Anxiety has become one of the major health epidemics of the 21st century. Our too-much-information era overloads our systems. It 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
The short answer is yes. Yoga practice helps to re-align body and breath so that your system can release accumulated stress–which causes anxiety. When you release physical tension and energetic knots (granthis) in the body, the mind naturally settles. By learning to rest and quiet the mind, you have choices about how and where to focus your awareness.
When you practice yoga, body and breath become the focal points of your awareness. Breath combined with movement automatically shift 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.
Rather than being constantly interrupted by instant messaging, set aside time to unplug, unwind and relax.
Here is a simple guide to take yoga off the mat to manage anxiety:
1. Plan and schedule a time you can unplug daily.
Thanks to technology, it’s easy to keep up on communications these days–so much 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. Settle into the breath
Your breath is with you always, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Make a habit of checking in with it. Notice your breath when you are at a family dinner, on the computer, in the middle of an argument–or traffic, or making your way to the airport. 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. Click here for a “holiday survival” guided meditation kit.
You can shift your mindset to recognize the larger perspective in the grand scheme of things, and learn to ally with the spaciousness of the present moment instead of getting caught up in the stream of busy-ness. When you notice your stress levels rising, try these 2 yoga postures to help with anxiety.
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.
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.
Even if you already practice yoga or meditation, working with a therapist can help 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 often 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 that there are underlying issues to resolve.
Here’s your one line anxiety advice: learn to relax deeply and do it daily!
Want extra help staying cool, calm + collected during the holiday season?
Check out my Holiday Survival Kit Bundle. Includes guided meditation, guided relaxation session, guided gentle yoga practice and a journaling exercise to help you manage challenging emotional terrain when the “most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t feel that way.