Most of us experience anxiety from time to time. For some the anxiety is a daily event that makes life miserable, even unlivable. For those who suffer panic attacks, functioning in the world has become impossible. Anxiety can lead to many self-destructive habits like smoking, drinking and taking drugs, legal and illegal. The drug industry makes billions of dollars annually by offering a variety of medications which promise to treat the symptoms of anxiety.
Studies are showing, though, that medications alone usually don’t help. They may alleviate symptoms, but they do not cure the problem. Without additional help, the person who is suffering from anxiety may find themselves worse off in a few years of taking the medications than they were before they began.
I am not recommending taking yourself off of medications you are taking under your doctor’s supervision. Rather, I am suggesting yoga can work with your medications without side effects to bring real and lasting relief with continued practice.
When you are feeling anxious, your breath is affected in very profound ways. It can become shallow and constricted. This is because of the tension being held in the chest and diaphragm. Because all the breathing is happening high in the lungs, the diaphragm doesn’t allow the abdomen to expand and allow the lungs to have the space to fully expand. During yoga, the breath is integral to practice. Breathing should be deep and even, being drawn though the nose. The exhale needs to be longer than the inhale. For example, if you draw your breath in for a count of 4, try to make the exhale twice as long. If you become short of breath, return to your normal breathing. Deep yogic breath combined with yoga poses will increase the relaxing effect. Adding meditation increases the benefit even more.
Being aware of your thoughts can also preempt anxiety. When you are experiencing anxiety, thoughts can become uncontrollable. Worry intensifies the anxiety with circular thought patterns. Recognizing certain thought patters can help you to identify when you are about to have an anxious episode and prevent it by changing the worrisome thoughts to thoughts of gratitude, which often naturally develop as you progress in your yoga practice. Not only do more positive thoughts happen, you become less attached to your thoughts through calming of your mind. You can become more aware of why you are anxious. With practice, you will be able to gain perspective on the things that are causing your anxiety, so you can address them.
Poses (Asanas) Which Help with Anxiety
A helpful pose to help with anxiety is Deep Relaxation Pose (Savasana) in which you lie with your limbs gently opened away from your body while you focus on the observation of your breath. This is a very relaxing pose you should go to anytime you feel anxious, up to several times a day. Tree Pose (Vrksasana) is a balancing pose that requires mental effort to achieve. This effort can stop the cyclical pattern of anxious thoughts. Do this pose by shifting your weight to one foot and lifting the other to press your foot against your inner thigh or shin. You may use a chair or wall to help you balance.
Avoid strenuous practice at first. Anxiety can cause you to be in a continually exhausted state. More gentle poses are upright and focus on lengthening exhalation rather than inhalation or making inhalation and exhalation the same length is best for quieting and resting the mind. Allow yourself to rest and rejuvenate before going on to more vigorous poses.
There are many resources to help you find relaxing yoga poses. It is worth the effort to find ways to use yoga and yoga breathing to calm your anxiety. With proper medical care, which may include medication and cognitive psychotherapy, yoga practice can help you find a path to a more peaceful mind and a happier life.