Yoga for Anxiety
In these times of fear and uncertainty, turn to yoga to shed the grip of negative emotions
Headlines flash with the number of people newly infected with the Covid-19, a novel coronavirus thought to have originated from Wuhan, China. Some days, these figures hit new highs. Some days, they dip.
These are extraordinary times indeed. To think that just two months ago, we could move around freely, shake the hands of others, and not tense up when someone nearby lets out a cough.
As scientists around the world race to develop a vaccine for the virus that–at the moment–has no definitive cure, it is not unusual that many of us are experiencing feelings of anxiety towards this invisible antagonist.
What are some common features and symptoms of anxiety? It may manifest as a stream of constant worry that you find difficult to control, feelings of fear, or a recurring belief that something bad will happen in the future.
Sometimes, anxiety also goes beyond the mind to surface in physical forms, be it muscle tension, an increased heart rate, feeling hot, or feeling panicky.
In prehistoric times, these feelings of anxiety were key to survival. Anxiety triggered our ancestors to move swiftly away from danger, propelling them into ‘fight or flight’ mode. It is unlikely that mankind would have lasted up until today if not for these basic instincts.
You’re not alone
At this point, it is important to acknowledge the fact that no one is immune to feelings of anxiety. It is experienced, in varying degrees, at different points in our lives. The current global occurrence for anxiety disorders sits at 7.3 per cent of people, suggesting that about one out of 14 people is experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one point of time.
Some individuals might go on battle overwhelming anxiety or even develop an anxiety order, defined as the point where the anxiety itself becomes overpowering, causes the person on-going distress, and starts to affect their day-to-day life.
Experiencing anxiety problems does not mean you are weak or abnormal. American statesman Abraham Lincoln, actress Whoopi Goldberg, and even footballer David Beckham have battled anxiety disorders and gone on to excel in their chosen professions. What it really means is that a number of factors in life have contributed to the development of this anxiety, and it is this build-up of excessive anxiety that is the problem, not you.
Anxiety problems tend to arise from a combination of factors. Some are born with a genetic or biological predisposition that increases their likelihood of developing anxiety difficulties. Others might have encountered a traumatic event – such as a car accident or health scare – and subsequently did not fully develop the skills to manage their emotional response to the event. As such, similar encounters later on in life act as triggers for anxiety to recur.
While it might feel uncomfortable and daunting at times to confront these feelings of anxiety, remember that the sensations you feel are not dangerous. They are merely sensations that can be managed if you take the deliberate steps to tackle these feelings, hence stripping it of its power over you.
A calming practice
In moments where you notice anxiety creeping up on you, turn to your yoga practice to calm your mind and ground your being. When an asana is performed correctly and executed with awareness, the physical body becomes a vehicle to discipline the mind, examine the obstacles in life, and discover how we can overcome them.
#1 Pranayama: Brahmari (Breathwork)
Begin with your practice of pranayama, which involves the conscious control of inhalation, retention, and exhalation of the breath. Our breath quickens when we are anxious and becomes deeper and quieter when we relax. Through pranayama, you begin to gain control over your mind, allowing anxiety to loosen its firm grip.
Brahmari is one form of pranayama that’s recommended for reducing anxiety. Close your eyes and gently use your index fingers to close off the entrance to your ear canal (taking care not to push your fingers too far in). Exhale completely, then inhale and fill the lungs. On your next exhale, do so through your nose, while generating a high humming sound while your lips are closed. The sound vibrations have a calming effect on the nervous system.
#2 Padmasana (Lotus Pose)
Padmasana, essentially a sitting position for meditation and pranayama practice, is another pose that helps to calm your mind. Simply sit on the floor with your legs straight. Bend the right knee and position the right foot on top of the left thigh. Likewise, bend your left knee and position the left foot to sit on top of the right thigh. Lift your breastbone and straighten the spine. Place your hands with palms facing up on top of the knees. Hold the pose for 30 seconds while maintaining a steady breath. As this pose requires knee and hip flexions, do not attempt the pose if you have an ankle or knee injury.
#3 Uttanasana (Forward Bend)
This pose helps to identify any imbalances in the body, give the spine an intense stretch, and reduce feelings of overwhelm. To begin, stand in tadasana (mountain pose), exhale, and pull in your belly. Fold forward from the hips and reach for your ankles. As you inhale, try to straighten your legs and life the hips forward. As you exhalation, go deeper into the pose and bring your belly onto your thighs. Drop your head and lengthen your neck. Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds.