Taking up a daily practice provided so much more than a daily stretch for one women who suffers from bipolar disorder

Ashley D'Amora

For most of us, exercising is a way to stay fit, live a healthy life, and sure, maintain our weight. For Ashley D'Amora, now 40, fitness is the key not only to her physical wellbeing, but her mental health as well.

Like many 20somethings, the Bradenton, FL, resident couldn't decide on a career after she graduated college. D'Amora had played tennis throughout high school and college, and had always worked out on a regular basis, so she became a NETA-certified trainer. She also taught Pilates and Zumba. But even though she knew fitness was her calling, she still felt off.

"I wasn't sure what was wrong-I just knew something was wrong," D'Amora explains. She would experience severe mood swings, going from a depressed state of mind to euphoric episodes. "I either couldn't get out of bed or I would go days without sleeping, and some days I would be so depressed I would call out of work," she says.

Then, at age 28, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. "It was a huge relief," D'Amora says. "I finally knew what the problem was and could get the help I needed. Prior to the diagnosis I thought I was just a horrible person who was bad at life. Finding out my behavior had medical reasons made me feel better."

By this time, D'Amora's bipolar disorder was out of control. Medication and regular workouts were helping, but it wasn't enough. Her emotional ups and downs were so intense, she had to stop working and go on disability leave. And her personal life was a mess. "I couldn't focus on loving or appreciating others because I couldn't love or appreciate myself," she says.

Finally, about a year ago, a new therapist D'Amora was seeing suggested yoga to help balance out her mood swings. She went online and discovered Grokker, a site that provides on-demand yoga classes to subscribers. She began practicing every day, sometimes two to three times per day. She does Vinyasa flow in the mornings, then yin yoga later in the afternoon to help her calm down at the end of the day. "Yin yoga is a very meditative kind of yoga with deep stretching, and you hold poses for several minutes, instead of a constant state of motion," she explains.

About four to five months after starting her practice, something clicked. "At my 40th birthday party in May, everyone told me it seemed like I was glowing, and I realized I hadn't had any arguments with my siblings and I'd been getting along with my parents," D'Amora says. "Everything people say happens when you do yoga really did happen to me."

That sense of peace that yoga imparts extended to her personal relationships. "It's taught me how to be more patient and have more compassion for the people in my life," she says. "Now, I don't take things as personally as I used to and let things roll off my back more easily." (Learn more about what happens to your brain on yoga.)

Now, D'Amora feels like everything is falling into place, thanks to her daily practice. "Yoga has actually changed my life," she says. "I feel better about myself, I look better, my relationships are better, and I've never experienced such stable moods as I am now." While she's still on medication, she believes yoga is the perfect complement to keep her grounded.

D'Amora is hoping to translate her newfound passion into a new career. She would love to become a yoga teacher to introduce others suffering from similar conditions to the benefits of yoga. Her experience has also reignited her passion for creative writing, which she studied in college, and she's currently working on a book.

"When I think an asana is going to be too hard to do, I think back to a yoga video I watched with instructor Kathryn Buding, who said, ‘Everything seems impossible until you make it possible,' which I apply to my life every day," she explains. "I amaze myself with the things I'm able to do, whether it's a yoga pose I thought I could never do or the book I thought I'd never be able to write."

Inspired to start a practice of your own? Read these 12 top tips for beginner yogis first.