We can all agree that our society is chock-full of daily stresses. Looming deadlines, sick and cranky kids, and gridlock traffic can all send you into a tizzy. Our bodies often respond to these daily stresses with anxiety. It’s a completely normal response to our life experiences.
Anxiety works like a protective mechanism to prevent us from entering into a potentially dangerous situation. And it can help us escape from one, should we find ourselves there. This naturally occurring response is aptly named the fight-or-flight response.
Research shows that the more active your fight-or-flight response is, the easier it is to trigger anxiety in the future. So with continued stress, you may become more sensitive to the effects of anxiety. Sort of like the chicken or the egg conundrum!
Anxiety can be treated in a variety of ways. From medication, talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to various relaxation techniques. Here are some natural yogic ways to fight it:
Just Breathe: Pranayama
At the core of many anxiety attacks is your breathing, or lack there of. When you’re anxious, the diaphragm is tense, which stops the air from moving downward as you inhale. Research shows that pranayama, or mindful breathing can be just as effective for some as prescribed medication.
Try anywhere: Place your hand on your upper belly, right at the diaphragm. Close your eyes, and feel your breathing move your stomach out when you inhale. At the top of the inhale, pause. On the exhale, control the breath and feel your belly pulling in. At the end of the exhale, pause. Repeat!
Calm the mind: Meditation
In the ’70s, Herbert Benson, M.D, and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard found that practicing transcendental meditation could lower blood pressure, improve heart health and reduce stress. Your mind can be the culprit that creates and perpetuates anxiousness. Constant negative self talk or worry about health, finances or relationships can turn into a relentless replay of unresolved issues. Meditation helps to shut off that dialogue. Sometimes it’s as easy as focusing on the sensation of your breath entering through the nostrils. This type of focus creates a state of deep relaxation, which then translates into a calmer, and more focused overall existence.
Try at home: Find a comfortable seated position. Turn off the cell phone, TV and as much of the outside world as possible. Sit with your eyes closed, or focus on an inanimate object in front of you. Take a few deep breaths (see above). You may notice that your thoughts run rampant, but that’s normal. Your intention should be to observe. Focus once again on the sensation of your stomach rising and falling with your breath. Try doing this for five minutes, then try six or seven. Challenge yourself.
Get Moving: Asana
Another extremely important yogic tool in battling anxiety is a good Asana practice. The movement burns off the nervous energy that can contribute to anxiety. While you’re practicing Asana, you’re also breathing and focusing on the body’s movement, so this is a great way to introduce the first two tools mentioned. Try these three poses:
- Staff Pose (Dandasana): strengthens the back muscles; stretches the shoulders and chest; improves posture
- Seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana): calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression; stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings; Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus; improves digestion; improves and relieves the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort;
ache and anxiety and reduces fatigue; therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis; raditional texts say that Paschimottanasana increases appetite, reduces obesity, and cures diseases.
- Easy pose (Sukhasana): calms the brain; strengthens the back; stretches the knees and ankles.
In addition to the immediate benefits of exercise, people who practice these three things regularly tend to build a greater internal sensitivity, which allows them to detect early signs of anxiety.
Zoja Popovic is a Toronto-based journalist and national TV news producer. She is the consummate health and wellness enthusiast, and is obsessed with Yoga. Follow Zoja @zojapopovic. Namaste!