keep coming and going. Before learning how to meditate, I internalized my insecurity. I kept dwelling on these negative thoughts. That affected my mental health because emotions surged and caused me to think irrationally. Yoga helps me become aware of these thoughts and recognize whether they are positive or negative. Once I am aware, I decide on how I should respond and move on.
Can you give some tips on how to deal with chronic anxiety?
1. Pause and Disengage. When you recognize anxiety building up, notice it and stop whatever you’re doing. Try to remove yourself from the situation which triggers your anxiety.
2. Pay attention to your breathing. Make sure that you exhale longer than you inhale, and repeat a few times. The key is to not rush your breathing.
3. Learn the practice of Jin Shin Jyutsu. This is an ancient Japanese healing practice that focuses on your hands. Each finger correlates to an emotion: thumb is worry, pointer finger is fear, middle finger is anger, ring finger is grief, and pinky finger is anxiety. Wrap your left hand starting from your thumb for a minute and work your way through all five fingers. Notice how you feel after.