Author: Taryn Herselman
Many people are reluctant to admit they’re afraid, even to themselves. Somehow, they believe that if they acknowledge their fear, they give it power to run their lives. In other words, deep down, they’re afraid of their fear! Men especially will often go to great lengths to hide their fears or anxieties behind a facade of confidence or anger or rationality. At the other extreme, of course, some people seem to be afraid of just about everything.
The truth is we all experience fear and anxiety, at least occasionally. In addition to the raw rush of adrenaline you feel when your physical survival seems to be at stake, you experience the fear that inevitably arises when you face the unknown or the uncertain in life — which can be quite often these days. Ultimately, you’re afraid because you believe that you’re a separate, isolated entity surrounded by forces beyond your control. The more the walls that separate you from others crumble through the practice of yoga, the more your fear and anxiety naturally diminish. When working with fear, it’s especially important to be kind and gentle with yourself.
Each of us perceives the world differently. We do this via the five basic senses of touch, sound, sight, taste and smell. The mind focuses on those objects and events that have meaning for us as an inpidual, concentrates on those and ignores all the rest. The significance generally depends on our own past experience. Our responses to events will also differ from inpidual to inpidual. When we are with another person we assume they are experiencing the world as we are, but this is almost impossible.
Diseases associated with Anxiety
Physical difficulties caused by this mental and emotional state may include psychosomatic illnesses, particularly Hypertension, immune system dysfunction, organ damage, and a vast array of symptoms. The anxiety causes the working of the body to become abnormal. Yoga therapy has a positive effect on the lifestyle and with it the negative effects of anxiety on the body, energy levels and mind can be reversed.
Anxiety does narrow the attention and sometimes helps to increase performance. However, the behaviour engendered by anxiety will generally include withdrawal, dependency and addiction. The helplessness in the face of the fear produces more fear. It is very common for people with mood or mental disorders to use drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. Yoga is a great way for people with dual diagnosis to overcome their substance abuse problems and alleviate their mood/ mental disorder. In addition to the mental benefits, yoga programs detoxify the body, enhance physical and mental stamina and increase self-awareness. Regular long-term practice of yoga can be a powerful tool for emotional healing and maintaining mental and physical health by releasing these blockages and relieving stress.
Anxiety is a mental construct and so one must first understand how the mind functions in order to understand how anxiety manifests. Physical symptoms may include sweating palms and increased heart rate to a full blown panic attack. The anxiety may be linked to a specific stimulus as in a phobia, e.g. a snake or it can be unknown as in GAD (Generalised anxiety disorder).
The mind aspects of manomaya kosha consist of the following:
• Ahamkara – the sense of ‘I’-ness
• Chitta – our memory
• Manas – our perceptions, thinking and emotions
• Buddhi- the lower levels of our higher mind
The things that we remember most easily at any moment correspond with our current feeling state. The thinking content is based on perceptions from outside or mental rumination from inside. Tamasic perceptions cause negative thinking, which then joins in with the negative rumination and it all goes from bad to worse. It feeds on itself, for example turning a fear of flying into a major catastrophe.
Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita (14:18):
Those who are seated in Sattwa go upwards, the Rajastic dwell in the middle; and the Tamastic, abiding in the function of the lowest Guna, go downwards.
This is how it goes with anxiety, one negative thought to leads to another and another until the physical symptoms begin to manifest in the body. How we respond to an event creates a positive or negative result that then influences the situation as this repeats either making it better or worse. The vicious circles of the negative emotions are well known and are the cause of many diseases as well as much unhappiness and strife. All emotions can have a negative complexion and this is how anxiety works: Anxiety – symptoms – fear illness/ madness / death – more anxiety. One can see that this can build up and up, become worse as time goes on.
SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
Symptoms may include headache, back pain and poor sleep quality. Also there may be high blood pressure, trembling, feeling of choking, chest pain and increased heart rate and respiration, especially during a panic attack.
AVAILABLE TREATMENT AND LIMITATIONS
There are many types of counseling that can be used to treat anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also being used in most Western countries as a treatment for Anxiety. Also medication such as anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants and SSRI’s may be prescribed in extreme cases, however most medications may have unpleasant side effects.
Yoga is a great way to calm symptoms of anxiety because it reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and eases respiration. One study found that practicing yoga may elevate levels of gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) in the brain, which positively affects a person’s ability to handle stress. Yoga therapy must be introduced as early as possible as it can break the vicious circle of negative thinking and start the person on the upward path of confidence, joy and peace.
To treaty anxiety the following elements should be combined:
• Behavioral monitoring of effects of yogic practice on symptoms of worry, obsessions and intrusive thinking.
• Practice of extended meditation and Yoga Nidra for anxiety reduction.
• Development of skills using cognitive reframing in terms of the yogic principles from Patanjali’s yoga sutras.
• Integration of Dialectic Behaviour Therapy principles with meditation.
General yogic practices for anxiety
• Yoga Nidra
• Omkar chanting
• Pranayama: Bhramari - Humming bee breath
• Asanas: Pawanmuktasana Part 1 with breath awareness and Surya Namaskar to raise the pranic levels and release stress.
• Cleansing practices: Jala neti
ASANAS TO RELIEVE ANXIETY:
• Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). The torso and legs represent the body of the bow, and the arms the string.
• Ustrasana (Camel Pose). For this pose you can pad your knees and shins with a thickly folded blanket.
• Bitilasana (Cow Pose) is an easy, gentle way to warm up the spine.
• Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) is a cross between Child's Pose and Downward Facing Dog. This pose lengthens the spine and calms the mind.
• Matsyasana (Fish Pose). It is said that if you perform this pose in water, you will be able to float like a fish.
• Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend). A forward bend for all levels of students, Janu Sirsasana is also a spinal twist.
• Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Practicing Anjali Mudra is an excellent way to induce a meditative state of awareness.
• Dandasana (Staff Pose). It might look easy, but there's more to Staff Pose than meets the eye.
• Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose). Calms the brain and rejuvenates tired legs.
• Marjaryasana (Cat Pose ) provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs.
• Sukhasana (Easy Pose). If you're used to sitting in chairs, Sukhasana can be quite challenging.
• Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) is the quintessential standing pose in many styles of yoga.
• Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) is a highly effective strengthener for the legs and ankles.
• Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose). There are two interpretations of the Sanskrit Janu Sirsasana, Head-to-Knee and Head-of-the-Knee. The former emphasizes the forward bend. The latter refers to the "head" of the bent knee that you use press away from you to assist the forward bend.
• Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) can help a distracted mind unwind.
• Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) will wake up your hamstrings and soothe your mind.
Meditating with fear and anxiety
Begin by asking these questions: Where and how do you experience it in your body? Where do you find yourself tensing and contracting? What happens to your breathing? Or to your heart? Next, notice the thoughts and images that accompany the fear. Often fear arises from anticipating the future and imagining that you’ll somehow be unable to cope. When you see these catastrophic expectations for what they are and return to the present moment — the sensations in your body, the coming and going of your breath — you may find that the fear shifts and begins to disperse. Then when it returns, you can simply call its name — “fear, fear, fear” — like an old, familiar friend.
Meditating with Challenging Emotions and Habitual Patterns: Facing your demons
The Tibetans tell a wonderful story about the great meditation master Milarepa, who lived about 900 years ago. Milarepa sought out remote caves high in the Himalayas where he practiced meditation. Once, he found himself in a cave inhabited by a company of demons that distracted him from his practice. (Demons apparently frequented caves in those days!) First, he tried to subdue them, but they wouldn’t budge. Then he decided to honor them and extend friendliness and compassion to them, and half of them left. The rest he welcomed wholeheartedly and invited to return whenever they wished. At this invitation, all but one particularly ferocious demon vanished like a rainbow. With no concern for his own body and with utmost love and compassion, Milarepa went up to the demon and placed his head in its mouth as an offering. The demon disappeared without a trace and never returned. Consider the story of Milarepa the next time you’re struggling with your own inner demons — emotions and states of mind you find challenging or unpleasant. Imagine what might happen if you welcomed them instead of trying to drive them away.
Diet, lifestyle recommendations
A healthy diet should be followed, with fresh fruit and vegetables included. If possible a vegetarian diet should be implemented. A regular yoga practice should be included and any form of exercise will also be beneficial in dealing with stress.
There are no specific contra-indications for anxiety. Many forms of yoga practice are safe, some however are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check with a physician fist before following a yoga program. If the patient is suffering from any of the physical symptoms, such as headaches, etc then care should be taken to avoid inversions or stronger practices at this time.
GENERAL PROGRAM FOR PATIENT
ASANA / YOGA TECHNIQUE
DURATION IN MINUTES
Preparatory movements Type 1-12
Vajrasana series from Yoga Sopan book
Dhanurasana – 3 rounds
Sleeping abdominal twist
Tadasana and Tiryak Tadasana (Palm tree pose)
Katichakrasana (Waist rotating pose)
Trikonasana (Triangle pose)
Veerasana (Warrior 1)
Nadi Shodan without Kumbhak
Sheetali inhalation and Bhramari exhalation
Ujjayi without Kumbhak
Meditation- see notes above
Final prayer and Om chanting (11 times)
Total: 90 minutes
6.6 RELATED RESEARCH
Scientific studies of yoga demonstrate that yoga therapy is a low-risk high-yield approach to mental health. One study found that after three months of yoga, participants reported their anxiety improved by 30% and their overall wellbeing by 65%. In a German study published in 2005, 24 women took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in the control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin any exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period. At the end of the three months the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety and well-being.
The views expressed are solely those of the author. Yogapoint.com may or may not agree with all statements.
Practical Yoga Psychology Dr Rishi Vivekananda. Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar India 2009.
Therapy Course Notes- G Mandlik lecture on Psychological problems.
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