Developing a yoga practice for anxiety

Yoga for anxiety

I use yoga to help cope with my anxiety. I’m not the only one. If you also suffer from anxiety (from stress or trauma), here’s an overview of how yoga can help you.

Stress causes the following: trouble sleeping, irritability or anger, fatigue. The aftershock waves of trauma can physically feel like a crushing feeling in the chest, agonizing tension in the shoulders, and burning pain in your abdomen. You might also feel as though you are utterly helpless to do anything about it. Depending on our life’s experiences, we could feel unsafe in our very own bodies.

When we suffer from anxiety, energetically, there’s an underlying imbalance. Anxiety means we’re too rajasic, which looks like: over excitement, manic, obsessive addiction, greed, selfish lust, and overactive. During these times, we need a slower yoga practice to counter these overwhelming feelings to intentionally intervene in the body’s alarm system. Learning how to self-regulate those alarms so you can turn them down whenever you need will contribute to greater functioning and fulfillment in your life. People who are easily thrown out of balance are at risk for developing a variety of illnesses, such as depression, heart disease, and cancer. But when someone has been exposed to a traumatic event, is typically going to be highly reactive to minor stresses. It overwhelms our abilities to cope.

Therapy

Begin this process by doing an honest self-assessment. Are you ready to practice yoga? Talk to your therapist about the different triggers you could encounter in a yoga class. Maybe it’s best to start off with your own yoga practice in your home, so you can experience what the poses feel like using information from a book or a Youtube video. It’ll give you a sense of how the poses feel in your body. Then, try a private lesson or a small class.

Where to start

Yoga is about looking inward instead of outward, and listening to your body. The body has things to say, especially in those places where we store our tensions. Whenever you’re ready, try to listen to what your body has to say. There is such beauty in beginning a yoga practice. That initial inquiry into being can evolve into a liberating practice of self-discovery and self-care.

Practice:

  • Nadi Shodhana pranayama
  • long holds in forward folds
  • meditations that slow rhythms of thought

Feel connected to the floor in a seated position. When you’re ready, notice your breath as you breathe in and out. This is your practice. It’s important you become comfortable with guiding and directing your own yoga practice. This means you learn how to stop doing something if it’s painful or uncomfortable for any reason at any time. This means you learn how to ask the teacher for help. Or, being able to walk out of the class if you become overwhelmed. Yoga gives us the opportunity to make choices that involve taking care of ourselves so that we’re able to recover from our stresses, anxieties, and traumas. Our healing involves trusting, accepting, and appreciating our body as it is. 

Moving slowly during yoga

Moving slowly is great for sufferers of anxiety because we’re giving ourselves the space and opportunity to experience the emotions that come up. Is there something that’s begging for our attention? Can we cope with the emotions that arise from the sensation? We can store intense memories and feelings in different places in our bodies, which creates a great deal of discomfort and distress.

For some people, the pain is too deep, so they dissociate with how their bodies feel. Do you feel connected to the sensations in your body? In the book, “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga,” authors David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper say, 

“When we are disconnected from our bodies and from ourselves, we are not able to recognize signs of danger, which may lead to further threat or injury. We are not able to recognize the building signs of stress, and so are not able to compensate with increased self-care or to resolve the underlying issues causing the stress. Chronic stress causes a slow wearing on our minds and bodies that can compound underlying trauma-related issues. We are not able to truly connect with others because we are not in touch with ourselves. And, finally, we are missing out on the joy of being truly present and connecting with ourselves.”

Yoga for anxiety: developing an at-home yin practice

Yin yoga poses are more passive, mainly on the floor. It’s so different because you’re asked to relax, soften the muscle, and move closer to the bone. Hold each pose for 3-10 minutes. This gets into the connective tissue. Connective tissue running throughout the body provides pathways for energy flows. It’s found in every bone, muscle, and organ. Mostly, though, it’s most concentrated in the joints and responds best to a slow steady load. When we hold poses for a long time, the body responds by making the connective tissue longer and stronger. If you don’t use full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissue slowly shortens. Relaxing into poses will be key to practicing yin with results.

Yin yoga practice requires us to be intimate with ourselves. It encourages us to be in tune with our feelings, sensations, and emotions. Ignoring all of those things is easy to do in a fast paced flow yoga practice. Yin is actually used in programs for addictions, eating disorders, anxiety, deep pain, and trauma.

Start sitting still and notice your breathing

Pranayama for panic/anxiety attacks

Breathe in for 4 seconds.

Hold 7 seconds.

Exhale for 8.

Repeat a couple times.

Benefits of a yin practice

  • Calming, balancing to the mind and body
  • Regulates energy in the body
  • Increases mobility in the body, especially joints and hips
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Greater stamina
  • Better lubrication and protection of joints
  • More flexibility in joints and connective tissue
  • Release of fascia throughout the body
  • Helps with TMJ and migraines
  • Deep relaxations
  • Great for coping with anxiety and stress
  • Better ability to sit for meditation
  • A better yang practice

 

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