A Yoga Therapy Approach to Ease Anxiety
Yoga Therapy can be applied effectively to help ease anxiety…. Whether it is the anxiety
that many feel after a major life change, or the subtle unease that can come up repeatedly for no apparent reason, or the debilitating impact of full-blown anxiety and panic disorders. Anxiety is very complex and individuals can be affected very differently. In yoga therapy we are trained and reminded constantly that there is never a one size fits all approach. However, there are some practices that may be put to use successfully in the easing of anxiety. I have outlined some of them below. These practices can be used separately or strung together in one program.
1 - Grounding with Sound:
One of the first things we may do in a practice for anxiety is to help the client ground their body to the earth. I mean this almost literally. One easy way to do this is to sit in a comfortable seat on a yoga mat or pillow (if the ground isn’t an option a chair is fine too) and feel the body supported by the earth. We can visualize our body growing roots into the ground. Here we can also incorporate a sound practice. Many people have likely heard of the simple chant “Om”. Om is considered the “primordial sound of the universe” by Hindu scripture. Sitting in a cross-legged seat on the floor or in a chair chanting Om either out loud or in your head can be very grounding. While its meaning is deep and complex, the sound Om is simple to make. While we are seated, we try to focus on the sound and vibration while being right here in the present moment. We try to keep bringing ourselves back to this sound or to the actual feeling of being supported by the earth.
2 - Balancing Postures:
Another step we can try after this initial seated grounding, is to try a few balancing yoga postures…. Balancing postures can be helpful in calming anxiety. We may try one or two of the warrior postures (warrior one and/or warrior two), or balancing tree pose (supported with a chair or wall as needed). Spending five breaths or so in a balancing posture can help us ground and regulate our bodies and nervous systems. It also helps the mind come into focus on the body and internal experience which can be regulating.
3 - Moving and Breathing within Postures:
We use the concept of ‘moving and breathing’ in postures frequently in yoga therapy. Picking a posture and moving in and out of it gently with breath can have a meditative quality. It also helps the body move blood and lymphatic fluid which is good for overall health. This can also be calming to the nervous system. When we focus on movement and breathing we tend to be present as our mind can focus on the movement instead of things we are worried or afraid of out of the current moment. An example of this can be moving from cow pose to cat pose to childs, and repeat with breath (inhale cow, exhale cat, inhale cow, exhale childs) . This sequence is good because it keeps us low to the earth to help with grounding as well.
4 - Breathwork
Regulating breath can be a very powerful way to work with anxiety. It doesn’t mean it works every time and it can be quite difficult for some at first. But those able to do breathwork may find immediate benefits. We use Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) breath frequently when working with anxiety. Ujjayi is translated as “to be victorious” in sanskrit. It is sometimes used in a class setting while moving through a vinyasa. In a therapeutic setting we use Ujjayi gently and while seated. We create an Ujjayi breath by breathing in and out of the nose and creating a slight constriction in the back of the throat. The breath should be quiet and may be deep but not ‘big’. We use quiet, slow breathing to help calm the nervous system. The added benefit of Ujjayi is the oceanic quality of the sound it makes in the back of the throat which can be simultaneously calming and uplifting. See this full article HERE on the benefits of Ujjayi. Try it and see how it makes you feel.
5 - Quiet Seat/Easy Meditation
Once we release the breath practice, we can move into what can be considered an intro to meditation. Simply staying seated quietly for a few minutes can be beneficial for anxiety but also challenging initially. A timer can be set for 2-3 minutes while simply sitting and breathing. Once this becomes manageable, extending the time is good and placing more focus on the breath can be the next stage towards a more formal meditation practice. Working up to 15 minutes or more can be quite beneficial. There is no rush however, and even sitting in this fashion for 2-3 mins in quiet and solitude can go a long way.
6 - Affirmations / Mantra
Once we have completed a few of the options above, we can end our practice with an affirmation or mantra. An affirmation is a word or phrase that can be inspiring, grounding or both. A mantra is a sacred aphorism in sanskrit. While this sounds a bit heavy duty, mantras can be very effective in helping calm and center the mind. One of the beautiful things about sanskrit is the melodic, vibrational quality of the words (a great article on mantra can be found HERE). However, if using sanskrit doesn’t feel comfortable, we can use affirmations in english as well. For example, “I am at peace” or “I am easeful, peaceful and useful” can be effective. If we want to try sanskrit “so hum” which translates to “I am that” can be powerful. So we would repeat the mantra or affirmation in our mind or out loud (or both) a few times and feel the effects of the words on our mind, body and spirit. This is a good way to end the practice and help seal in the benefits of what we have just completed. The affirmation or mantra can also be taken off the yoga mat and used throughout the day during turbulent times as well.
There are many, many combinations of practices that can be used in easing the suffering that is caused by anxiety. If you are interested you can begin with the above and adjust and tweak as you need. As mentioned, each practice can be strung one after the other or they can be used individually throughout the day. Another benefit of these practices is that they really can be done almost anywhere and at any time. The practice I have outlined here can be completed in total in as short as 20 minutes (depending on meditation time).
If you have any questions about these practices, or want to learn more about yoga therapy, please contact me directly at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you….
What I outline above is not medical advice and a medically trained doctor or physician should be consulted if there are questions about appropriateness of any yoga practices.