3 ways to ease anxiety with yoga

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This post is from the archives.

I was in Boston the day of the bombing. I stayed an extra week to work with people healing from stress, anxiety, trauma and PTSD. While I was there I really didn’t write. Well, I wrote, but I didn’t post. I wasn’t ready. I needed to digest what was happening, what happened. Between the bombings, the unease during the week, the lockdown and the eventual capture of white hat it was a lot to digest. This was one of the first things I wrote after. Enjoy.

My first yoga experience was a coming home. Yoga had called me for years. Even teaching yoga seemed like the dream job. Somehow I knew that it was a practice that would change my life.And it has. I would not be the woman I am without yoga. I’ve been a yogini for almost 20 years. Some of my most profound lessons weren’t on the mat, but in my everyday life. Yoga has opened me, calmed me, made me more compassionate and loving, made me more tolerant and most importantly, yoga has healed me. And that’s why I started teaching.

Early in my yoga life I was a mess. And I’ve been an occasional mess since, but those early days I didn’t have anywhere to turn. I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. I was depressed, anxious, lonely, despite being married to my best friend and suffering from undiagnosed PTSD.

Later I would be a mess, but I would have yoga. And if I could just remember to get on the mat or sit in silence I would start the healing practice and everything would be okay.

Today I sit in Boston’s Kenmore Square near Boston University, a school I considered attending. And it all comes back to me, those years that I really struggled and I am reminded why I wanted to teach.

I honestly believe in the healing power of yoga. I believe it can heal almost anything and while I might not be the most qualified to heal every single person I meet, I have spent a lot of today watching people walk and talk and I see evidence of trauma, stress, anxiety and worry. Reasonably so, but it breaks my heart to see so many people hurting. And my heart lifts as I remember that I know the answer to a lot of those problems. Not because I’m such an amazing yoga therapist, but because I’ve lived through so many of those issues.

So today I focus on anxiety and worry  simply because Boston is my new second home and I feel compelled to heal my new family.

It’s not always easy, but it is simple….Three simple things you can do to ease anxiety, fear and worry.

1. Breathe.
A lot of us breathe incorrectly. When we’re stressed we tend be shallow breathers. Some of us even hold our breaths. Practice with the breath is called Pranayama. It is one of the 8 limbs of yoga and just as important to practice as the poses. So sit back and for 2 minutes right now close your eyes, place your hands on your belly. Focus on breathing through your nose. In through the nose, out through the nose. Try to breath into your belly-meaning your belly rises and falls with the breath.  Whenever your mind wanders just bring it back to your breath. You can only be in the moment when you’re focused on the breath.

2. Be in the moment.
It may sounds flakey to you, but it’s the antidote to worry and anxiety. Anxiety is usually about something that might happen in the future. It’s not about what we know, it’s about our fear. Worry can be similar, but often worry is about our fear of something we’ve said or done in the past. The easiest way of letting that go is to just be in this moment. In yoga meditation brings us to the moment. It is a practice that develops over time. The more you do it, the more it helps with worry and anxiety. If you don’t have a meditation practice yet, though there are other mindfulness practices that can help today’s anxiety.

Things you can do to be in this moment? Look around you and notice 3 things you see. Say out loud to yourself, I see a pencil, I see a painting, I see a lamp. Do the same thing with 3 things you hear. Then do 3 things you can touch. Being aware of your surroundings is a great way to stay mindfully in the moment.

3. Do something for someone else.
This isn’t to ignore what you’re experiencing, but offer to drive your neighbor to the doctor, rake your mother’s yard, volunteer at a local charity. In yoga we call this Seva, or selfless service. Offer to be of service in a new way today. Two things happen. You start to use up your extra time and don’t have enough time for worry. Also, you see that other people have problems too and sometimes they’re bigger than your what-might-happen kind of problems. Your life might find some perspective if you’re around people who have chronic pain, or who can’t feed their kids. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that everyone else is doing better, has more, has it easier. Seva teaches us that we are all one. We all have problems. We all suffer.

Practice these and your life will change.

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