Anxiety has been at the forefront of my reading material lately and also has been brought up in many conversations in and out of the yoga room. I am surprised with the number of folks, like me, who have experienced panic attacks or extreme anxiety and also relieved that I am not alone.
This practice has both helped me mitigate panic attacks but also occasionally increased my anxiety! Why is that? I think it has to do with the increased ability to focus on the breath, creating more awareness of the body’s movements and therefore becoming more present. It also requires that you persist through uncomfortable situations. Many of you may remember the first couple of supta kurmasanas, feeling constricted, bound, stretched, in a dark hole that you created with your own legs! Or maybe in the classic example, of kapotasana where you need to “crack” your chest open and vulnerably trust that your feet are somewhere back there for you to grasp. Then you learn to stay, breathe and soften.
This can translate to real life situations pretty easily. You may start to pay more attention to your breath while you are at work or you are more easily aware of your thoughts while you are folding laundry. You begin to process what is true or what you are avoiding. For me, yoga has forced me to take a look at the negative thoughts that I wished to avoid and bury away. In Ashtanga, you are BY YOURSELF doing your practice. If you don’t like what those thoughts are telling you or you struggle to be alone with yourself then its time to face those thoughts. This is HARD WORK! Like therapy, sometimes it is harder to manage before it gets better. We are spending less and less time alone, free from distractions. Use your practice wisely. Let it move that body you have on loan to change your daily actions and world view.
In fact, if you haven’t started watching your thoughts and questioning their validity and origin then you might want to practice a little more often and passionately. If you aren’t altering your mental bandwidth and becoming a more grounded, aware, kind person then what the hell are you doing on your mat for 90+ minutes??? You are wasting your precious time worrying about that bind.
In addition to the practice there is an extremely simple and effective breathing technique, Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing.) You may have seen myself and some folks in the room doing that as part of their closing postures. Give it a try! It is so safe and simple that even Sharath teaches it on youtube:
(I also do this if I wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety or even when I’m driving and feeling spun up.)
I am currently reading “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Cox Cabane and she spends a great deal of time talking about anxiety & self-doubt and how that impacts our successes in life and our interactions with others. She says that during a panic attack, “the mind thinks we’re in a fight or flight situation, declares a state of emergency and shuts down what it deems to be superfluous functions. Unfortunately, that means the body is reducing our cognitive abilities just when we need them most…rest assured that this reaction is an entirely normal, natural one.” She goes on to prescribe visualization techniques to help calm the anxiety. Where do we use visualization techniques? IN PRACTICE EVERY DAMN DAY! Can you actually see your sit-bones, bandhas, diaphragm? Nope. But you visualize them and reorganize your internal self toward samastihi. This is no different.
If you have ever had a panic attack, you know it feels like you are DYING. Just remember, that your intelligence has been shut off and you are now operating in fight or flight. I have found that in these times, alternate nostril breathing is also VERY effective. It is also important to remember that panic attacks usually last NO LONGER than 20 minutes! Guess what?! Eddie Stern (look this dude up if you don’t know him) just came up with a breathing app that is very simple and effective:
If you have a panic attack or some anxiety before a meeting you can set a timer (20 minutes for a full-on attack) and do your alternate nostril breathing with the sweet little ball that expands and contracts.
I decided to rant on this today because this popped up in my news:
More real yoga people!