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Yoga for Anxiety

Updated: May 26, 2020

One of the most common questions that I get is "How often should I practice yoga a week?" I like to return this question back - what is it that you are looking for from the practice? For most of us, it is one of these three things, (a) to get healthier in body (b) relieve chronic pain, and/or (c) relieve anxiety and stress. If yoga is bringing body, mind and spirit into a place of unity, then that is done by practice. We practice something to create new habits and remove habits that no longer serve us. And we all know that the more we practice, the quicker and more ingrained the new behaviours become. And vice versa - don't practice and the old habits will slide right back in to place. We practice so that when we begin to fall into unhealthy patterns, we can counter them with healthy tools. Let's talk about anxiety: If you are at all like me, times of stress tend to create certain emotions of anxiety and worry. Now everyone has anxiety sometimes - it is a normal response to the stresses of life. Depending upon the stressor, those levels will range from small to great. Ideally, small stressor = small anxiety; and then naturally, larger stress = greater anxiety... Right? Many people are living in a constant state of high anxiety, regardless of the stressor. Others have such strong spikes in anxiety that it can cripple them for a time. And each one of us has felt, at one time or another, such high levels of stress that we weren't able to handle well at all. Anxiety symptoms can range from irritability and poor concentration to sleep disturbances and obsessive behaviours. High levels of anxiety over an extended period of time often causes depression, panic attacks, and secretions of high levels of cortisol in the brain (which is linked to compromised immune systems, obesity, memory loss and more). Much research links stress levels to physical disorders as well, at the very least increasing susceptibility if not directly correlated to the root cause. Sometimes, I find myself often in a state of anxiety with no obvious reason... at least I can't seem to put my finger on it. And maybe I do know the reason, but what can I do for myself? How do I relieve this tension, this stress, right now? Even when the stressor itself cannot be relieved? Or when there seems to be no obvious reason for the anxiety? What can I do that will give me tools to cope when I feel stress? Try this:

· Find a comfortable seat, one where you remain upright comfortably. Lying down is completely acceptable, however falling asleep is not the goal.

· Turn off devices and any other possible distraction.

· Set a timer for 5 minutes and close the door. (Let your family or coworkers know somehow that you are to be undisturbed for these 5 minutes. Give them a timer too, if needed. This trick works great with kids).

· Close your eyes and tune into your breath. Let your shoulders, hands and face relax. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Observe the breath as it moves in and out, allowing thoughts and emotions to arise, doing your best to observe them rather than participate with them. Keep returning, consistently and persistently, to watching your inhale and exhale until you can relax your ribs, belly and shoulders and face. Allow the breath to begin to move into your hand on your belly, expand your ribs, and gently elevate your hand on your chest.

· Recall to mind an event or setting that brings you into memory of a sense of peace and well-being. Breathe.

· Don’t rush back into life when the timer goes off. Take one or two more quiet breaths before you begin to move.

Now, if I have spent the time practicing this on a regular basis, I will actually begin to recall how it feels to be fully relaxed, with a sense of contentment and well being - even while in the midst of the anxiety. If you have nervous energy in your body, try this linked with deep and steady breathing. Yoga is quickly becoming a leader in the treatment and management of anxiety. The practice of yoga (be it on the mat, breathing exercises, mindful living, or other), has been the subject of scientific research for decades. In an age where a lot of people are recognizing the need for healthier choices and less reliance on the pharmaceutical industry, yoga offers a safe place for each of us to gain awareness and skills to relieve the symptoms and severity. The answer to the first question will always be, "You should practice as much as you need to in order to get the results that you are looking for". I will always encourage you to start with what you can! If it is once a week, or once a month, that is exactly what you should do. To see the remarkable changes that can come through the practice, just don’t stop coming! But I will encourage you to look at the research - consistent practices of 2-3 times per week over an extended period of time is being shown to change people’s stress levels and coping skills for the better. I look forward to the continued work of the research world. Perhaps one day, the practice of yoga will become a common prescription from our doctor and be included in our healthcare, much like anti-anxiety and anti-depressant prescription solutions are now. As Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois is famous for saying "Practice and all is coming." Namaste, Author: Becky @ Pranava Yoga



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