While it is beautiful to have a full and busy life, a life that is full with meaningful work and relationships can be increasingly more difficult to manage if we don’t have an efficient way to be in relationship with our time and energy. With the increasing desire to connect and to be connected at all times through digital media and devices, it can be that much more difficult to find clarity with all the push notifications, calendar invites, reminders, and a never ending inbox. These commitments that make our beautiful full and busy lives can easily and quickly turn into obligation, where we find plans and events stressful rather than enjoyable. When not managed properly, stress can become anxiety– a series of unpleasant feelings that include but are not limited to nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying.
Roughly around 18 percent of Americans age 18 and over suffer with anxiety, making it the most common mental health concern in the country. These clinical stats or a diagnosis do not exclude all of us who experience stress, tension and anxiety in our everyday lives.
While there are many solutions to solving the “anxiety-problem,” practicing yoga can be an extremely effective way of relieving stress. It can also be a way to manage the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety and depression. In yoga we are training our body to respond differently to stressful situations. A consistent yoga practice will create a pattern of rest and digest in our parasympathetic nervous system. This makes us less reactive to all the things we perceive as stressful in our everyday life. By transferring our focus and attention to our breath and our body, we effectively temper the sensations of nervousness, stress and worry while simultaneously releasing physical tension.
If you are someone who is sensitive to depression and anxiety, one of the most profound things to discover in your yoga practice is the ability to manage these sensations. Research studies show that through breath, intentions and meeting yourself at the mat, you will able to discover a calmness that transcended over your body, mind and spirit.
Breath. How this works: Deep breathing is the opposite of shallow breathing. And while that may seem obvious, what is not always evident to us is the relationship short breath has to our anxiety or panic. The practice of deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest. It is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which manages the fight-or-flight response.
Intention. How this works: The body listens to the thoughts you think. One of the most simple ways of becoming more aware of your thoughts is by setting an intention. Maybe the intention is to be more curious or to judge the self less. By setting the intention, you are giving yourself permission to be more aware of your thoughts because you can check in and see if you are aligned with your intention. Often times when we are feeling intense feelings of fear, it is because we have not yet given yourself the space to think different. Once we are in a habit of recognizing our thoughts, we can start to see very clearly which thoughts are not supporting us.
Meeting yourself where you are in your body. How it works: This is grace and gratitude. It is a practice of self-love and appreciation no matter what the day looked like. It is an acknowledgement that you are a being who is constantly evolving. It is also a commitment to the process of transformation and discovery.
Additionally, here are a few poses that also help with anxiety that you can do at home:
Balasana (Child’s pose) This is the resting pose that is often the one we take when we have had one too many chatarungas. It also promotes relaxation by encouraging a steady conscious breathing, which is particularly great for anxiety. We know that breath calms of the nervous system. Additionally, Balasana helps to release tension in the back, neck and shoulders, which are all areas where most people hold a lot of their stress without knowing it.
Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall) This is a good one for all levels because it doesn’t require flexibility or strength. This is a restorative pose that relaxes the bod and calmly supports the nervous system.
Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand) Since this pose reverses the blood flow in your body it effectively allows you to focus more attention on your breath. We know that the breath calms the nervous system, so you have your attention there rather than your anxiety or discomfort. What also happens in this pose is that we increase and stimulate blood flow to our head. The major benefit of this is we begin to detoxify of our adrenals, which decreases sensations of fear, worry, anxiety and depression.
Savasana (Corpse Pose) The final pose in class, which symbolizes death. Any time you are feeling overwhelmed (whether in class or in life), try taking corpse pose. Lay flat on your back with your arms at our sides. It is easy to examine the breath in this poses, so if you need something to focus on, remember that you can always watch your belly rise and fall. It’s so relaxing that sometimes we can hear our fellow yogis snoring on a neighboring mat.