Most of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our lives. You must have been anxious about your exam results, you could get nervous about your first date, or about losing a loved one, a job interview or public speaking could get you all worked up, you could be anxious about anything. Anxiety is the body’s response to worry and fear.
Anxiety at this level is common and is never a problem. In fact, it prompts you to stay disciplined and dynamic in life. A little fear over your parent’s reaction to your exam report may prompt you to work harder.
“However, anxiety is not that simple as there is a wide range of how deeply anxiety affects people and to what extent it interferes with their quality of life,“ says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, a neuropsychologist in New York City and faculty member at Columbia University.
The worry begins when one experiences a persistent one to the extent that it starts to interfere with our everyday life. That may result in uneasiness, or fear of the unknown, a condition referred to as an anxiety disorder. In this state, one has to seek treatment, and anxiety disorders are highly treatable yet very few opt for treatment.
It is always advisable to consult a specialist for psychotherapy or individual or group-based counseling. This will also help you understand what kind of anxiety disorder you may have as apart from generalized anxiety disorders, you could also be suffering from a phobia-related disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The specialist can guide you on how to manage anxiety and also learn new skills that help deal with anxiety on daily basis. Sometimes they may recommend medications; however, even complementary and alternative medications and therapy such as Acupuncture, Meditation, Relaxation Techniques, Modified Diet, and building an Excercise Routine, especially Yoga, have been found very useful in alleviating anxiety symptoms. Yoga and meditation is a lifestyle practice that will supplement medication or any other treatment you may have to take.
Yoga, for the sake of those who love history, dates back to around 3000 BC. It was invented in India to achieve harmony between a person’s heart and soul, while on the path to divine enlightenment. Ideally, the word Yoga has a Sanskrit origin, meaning union. The union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul.
Currently, Yoga is practiced worldwide, not as a religious practice but as a way to become physically fit and mentally healthy. In fact, it had overwhelming support from 170 member states as a step towards a healthy and peaceful world during the UN declaration of international Yoga day on June 21, 2015.
Yoga and Anxiety
Anxiety is energy. Anything is energy, including lack of focus; scattered energy. Therefore, to destroy anxiety, you need to focus. Yoga helps to process energy for focusing, and since anxiety can’t exist in a focused mind, you will get relieved.
“Our minds are like old computer programs that are full of bugs, viruses, and outdated apps. Learning how to turn off the noise and problems is the first step in being able to find solutions and live In peace.”
The following yoga moves are helpful to help you focus and ease the anxiety. Just ensure you have enough space so you can move and breathe without any distractions. Remember to take long deep breaths as you practice and hold the following yoga asanas.
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Standing forward fold is one of the most basic yet effective poses amongst the numerous standing poses you have in Yoga. The pose works on spinal muscles, piriformis, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and gracilis. This gives you the energy to relax your mind while reducing tension in your body.
To do this pose, start by standing with your feet slightly apart (about hip-width) and hands-on your hip. Breathe deep and slowly as you hinge your hips by making a slight bend on your knees. With your knees slightly bent, drop your hand on the floor or rest them on a block.
Tuck your chin into your chest and release tension in your lower back and hips by hinging your knees back. Ensure your head and neck hang heavily towards the floor and stay in this posture for a minute.
This pose can be done any time nearly anywhere on an empty stomach. You can do it in the office, while shopping, or before anything that is likely to make you anxious.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This is the best pose to ease stress and fatigue or back pain. If your anxiety is caused by back pain, this is the right pose for you.
To achieve this pose, you have to start from a kneeling position. Fold forward, and walk your hands away from you. Allow your torso to rest on your thigh and let your forehead touch the floor. Lastly, keep your arms extended forward and hold this pose for 5 minutes.
This posture works on the gluteus maximus, rotator muscles, hamstring, and spinal extensor. Since it involves resting most parts of your body on the ground, it may require a mat and props like a knee pillow to cushion your insteps.
Legs up the wall ( Viparita Karani)
Sit with your right side against the wall then lie back as you raise your legs against the wall. Ensure your buttocks are close to the wall to the extent that you are comfortable with it. If it could be right against the wall, the better, however, a few inches away from the wall also works. Allow your back to soften as well as your neck and chest. You may spread your arms or line them with your body and let them rest in a straight posture.
If you find it hard to keep your back on the floor with your legs raised against the wall, you may use a bolster under your hips to help raise them.
This pose works on the hamstring, pelvic muscles, lower back, front torso, and back of the neck. This will allow complete relaxation of your mind and body and you can hold this pose for 5 to 10 minutes.
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Be in a standing position with your feet apart, wider than your hips (about 3 feet apart). With your right foot kept facing straight forward, tilt your left foot to face forward (in about 45-degree angle) such that the heels can intersect at a right angle. Spread your arms from your shoulders with your palm facing down; the left arm should face the same direction as your left foot. Extend your torso forward and hinge your hip at the hip joint to bring your right hip back.
With your right hand extending up to the ceiling, take your left arm to your left leg, floor, or a block; where you feel comfortable. Hold this pose for up to one minute, then repeat on the opposite side.
This pose is likely to work on latissimus dorsi, internal oblique, gluteus maximus, hamstring, and quadriceps, which will ease tension in your back and neck.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
You may need a mat or even sit on the edge of a folded blanket or block to be able to comfortably bend forward from your hips with your legs stretched out straight in front. Take a deep breath as you lift your arms and as you exhale, with your legs kept straight on the floor, bring your arm and upper part of your body forward until your upper body touches the thighs.
Your head may be kept as close to your legs as possible or rest it on a block or pillow. Like in standing forward fold, you can place your arms on the knees or can go all the way and hold your toes. Remain in this pose for up to 3 minutes.
This pose works on pelvic muscles, erector spinae, gluteus maximus, and gastrocnemius. This helps calm the mind while relieving anxiety, mild depression, and headache.
The Bottom Line
Yoga, though an ancient practice, is also a modern medicine best suited to ease anxiety. It is free and easy to practice by just following the step by step instructions described above. You can further add a deep relaxation technique like Savasana for 5 to 10 minutes after the asana practice and then practice meditation. A daily routine of simple asanas accompanied by deep breathing, relaxation, and meditation is enough to keep your mind focused and get rid of anxiety.
Guest Writer: Rafael Aisner, is an Effortless Peak Performance Coach and Infinite Inner Wealth Mentor who conducts a social gathering called Ayahuasca Peru retreats where one is taken to a heightened level of consciousness just like yoga.