Yoga Therapy For Anxiety: Jane’s Story

woman+meditating+in+a+yoga+poseJane (not her real name) can’t make a decision. When she tries to park her car, it’s a blessing when there is only one spot to choose from. Jane is intelligent, has friends, and a family who love and support her. She has been to 2 psychotherapists for several years each. She is self aware. And she describes her daily life as difficult because her anxiety wells up over every little choice she is confronted with.

After initially meeting with Jane, I thought yoga therapy could be useful in mitigating her anxiety. I decided to work with her on every koshic level. Koshas are the 5 aspects of the Self. When in balance they are an ally. When unbalanced, they shield us from our true nature and cause suffering.

We developed practices for each of these koshas and her needs. Specific asana (movement) for the body with breath. This helped calm her down. For her, a decrease of anxiety by 25% is what she felt. This was getting somewhere—so far so good. We added a breathing practice for her nervous system and pranic body. She liked this and actually reported an easier time making a decision next time we met. Chanting and meditation followed. This took some time to establish and find the right chant for her conscious mind. One that reduced negative thinking took a few tries. Once we found that the meditation came easier, she began to really change. Her anxiety over decisions decreased dramatically. She said she was realizing that making the “wrong decision” wasn’t the “end of the world”. Jane had surrendered to the fact that she wasn’t in control of most things. This is the 5th kosha: the peace that comes with surrender.

Does Jane walk around in a constant state of bliss? No, of course not. But her dramatic shift in quality of life is inspirational. I wanted to share this story as an inspiration to all that suffer with anxiety. The elegant system of yoga therapy offers many of the tools needed to heal ourselves. If you suffer from anxiety and would like a referral to a Yoga Therapist, email us here.

May we all be free from suffering,

What is IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome and How Can Yoga Therapy Help

sunsetmeditationIrritable Bowel Syndrome or “IBS” is essentially a nervous system condition. Even though the symptoms of IBS are in the gut area; Gas, bloating diarrhea, and constipation are the most common symptoms. There are not any issues with the intestinal tract, rather a brain-gut communication issue. One way to think about it is that the muscles in these areas are spasming or not functioning properly. This condition effects possibly 40 million people in the U.S. alone.

The key to working with IBS is to lessen anxiety. Yoga, as we know, is well suited for this. Many people with IBS present with other indicators of anxiety, however, it is chicken and egg. Is it the IBS causing anxiety or anxiety causing IBS? In terms of treatment, it may not matter what is causing what since the system must be balanced and anxiety lessened to reduce symptoms.

In clinical practice I’ve found it useful to assess the individual and determine what type of practice will lead to less anxiety. In terms of directly soothing nerves in the gut area, it is best to let the breath do the work. I have seen it suggested that certain poses are best for IBS. I believe it’s more the breathing practice and matching a style of practice to the individual’s needs that produces results.

Below is a general practice that incorporates breathing practice, forward bending, back bending, and twists in a combination that will stimulate the gut-brain connection without irritating the digestive tract. This practice can be modified to suit individual needs but is a good starting point.

May this information be helpful for all those suffering.

IBS Practice

PDF Version: IBS Practice

Yoga Therapy For Difficult Emotions

Anger, Aggression, Hate, Competitiveness, Comparison, Judgement, Criticism.

All normal emotions to have at times, but in excess they become a problem. As a yoga teacher and therapist, I am often asked how to work with these difficult emotional states. We often see them clumped together. One way to look at these states is as an excess of Pitta or Fire energy in the system. When this energy is in excess, we experience symptoms. Some of these symptoms are the mentioned emotional states, anger and criticism being the most predominant. Other symptoms might be actual heat (we are hot), digestive issues, or inflammation.

The key to working to get this fire under control is sensitivity. When we stop feeling energy in our body we move out of balance. Unfortunately, the more out of balance we are, the less likely we are to be sensitive. We have all experienced this: think back to a time you were angry at one situation, and then took that anger out on another situation – and then another, etc.

This is why we need to take active steps to re-sensitize ourselves. For those of us who tend to go out of balance in this way (i.e. you are an angry person versus a depressed person), a pitta balancing practice is helpful. There are many levels at which we can effect pitta – I have found that building sensitivity in asana and pranayama particularly useful.

In asana, the key is to move enough to actively feel your heat. There are many ways to do this, but for many, sun salutes are a good choice. The game is to warm ourselves up and then move enough, either through repetition or effort, so that we feel warm in our torso but not in the neck and head. Playing this game will automatically make us more sensitive and train us to feel our heat and then control it. Once we find that fire in an appropriate manner we can then slow it down. After these pitta appropriate sun salutes, we gradually wind down with forward bends and relaxing supine poses like lying twists and legs up the wall. In this way we sensitize, control, and then calm the pitta.

Another possibility is to warm the belly with a modified breath of fire. Again controlling the heat level so that the heat stays in the belly and does not reach the head. This pranayama can be taught by any Breathing Deeply Yoga Therapist.

If you are a yoga class teacher it may be helpful to ponder how intense and heating your class is for your students. Best would be to stoke the fire without imbalancing it. Some students might need modifications in effort level to find the emotional balance they are looking for.

As always I welcome comments and questions,
May all our collective fire be strong and balanced today – Om Shanthi.


The Power Of Practice: Yoga & Schizophrenia

yoga brain image The power of a proper practice never ceases to amaze me. I was just looking at a few studies that show how asana and pranayama have very positive outcomes for people suffering with schizophrenia. ​

In past studies meditation has been shown to worsen symptoms for this population. Yoga and pranayama however seem to work pretty well by lessening symptoms and improving quality of life.

It is so potent to train the mind through movement in breath. This serves as a great reminder to us all of why we practice. The effect of balancing the physical and pranic bodies through movement with breath is felt every time we step onto our mats. To self heal in this way, even if you are not suffering with such a difficult mental condition, is a great service to ourselves and everyone around us. If you know anyone suffering from mental issues like anxiety or depression, a Yoga Therapist may be of great service to them. Spread the word.

Taking control over our well being is our birthright and yoga therapy is a gem available to all.

Om Shanti,

The Eight Fold Path

Chakra Image YogaThe Eightfold Path: Why Is It Useful In Yoga Therapy?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are a manual for how to move towards an enlightened life. Included in this ancient text is an eight part system for how to experience and live life with less suffering.

Yoga’s eight component parts are self control for social harmony,

precepts for personal discipline,

yoga pose,

regulation of prana,

withdrawal of senses from their objects,

contemplation of our true nature,

meditation on the true self,

and being absorbed in Spirit

–Sutra 2.29

What is amazing about this approach is the acknowledgement that there is an order to how one can go about finding peace. Unlike some other systems, there is a direct appreciation for our lived experience as human beings working with bodies, breath, and minds. It is really useful to think about this order when we have dis-ease, especially in the mind. For example, it is very possible that any of us could be having a difficult time finding mental peace if we haven’t found a movement practice that suits us. To my thinking, if someone is suffering from anxiety it would be a shame not to recommend some movement and breathwork before trying to work directly with the mind. This is one of the ideas Patanjali is trying to share with us. If we simply try to “go for it” therapeutically, it may not yield the results we are looking for. This is because there are foundational steps (like moving the body) that may need to be taken before the deeper work of focusing the mind can take place.

By following Patanjali’s advice we naturally move toward a relationship with disease that requires the client’s full participation. Instead of being told what to do – the client now engages in a process where the results of any practice they’re doing are looked at. If symptoms aren’t being reduced, the therapist suggests another approach or practice that might help. Asana leads to pranayama which leads to concentration, and so on. If we need to go to a different step on the

‘ladder” to achieve successful results or less suffering, we do so with no attachment to our original ideas. This open mindedness creates a framework where healing and spiritual evolution are united. Who wouldn’t want that?

May we all move closer to ourselves today and always,