Yoga Therapy for Anxiety
Anxiety comes in many forms. It can present as constant worrying about what the future might hold, or come on quickly as with panic attacks. As a yoga therapist, anxiety is one of the most common issues people seek help for. This makes sense because anxiety is built into the human condition. We are wired to use past information to avoid unwanted consequences in the future. Everyone experiences some anxiety. When it gets in the way of our daily activities or ability to enjoy our lives people often seek help.
Yoga therapy has different ways in which it interprets anxiety. In our method, we pull from different schools of thought so that we can offer those suffering from anxiety the tools that will best suit them individually. I’d like to speak for a moment about the different ways we might apply yoga practices for anxiety.
I should mention first that yoga therapists often work in the complementary or integrative care model. This is appropriate since western medicine also has useful tools for those suffering from this condition. Working with a yoga therapist in no way precludes seeing psychologists psychiatrists etc…
One way yoga therapy can help is by affecting the nervous system. Breathing techniques (pranayama) are particularly good at reducing sympathetic tone and reducing the fight or flight response. These deep breathing techniques can be paired with movement or used as stand-alone practices. Many people find that a steady schedule of these practices enables them to reduce anxiety significantly.
Yoga therapists also might use a model derived from Indian medicine or Ayurveda called the doshas. The doshas are the elements of nature that are in all of us. When these doshas are in balance we are healthy and when they go out of balance we experience symptoms. The anxiety, of course, is a common symptom of imbalance. As a yoga therapist, I might see a doshic imbalance and give practices to correct it. These practices would include movement, breathing techniques, meditation practices, or relaxation techniques. I might also recommend some lifestyle changes to keep those doshas balanced. For example, in the case of anxiety, it might involve regulating one’s schedule and eating patterns.
If anxiety were to be manifested out of deep-seated experiences that the mind was wrestling with, such as one who has experienced trauma, I might use a different approach. Specific practices that help the mind move these experiences to places where it can be dealt with would be taught. These could be body-based practices, or possibly specific meditation for anxiety practices which have been shown to ease the minds of those who are processing trauma. Read more about yoga therapy for trauma here.
These are all possibilities. A well-trained yoga therapist will assess each individual and with their client help find the practices that move them out of anxiety states that are detrimental to their well being. Yoga therapy is not, and should not be, a one size fits all modality. Research is very useful in showing us the ways in which yoga might help suffering. But it does not cover all the possibilities and nuances that a yoga therapist and a client can discover together in terms of helping that individual rise out of suffering and move towards a happier and more content state of being.
After working with hundreds of individuals for anxiety in all its forms and manifestations, and seeing their ability to create the change they desire, I am a believer and advocate that yoga therapy is an excellent choice for those working with this aspect of themselves. If you are reading or watching this and have anxiety issues you are dealing with, I would encourage you to find a yoga therapist who can help you find your way to a more peaceful life.
May we all find the bliss and contentment our heart’s desire