From anxiety to calm with yoga: One breath at a time.
Updated: Jan 6
Have you ever had a panic attack? That scary, intense feeling of panic can cause a range of symptoms including shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness and muscle tension. Panic attacks are really common, with up to 35% of us having them at some point in our lives, and can be a reaction to periods of stress or illness. A little bit of fear is normal. It keeps us alert and actually makes us feel whole. The problem starts when this fear becomes persistent and starts to interfere with our everyday life. If you suffer from panic attacks or anxiety disorders then it’s important to seek medical advice. But there is also an unchanging field of awareness that can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety … mindfulness.
Research has proven that a mindfulness practice can:
Have a positive impact on anxiety reactions via the stress response pathway.
As you might imagine, the application of mindfulness to chronic anxiety involves allowing the anxiety itself to become the object of our non-judgemental attention. Jon Kabit Zinn
When I practise mindfulness yoga, I remind my body how and when to relax, identify fear as tensions, and simply feel them as they are. The power of the breath is quite profound. In anxiety the breath rises and constricts and sometimes stops all together. Once a deep breath returns, and I feel a relaxation response as a sense of ease, I know I’m back in the control seat. I’m in that unchanging mindful stream of awareness. When in fact all I did was three things:
note the feeling
welcome the feeling
breathe and let it go.
The good thing is, once you begin to have brief moments of calm and comfort, you may notice at other times, you are not always feeling anxious. It’s a come and go phenomenon.
Over the years I’ve visited yoga ashrams, spiritual retreats and Buddhist monasteries, and I thread 20 years of mindfulness meditation practise into my everyday. I recently attended clinical yoga studies with Sannyasi Yogamaya of the Satyananda Yoga tradition, where she shared her professional expertise in the field of yoga for anxiety and depression. I am passionate about helping you overcome your anxiety or depression, so I’d like to share with you what currently works so well for people coming through my clinic and private yoga therapy practice in Canberra.
Every day I am asked, ‘how can I reduce my anxiety?’ Here are some helpful tips:
1. Note and welcome
Anything you feel right now, note with awareness and welcome it, be it a thought or a sensation in the body.
2. Move and breathe
To free your mind, first open your body. Your body may be feeling racy, sweaty and tense, so focus on getting grounded by feeling your pelvis and feet. Then as you move, feel your posture lengthening and stretching. This is where having a private yoga therapy session with me can really help you feel confident in your movements.
3. Fine tune your breathing to regain control
Gentle yoga postures are perfect as they allow you to easily have awareness on the breath. One great thing about the breath is that you can’t leave home without it! It’s your anchor and control switch. Practise being mindful of what your breathing is like:
What is its length?
What is its depth?
Are you breathing high in the chest?
What is the texture of the breath?
Remember to note these qualities, and then practise the following:
Slow your breathing down and soften to expand the space under your lower ribs.
Try and make the in and out breath equal in pace, then slowly extend the length of your exhalations.
Each time you exhale, relax into the softness of your diaphragm.
Having individual guidance can allow you to explore the more therapeutic approaches that adapt breathing methods to suit your individual needs.
4. Relax in Savasana every day
Finding a relaxation response every day is vital to rewiring yourself into different day-to-day responses and not reactions. Try a guided Yoga Nidra, or a highly recommended Yoga RELAX class.
Lie on your back in a comfortable position with your palms up, feet hip-width apart and relaxed. Support your lower back by placing a pillow under your knees, and maybe a rolled towel for your neck. Close your eyes gently, relax your mouth and find body stillness.
Move your attention around to different parts of your body, observing each sensation with objective awareness. Try to gently keep moving.
Its in the nature of the mind to wander, to think and want entertainment, so simply bring your attention back to your body and view thoughts objectively. This takes practise!
5. Learn to simplify and restore
In yoga philosophy, this is called Ahimsa. Reorganise your diary to keep a check on regular eating, exercising and sleeping patterns. It also helps to reduce your exposure to violent news or social media.
6. Know the impermanence of this world and this body.
Just think for a moment about everything around us being temporary. When this realisation sets in, we become more relaxed and settled from within. Meditation is the best way to see this founding principle of life.
7. Connect with a good health care practitioner
Building trust with a familiar face can allow you to truly express yourself when needing support. Go for a practitioner who has holistic experience with the body and the mind.
I place my mental health on my top priority list every week. If you haven’t tried yoga or mindfulness before and want to learn more, then I’d love to hear from you. You can make a private yoga therapy booking here. Remember that it’s quite often the slow subtle practises that make all the difference to finding that sustainable mental and emotional stability. Anxiety doesn’t have to control you; it’s simply a part of what makes us human.
Your turn: What yoga or other practices have helped you keep calm and less anxious?
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