Modern life, I mean it pretty much gears us up for anxiety doesn’t it? There’s always something going on, some stimulation, some plans needing to be made. Its very difficult to find space, peace or have a chance to fully relax.
Anxiety is a state where uneasiness, worry or fear becomes excessive. Some fear in our lives is good to allow us to ready ourselves but in excess it can start to affect our mental thought patterns and behaviour. As yoga practitioners a lot of us are coming to yoga to reduce stress, to relax and to take time for ourselves. I wanted to have a deeper look at what might be best in our practice to deal with anxiety.
The opposite of anxiety
Using yoga therapy for treating diseases like anxiety.
As with depression, yoga asana and meditation in general can help by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘rest and digest’ system) to aid relaxation and stress reduction. In yogic philosophy we think of matter or prakriti being made up of three qualities or gunas: tamas; rajas and sattva. Anxious people generally have an increase in Rajas, the guna associated with restlessness, a stiff body and a racing mind. These people need more tamas (heavy or dense qualities) and sattva (likened to a cool breeze). Like in depression, the adrenal glands may be affected, perhaps overproducing adrenaline our ‘fight or flight’ hormone and the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol. So balancing the Manipura chakra or navel energy centre is important here to give a calming effect to the adrenal glands.
People with anxiety may also have difficulty in exhaling fully so any pranayama or breathing practice where the exhale is extended will be beneficial. Ideal pranayama practices include-
Nadi Shodana to balance ida and pingla nadis (energy channels) to bring mental harmony.
Kapalbhati and Bhastrika stimulate the exchange of O2 and CO2 in the body and awaken the brain helping eliminate excess thoughts.
Bhramari is very useful in relieving anxiety as the vibration produced helps to make the mind one-pointed.
When sequencing classes we can include-
A set of exercises called Pawanmuktasana from the Bihar School of Yoga. These can be useful as they warm up the joints while proving a gentle steady calm introduction to yoga practice.
students doing pawanmuktasana under merel
Marjariasana/ Bitilasana flow (Cat/Cow) to allow focus on the breath, quietening of the mind and focusing on Manipura chakra.
a sequence in suryanamskara
Surya Namaskara to allow some nervous energy to be burnt off and allow the mind to concentrate on the breath through vinyasa.
Postures that focus on Manipura chakra such as Paschimottanasana (Seated forward bend/ Intense stretch of the west) and Trikonasana (Triangle Pose).
Introspective calming postures such as Balasana (Childs Pose), Kurmasana (Turtle pose) or Yogamudrasana.
Mild backbending to open the heart and encourage self esteem such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and Shalabasana (Locust Pose).
Inversions have also proved effective in calming the brain/mind such as Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plough Pose).
Propped Savasana (Corpse Pose) or Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) can help in relaxation at the end of practice and perhaps a guided relaxation here can be nice to discourage thoughts from wandering.
Other useful practices can include the use of Mudra or hand gestures to direct prana or energy in the body better. A good example here is Yoni Mudra to help increase the moon or feminine, restful energy in the body. These can be introduced during asana or at the end during a short meditation.
As yoga teachers we tend to base our lifestyles on the philosophy laid out by Patanjali in the yoga sutras. For our students the first two sections of this eight fold path can give us clues on how to better manage anxiety. In the first part we find the Yamas, which are ethical observances.
Here Aparigraha is concerned with non possessiveness, overcoming greed and desire which can often lead to wanting more and becoming anxious when we are not achieving that. In the Niyamas, which are the second part of the eight fold system we learn personal rules of conduct. Santosha is concerned with finding contentment with what we have and who we are which is central to lessening anxiety.