Anxiety has taken many peaceful mornings from me. It has taken afternoons, nights and entire days too.
With it comes shaky and sweaty hands, racing thoughts, shallow breathing, and a sense of helplessness. Most of my life I thought that there was no alternative. I spent years trying to find a way to manage my anxiety. I found things that helped a little, but nothing truly took me to a new way of being until I found yoga. It wasn’t immediate. I didn’t walk onto the mat and change forever. But through yoga and my dedication to it, my life is no longer ruled by anxiety.
So, what exactly is it about yoga that helps anxiety?
The simple act of mindful breathing can help reduce anxiety. When you focus on the breath, your mind has a chance to rest and let go of negative thoughts. Yogic breath is also good for the body. Deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood supply, which helps remove toxins from the body. It also increases lung capacity and helps improve digestion. Here are some tips for finding your yogic breath.
The practice of asanas (poses) is good for both mind and body. Physically, asanas help release the tension that anxiety creates, allowing the body to feel recharged and healthier. When the body feels better, so does the mind. The challenges you face on the mat reduce anxiety by taking your mind off your worries and fears.
Asanas also teach the student to be patient and let go of things. Just like finding (and re-finding) your balance and mastering a pose, acceptance takes time and patience. Perfection is not only unnecessary, but usually unrealistic. Each time I lose my balance and fall out of a pose I am forced to face my imperfection and accept it. At first, I got frustrated when I fell out of a pose.
Meditation is challenging, yes, but not impossible. The ability to clear one’s mind of all thoughts is a skill that takes time. It is a path, not a goal. Meditation starts by simply taking the time to focus on your breath. Meditation gives your mind a chance to slow down and teaches your body to relax. In addition, with a regular meditation practice, you will begin to notice patterns in your thinking. The things that trigger anxiety, panic, and fear will become apparent to you. Once this happens, you can learn to change the patterns by recognizing your triggers.
Just step onto your mat… the practice will take care of itself. Through the simple steps of conscious breathing, regular asana practice, and meditation, anxiety is a thing that can be controlled, reduced, and ultimately overcome one breath, one pose, one day at a time. Take hold of your practice. Take hold of your life!