Stress, fear, anxiety – if we start counting all those instances in life when we experienced these emotions, we may just lose count! Anxiety about an exam result or the reaction of our parents to the report card; nervousness about the first date or a job interview – we all would have lived through these moments. A little bit of fear is normal; in fact, just like salt in our food, it is needed so that we remain disciplined, focused and dynamic.
But sometimes, this fear becomes persistent and so intimidating that it starts interfering with our everyday life. Then it becomes an anxiety disorder – a state of excessive uneasiness, worry, or fear of the unknown. Anxiety can affect your mind, body and general well-being. Often, bringing with it negative thoughts that can make it difficult to manage feelings of anxiety and lowering your quality of life. Thankfully, anxiety is now being recognised more and more as an issue in our society, and people are becoming more open to discussing the impact anxiety can have and seeking help. But one of the things people underestimate most when it comes to treating anxiety is the power of yoga.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a term that covers a few different disorders in the medical world, from generalised anxiety disorder to panic attacks and other mental health issues. While some anxiety is perfectly normal in our day-to-day lives, it can become a problem. People with anxiety often find it hard to control their worries, have constant feelings of anxiety and see an impact in their daily lives. Some physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased muscle tension
- Feeling restless or worried
- Having trouble concentrating or sleeping
Anxiety can be caused by a lot of different things, and it doesn’t usually go away on its own. Instead, people suffering with anxiety need help and support to overcome their feelings and learn to manage them in a healthy way. That’s what yoga can help with.
Natural Anxiety Relief
Since the 1970’s, meditation and yoga have been studied and recommended by medical professionals all over the world as a tool to help people cope with depression and reduce their anxiety naturally. Studies done by Harvard have found that yoga can actually reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses within the body as a whole. This in turn decreases the physiological arousal felt during anxiety – yoga lowers heart rate, blood pressure and even eases respiration (breathing). Done regularly, yoga can even increase heart rate variability, which means your body is able to respond to stress more flexibly and cope better. It can also increase your pain threshold (since people with lower levels of cortisol are able to cope with more pain), improve mobility and help you calm your mind and manage your emotions better. In other words, yoga is a low-risk, high-yield way to improve your anxiety and your overall health.
Yoga Therapy’s Effect On Anxiety
If you’re looking for a natural and effective way to relieve anxiety, yoga therapy is perfect for you. Done correctly, yoga therapy can be a very powerful tool in the treatment of anxiety and depression – even if yoga isn’t your “thing”. The combination of meditation and physical movement provide two important elements for relieving anxiety, helping bring you into the present moment, clear your mind and strengthen the body-mind connection.
Our bodies can quickly and powerfully influence our brains, changing the way we think and feel without even realising it. When our bodies are in a state of tension it will cause our muscles to tighten, our breath to quicken and our brain will start to pump out adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine and vasopressin – all stress hormones that put your body and mind into a state of ‘fight or flight’. But when we relax our body, our muscles will relax too, our breathing will slow and the brain will release melatonin and serotonin – the happiness and calmness hormones. This quiets our minds and makes us feel better.
That’s the power of yoga therapy for treating anxiety. Instead of simply trying to change your thoughts (which we all know is difficult if not impossible at times), yoga as a therapy helps you to change your body, your breath, your mind and your emotions. It, helps you to unlock your body’s natural ability to calm itself. Yoga practices and the self-care habits associated become more effective the more you use them. The stretching poses help the body to become more relaxed, more adaptive and less physically tense. Simple breathing techniques (like pranayama) make your breathing easier, deeper and freer all day, giving better access to states of relaxation more quickly and easily. Meditation helps to create a relaxed yet aware state of mind without panic or tension, making it easier to calm a ruminating mind.
At Diversity Yoga, we see a lot of clients who are anxious, stressed or depressed. As yoga therapists, it’s our job to help them discover ways to manage those feelings and work through them in a supportive space where we use all the elements of yoga to help each individual. Choosing techniques that will help you to feel better and move into a position of power where you have control over what happens with your body and inside your head and heart, you will be able to make the lasting changes required to achieve optimal wellbeing, both inside and out.
Cathy Richardson, found of Diversity Yoga, had her own journey of healing from mental health problems, You can read her story here. So she understands the challenge and the demons we all have to encounter when making our way back to full health and wellbeing. You may also find this article useful when considering yoga as a tool for helping with stress and anxiety. If you would like to know more about how yoga and yoga therapy can help you reduce and manage anxiety, just get in touch with us today.