Anxiety and depression have become the major health epidemics of the 21st century. Our too-much-information era overloads our systems and pushes our boundaries until there is no such thing as “down-time.” We compare ourselves to others based on social media updates (real or fake) and then judge ourselves accordingly. No wonder people are looking to yoga for anxiety relief. But, does yoga help with anxiety?
Yoga for Anxiety
Rather than being constantly interrupted by instant messaging, we could set aside time for ourselves to unplug and relax. By learning to rest and quiet the mind, you have choices about how and where to focus your awareness.
When you practice yoga, the body and breath become the focal points of your awareness. Breath combined with movement automatically shifts the energies in the body. If you’ve ever taken a brisk walk to go “cool down” after an argument, you know what I mean. In this sense, yoga is the perfect anxiety remedy: it provides an opportunity to shift your focus from anxious thinking to embodied awareness.
When you shift your mindset to the present, you start to recognize new perspectives in the grand scheme of things. You can learn to ally with the spaciousness of the present moment instead of getting caught up in the stream of busy-ness. Yoga can help this process. To keep your stress levels from rising, take time out for these yoga postures to help with anxiety. Done daily, you’ll notice ongoing, cumulative results.
Here is a step by step guide:
1. Plan and schedule a time you can unplug daily.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the communications technology that is available these days so that we never actually take a break from being “on.” When you schedule time to get on your yoga mat, you give your mind –and eyes–a rest from the screen. This one reason is enough to see how yoga can help calm your mind.
2. Create a calming and peaceful environment
This may sound obvious, but a healing environment can contributing enormously to reducing anxiety. Find a space that is out of the flow of busy-ness, ideally with a view of nature. If you can’t find a quiet place, put on headphones and some soothing music. Dim lights, especially if they are fluorescent. Sitting still or lying quietly in shavasana can be a huge relief when we are overwhelmed.
3. Develop awareness of the breath
Your breath is with you always, no matter what country you find yourself in. Make a habit of checking in with it. Notice your breath when you are on the computer, in the middle of a misunderstanding, or sitting in traffic. Get to know what it is that stresses you out, and then bring mindfulness-and conscious breathing– to that activity.
4. Settle the mind and learn to dis-identify with thoughts
From a yogic perspective, anxiety is a disturbance of the “winds,” the subtle energy channels in the body. Think of a jar filled with sediment when it is shaken: the sediment swirls around clouding the water. A calm and grounded state of mind is characterized by clarity. The practice of sitting meditation is the most direct way to achieve this settled state of mind. When you ally with the spaciousness of the mind instead of the contents of the mind (thoughts) you automatically shift your perspective.
** Note: Even if you already practice yoga or meditation, working with a therapist helps address issues from a practical perspective so that you can let them go. Practitioners often believe mindfulness will sort out their emotional issues, but in fact the opposite is sometimes the case. Deep practice may stir up old issues, and unless there is a container for these unruly emotions, it can be tempting to “let go” of old issues before they are resolved, which creates a muddy stew in the mind. Anxiety can be a sign there is something trying to come to the surface to be worked with.
Practice these 2 yoga postures to help with anxiety:
When the going gets rough, the tough take viparita karani. This is my all-time favorite yoga posture, and my quick-fix remedy for just about everything from jet-lag to overwhelm, from exhaustion to anxiety. It’s the best way I know how to relax quickly and deeply. Follow it with child’s pose for a nurturing restart to your afternoon or evening. (I usually recommend a more vigorous practice in the morning to get the body warmed up for the day.)
Viparita Karani – Yoga for Anxiety
Child’s pose – Yoga for Anxiety
Yoga for Mental Health
Panic and anxiety are not purely mental events–they are physiological events, so they can’t be treated with the thinking mind only. You need to learn to BREATHE deeply, and train yourself to come back to the breath on a regular basis. Mind and breath are intimately connected. If you can calm your breath, your mind will follow.
The verdict on yoga for anxiety is that with practice you learn to settle the winds through breathing consciously, and this allows you to relax deeply. It’s pretty hard to stay anxious when you are relaxed. So while it is also good to talk with a therapist about underlying issues, yes, yoga can help with anxiety.
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