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Meditate | Wellbeing

Stop Anxiety In Its Tracks With This Move

By The Yoga School | October 11, 2018

Feel an attack coming on? This quick meditation technique can help

There was a point of time in my life when I feared going into my car. I would pace around it in circles, my keen eyes scanning for the smallest flicker of movement… Wait, what was that sound I just heard? And was that an eye peeping at me from behind the driver’s seat?

The minutes would tick by incessantly until I was able to convince myself that there was nothing there. And when I finally did open the door to the driver’s seat, I would proceed to slam it close again, hard. If I looked like a lunatic to by-passers, it didn’t bother me – I HAD to repeat that action another five or six times. I’d do it with as much strength and as loudly as I could, in an attempt to scare away any phantom lizards that could potentially be in, on, or near my car. Upon getting in, I’d proceed to slap my palms repeatedly on the dashboard, while kicking hard against the bottom of my driver’s seat until the car shook. If there was the remotest possibility that a lizard might be brazen enough to stay put inside even after all that commotion, I needed to chase it out before I could start to drive. Just in case, you know? I’d keep my eyes and ears peeled for the slightest indication of any sound or movement, and only when dead silence greeted me would I be satisfied that I was “safe” from the vile clutches of evil lizards waiting to pounce on me.

You see, I have an intense phobia of lizards. Not the scaly reptilian kind like monitor lizards (which at least qualify as a species to be concerned about because they’re actually capable of leaving you with a nasty bite if provoked). I’m talking about the pale beigey kind with translucent skin and big goggly eyes – yes I’m awfully terrified of those (harmless) house lizards. In my eyes, they are anything but. I find their crystal clear complexion repulsive. Each time I lock eyes with one (and I’ve encountered one too many), I sense so much more going on behind its intelligent gaze. My mind has convinced me that these little reptiles are cold-blooded fiends, out to scare my yoga pants off with their omnipresence.

I find the thought of them highly distressful. I cannot look at pictures of lizards without feeling my stomach churn. Just thinking of them gives me heart palpitations and sends irrational fear coursing through my veins. I’ve often told my friends that I’d probably die of extreme anxiety and stress if you locked me up in a room with a tiny baby lizard. I cannot enter a public bathroom (especially one in an outdoor setting) without first having to endure the debilitating anxiety that comes with a cascade of what-ifs filled with devastating possibilities, if I found myself sharing such an intimate space with a lizard.

Anxiety and phobia

A phobia is an extreme fear or aversion, brought on by the presence or thought, of a specific object or situation that usually poses little or no actual danger. A phobia is a type of anxiety, and anxiety is a response to an unknown or perceived potential threat. Triggered by your fight-or-flight response, anxiety can range from mild and moderate, to severe and crippling.

The fight-or-flight response is a biochemical reaction to impending danger, and while it was essential for survival in the days when our ancestors were faced with physical danger on a daily basis, many of our “perceived dangers” in today’s world are psychological. In other words, this response can be triggered by both real and imaginary threats.

The fight-or-flight response isn’t conscious – it’s controlled by one of the most ‘primeval’ parts of the brain, which means it’s often a bit simplistic in the way it interprets danger…

… explain authors, Mark Williams and Danny Penman, in their book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace In a Frantic World. They add, “In fact, it makes no distinction between an external threat such as a tiger, and an internal one, such as a troubling memory or a future worry.”

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Our body may not always be able to interpret the difference between real and imagined threats, but understanding the triggers behind our anxiety allows us to manage it better. Although I’m still anxious around lizards (or the mere thought of them), a few years have passed since I last experienced anxiety over that phantom lizard waiting in my car – amongst the various self-help tools I’ve explored, I’ve found breath work to be one of the fastest and most effective practices.

Our breath is the strongest connection we have to our nervous system. Deep breathing is scientifically proven to bring our nervous system back into balance, enabling us to feel more grounded. Having experienced its benefits, I decided to try Rie Komiya’s meditation class at The Yoga School. Rie, who teaches Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, taught me a highly effective method known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, a simple meditation technique which can be practised daily or whenever the need arises.

Alternate Nostril Breathing balances both hemispheres.
As a result, both sides of the brain work harmoniously, creating a sense of relaxation.

“It’s a great self-help technique which uses the flow of your breath to clear your mind and calm you down, especially when you’re feeling tense or nervous, like you may feel just before a big meeting,” explains Rie.

“Right nostril breathing is connected to nurturing energy. It stimulates the sympathetic nerve system, promoting alertness, clarity, will power, and concentration. Breathing through the right nostril for five minutes can leave you feeling more energised and ready for action!” Left nostril breathing, on the other hand, is connected to cleansing energy. “It stimulates the parasympathetic nerve system, promoting calmness, sensitivity, and receptivity. Breathing through the left nostril for five minutes can calm you and lower your blood pressure,” Rie adds. “Alternate nostril breathing can also be a form of daily meditation easily practiced as part of your bedtime routine, as a way to rebalance yourself before sleep. In fact, you can do it anytime you need some relief from a headache, to release tightness in your stomach, or to prevent an on-coming panic attack.”

How to do it:

Cross your legs comfortably and keep your spine straight as you sit in Easy Pose. Rest your left hand in Gyan Mudra (a hand position that helps to facilitate inner wisdom by connecting the thumb to the index finger) on your left knee. Now close your eyes and focus on your Third Eye (located in the centre of the forehead, this energy centre is known in biological terms as the pineal gland). Relax and breathe slowly as you practice the following sequence.

  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
  • Then close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger, and exhale through your right nostril.
  • With your left nostril still closed, inhale through your right nostril.
  • Now close your right nostril with your thumb, and exhale through your left nostril.
  • Repeat for three to five minutes.
*Editor’s note: Thanks to Candy Lim-Soliano for sharing her story with The Yoga School.
Kundalini Yoga kriyas can be very advanced in nature, and it is strongly recommended that you explore them with the guidance of an experienced KRI certified teacher, especially if you’re a beginner.
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