We all know of the wonderful effects of yoga. Not only is yoga good for the body, but it’s good for the soul. Many people, including myself, who engage in a regular yoga practice do so for the mental health benefits it entails.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling we all experience, in some moments worse than others. What’s the difference between anxiety, a normal human emotion, and anxiety, a life-threatening problem? Take this example; say you have a flight coming up, but there was recently a crash the day before. This will leave you scared to get on the plane. That’s a pretty standard human emotion, right? It’s when you refuse to ever get on a plane again that your anxiety starts to majorly impact your life.
Anxiety is all-consuming. It causes your thoughts to race, sometimes causing you to lose sight over the root cause of what caused the anxiety in the first place. It can begin with being nervous about having a sore throat, to worried about possibly having strep, to a sudden panic that you’re going to die.
Where Does Yoga Come Into Play in This?
A common form of treatment for anxiety is medication. However, while medications may help a little bit, it can also cause terrible side effects. The mind and body are connected, so while medication may help in slowing down your mind, it can also slow down your body, causing intense fatigue and other symptoms. Yoga will treat the mind and the body at the same time. It’s important to practice yoga daily to aid anxiety, as anxiety doesn’t just go away any easier than any disease would. It needs to be consistently treated, and you’re always at risk of relapsing. However, by practicing yoga, even for a short period each day, you are training your mind and body to handle anxiety symptoms at any given moment.
Again, the mind and body are inseparable. If you’re feeding your mind worrisome thoughts, you’ll feel it throughout your body through sweating, pacing, or whatever it may be. It’s the nervous system that gives us that “on edge” feeling and really amplifies our anxiety. Yoga helps to calm the nervous system, which helps calm the remainder of the mind and body. Yoga also helps with aspects like posture. If we walk around with shrugged shoulders all the time, we’ll feel more anxious in our mind and body. It’s the same way as when we’re told if we want to be confident we should stand up straight and tall and exude confidence. There’s truth to that- the way we hold ourselves affect our emotions. Yoga helps to open our hearts and create better form that will leave us feeling better than we were before.
Slowing Down and Being Present
Yoga can also slow down our thoughts. Our minds tend to race when we’re anxious, but practicing yoga and meditation forces us to slow down and think. This can help us find the root cause and process the situation for what it is, rather than jumping to conclusions. Yoga can also allow our minds to shift gears. While anxiety is all-consuming, so is yoga. Shifting your focus from your anxiety to your practice shows how changeable the mind really is. Yoga interrupts the anxious cycle of thoughts going on in your mind. When we allow too much attention and awareness to go to our anxiety, we only reinforce the feeling. If we switch our attention elsewhere, even if it’s a challenge, it trains our mind to be more present.
Yoga can reduce symptoms both short and long-term. Yoga can help in the moment when you’re practicing, but consistent practice can make training your mind to be present and to shift focus when anxiety arises to become a much easier task. Meditation is great for this, as meditation forces you to be present and to bring awareness to your breath.
Acknowledging Your Breath
Breath is the most important aspect when it comes to using yoga to aid anxiety. People are unaware how anxious their breathing techniques can make them. Many anxious folks tend to take short, uneven breaths throughout their chest. This type of breathing can cause anxiety throughout the mind and body. Along with this, when having a panic attack we may hyperventilate or hold our breath. Instead, bring awareness to the breath and engage in deep, diaphragm breathing. When dealing with anxiety, it’s important to slow down and focus on the breath. Engaging in regular, diaphragm breathing exercises will help build a larger breath capacity that can help with anxiety in the long run.
1:2 breathing is a great technique for anxiety. This is when you inhale, and then exhale for two counts longer. For example, if I inhale for 4 counts, I should exhale for 6. If this doesn’t work for you, begin with equal breath (inhale and exhale on the same count) and work up to it. It’s important to not have longer inhales than exhales, as that can cause hyperventilating. Mouth breathing can also be a factor of hyperventilating. Always remember to breath through the nose and engage the diaphragm.
Consider Restorative Yoga
Yoga also relieves muscle tension which can be a big factor in anxiety. Taking care of muscle tension will make it much easier to relax the mind and body. Restorative yoga is especially great for this, along with anxiety in general. This form of yoga is all about slowing down and opening up, and uses props to allow a deeper, yet more comfortable stretch to eliminate muscle tension. Restorative also keeps the head at or below he level of the heart to avoid elevated heart rates and blood pressure that can heighten the nervous system. Instead, restorative yoga keeps the nervous system balanced and the brain alert.
Other simple poses great for anxiety include legs up the wall, forward fold, and supine twists. Yoga has many health benefits to both the mind and body. It isn’t a “cure all” remedy, but it can certainly play a role in reducing symptoms.