‘FEAR KNOCKED AT THE DOOR – FAITH ANSWERED – THERE WAS NO-ONE THERE’
Some time ago I attended a two day workshop by Sally Flynn which focused on how to reduce anxiety with regular yoga practice. The topic is very close to my heart, to my personality.
What is anxiety? It is “a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome”. We all have different disposition and tolerance to it.
Anxiety is contracting us, draws us away from people – does not allow us to live life to the fullest.
According to ‘Beyond Blue’ on average one in four people – one in three women and one in ﬁve men – will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. In a 12-month period over two million Australians experience anxiety. We all know someone who is affected by it.
There are many ways to soothe ourselves, some of which will be unique to you. Take time to get to know your ‘base line” experience, how you feel when you are not anxious, how do you feel before starting your yoga practice and note of whether anything feels different when you complete your routine.
Remind yourself, thoughts are just tangled wired – they will soften.
In general – yoga poses which open the chest and extend the arms help us to REACH OUT.
You know your body better than anybody else – listen to it.
Wear layers, be warm during your practice. If you can dedicate a quiet space for it.
Below I would like to share five methods that have been tested by research and/or in my practice.
Deep belly breathing activates the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system and slows down reactivity. Breathing slowly, deeply, can de-escalate a full-blown panic attack in a matter of minutes. Remembering to breathe through the day de-stresses you throughout your day, and helps you install calm as your real baseline.
2.Hand on the heart.
Neural cells around the heart activate during stress. Your warm hand on your heart centre calms those neurons down again, often in less than a minute. Hand on the heart works especially well when you breathe positive thoughts, feelings, images of safety and trust, ease and goodness, into your heart at the same time.
3. Poetry & Mantra.
Because poetry is metaphorical, imagistic, emotion and sense based, reciting poetry activates the right hemisphere of the brain which processes experience in a holistic, imagistic, emotion-sense based mode. Because the right hemisphere of the brain is rich in neuronal connections to the limbic system in the lower brain, including the alarm centre and emotional meaning centre of the amygdala, snuggling with a partner or a pet, drinking a warm, cup of tea, and reading poetry or reciting a mantra can soothe and calm your nerves in about ten minutes.
4. Meditation & Yoga Nidra.
Compassionate mindfulness meditation & Yoga Nidra are gentle ways to calm the mind and body and let things simply be, over time generating a steady inner calm that sustains you over the long haul.
5. The three minute breathing space.
A simple and accessible technique that can be practiced anywhere, anytime. It helps to find ‘ground’ again when we are experiencing overwhelm, and we can clear the clutter of reactivity to restore clarity, and make sound choices.
- Observation: what sensations, thoughts and sounds coming to you – 1 minute;
- Breath: notice where breath shows up in your body – 1 minute
- Body: breath into the body: – 1 minute;
Do it 3x a day – regardless whether you need it or not.
For each of these poses start with observing your current state, current ‘base line’ experience.
- Place right hand on chest;
- Left hand over the right hand;
- Link thumbs;
- Pause to notice if anything feels different;
- Take a couple of breaths while allowing yourself to feel the touch of your hands, letting the exhale settle.
Remind yourself of an image that you find reassuring, comforting
Repeat any words or phrases that are meaningful
Meaning “I am that”, the mantra So Ham acknowledges that the energy that surrounds us is also the energy that we are – no separation – all is one.
If comfortable combine breath and arm movements.
- Inhaling SO, we contain the vital energy – raise the arms;
- Exhaling HAM, we absorb it as we settle, let go – lower the arms;
- Repeat six times;
- Pause to notice if anything feels different.
Meeting the Mood
Beginning by watching the breath or trying to slow it down may not be the most efficacious way of calming your anxiety. Meet the anxiety, normalizing it with a slightly more rapid breath like “Stairstep.”
Stair Step Breath (Viloma or interrupted breathing) – for Anxiety
- Inhale: take little steps through the nostrils, as though climbing a mountain
(usually 4 to 8 counts);
- Sustain (hold) for four counts (as is accessible) at the top of the mountain; •
- Exhale: slide down the mountain;
Practice two or three times.
Grounding & Settling
- Try placing one hand gently on your forehead & the other hand on your abdomen.
- Notice the feeling of the top hand against the skin of the forehead.
- Now notice that the hand on the abdomen can tune into the movement of the tummy as you breathe in and out.
Spend a moment or two simply sitting with this.
Nothing to change unless you choose to.
Breathing in and breathing out.
Grounding – FOOT work
When we are grounded we feel calmer and more connected to the earth and to ourselves.
You can use a tennis ball if you prefer or in the sand.
- Stand comfortably;
- Lower your eyes or let the gaze rest on one point;
- Take your attention to your feet;
- Now try lifting your toes, wriggling them and putting them back on the floor;
- Now with your right foot, roll across the ball of the foot from the big toe to the little toe a few times, then go the opposite way – little toe to big toe;
- Next see if you can stretch the arch by lifting your heel and reaching it back to the floor;
- Then roll around the heel;
- Finally try rolling the whole foot from side to side – inner arch to outer edge.
IMPORTANT – notice the sensations in the right foot AND the contrasting sensations in the left foot that HASN’T been massaged.
Change and try the same thing on the left foot.
When you’ve done both feet pause for about 5 seconds while you notice what sensations or feelings are presenting themselves.
Reaching OUT (sideways)
Take a comfortable seated or standing position
Tune into your connection to the ground
Place your hands on your abdominal or middle of your torso
Spend a few breaths here while noticing the movement as the abdominal expands and contracts with the inhale & exhale.
Now as you feel the beginnings of the inhale, let that be your cue to start moving the hands and arms (one or both) up and out – reaching out as far as feels comfortable
Just go as far as feels enough for today, understanding that this may change from day to day
Depending how it feels today, you might choose to remain in the ‘open’ position for a breath or two. In that case, notice if you can bring your attention back to your middle each time you exhale (while maintaining the reaching out position). What would it be like to extend your ‘reach’ all the way to your fingertips?
Next, notice when you are ready to bring the arms back down, and when your exhale is ready to begin, let that be your cue to slowly return the arms to the starting point at your middle.
Repeat this several times and choose the pace that best suits your breathing rhythm.
Expanding out as far as is comfortable, holding the expanded position if it feels okay, returning to home base as you’re ready or when you need to, all the while being let by your breathing. Remember to pause for about 20 seconds when you’re finished, and notice and sensations or feelings that are there.
Bonding with Gravity – SAVASANA with “TENSE” & RELAX
Lying on your back in a comfortable position, eyes closed:
- Let your weight be supported by the earth. Notice any part that seems to be “hovering” weightlessly above the surface. Try to soften or melt all of your body towards gravity;
- Now lift your head above an inch off the ground. Feel its full weight and relax it back to the earth; notice the difference;
- Life one leg off the ground, feel its weight, relax it to the earth; notice the difference
- Lift your pelvis off the ground, feel its weight, relax it to the earth; notice the difference
- Lift an arm off the ground, feel its weight, relax it to the earth; notice the difference
- Notice your full body weight resting on the ground;
- Notice the full body here on the ground and the front surface of the body touching the space between the front of the body and the ceiling;
- Begin slowly to pour the contents of your body towards one side and roll onto this surface (bring your arms along). Feel your weight drain into the earth;
- Continue to roll slowly, pouring the fluid contents until you are resting on the front of your body. Release your front surface to the ground;
- Roll very slowly onto the remaining side, pouring your contents;
- Return to your back and nestle your whole body into the ground;
- Slowly begin the transition to standing, remaining aware of your fluid contents with the pull of gravity;
- Once standing in plumb line remain in open attention, noticing any sensations (thoughts, emotions, images) that occur. Add vision and continue awareness of gravity.
Bonding with gravity underlies all other movement patterns. We must be able to release our weight down in order to push away, stand, walk tall.
This blog is written with good intentions but it is not substitute for professional counselling.