No matter which way you look at it, anxiety is uncomfortable. When our minds are anxious, it can feel almost impossible to think clearly or experience the joy of the moment. After all, your mind is running wildly to other places.
If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety, chronic worry or racing thoughts, integrate these 5 steps into your daily routine for support and relief. With enough time, this routine will become a way of life.
1. Start with Breath
Our breath is one of the most powerful tools that we’ve been given, and as research that studies breath practice (and meditation as a whole), the evidence revealing a direct link between breath and the brain grows stronger.
Breathe with awareness. When you start to notice your breath, you may notice that you are taking short, shallow breaths into the top of your chest. This is a tense, slightly anxious breath. Try to take a full deep breath in through your nose, fill your lungs up and exhale out through your mouth and feel a big release.
For more immediate relief, you can test what is known as the 7-2-11 breath. In this case, the “7-2-11” simply refers to the timing of your breath.
On the inhale, we inhale quietly through the nose for the count of 7, retain or hold the breath for the count of 2 and then release on the exhale to the count of 11 with a “whooooosh” sound out of the mouth.
Try this a few more times and you feel more relaxed instantly. Deep breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system, the system that slows the heart rate and relaxes our muscles.
2. Replace anxious thoughts.
Yoga sutra 2.33 says. “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
This is easier said than done, but can be effective. In fact, learning how to replace our thoughts with a more supportive, positive thought is the basis for all Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
When our minds are busy and chaotic, it can be difficult to know what’s going on. If you can be a witness of your thoughts, you can better understand what kind of thoughts are popping up and making you feel anxious. When you notice an anxious thought creeping in, catch it and stop it and replace it with a positive thought.
For example, if you start to think “I am feeling very nervous and uneasy”, replace that thought with something more uplifting like “I feel safe and calm and everything is great.” You can even smile to yourself and tell your body that you are feeling calm..
3. Move your asana!
The practice of asana does wonders to release tension and stress from the body. In this case, you want to focus on a vinyasa-based or moderate intensity practice in order to trigger a release of endorphins and happy hormones like Serotonin. It requires that we get our heart rates up.
Practicing asana on a daily basis can not only provide immediate relief for anxiety, but also help to prevent the frequency or intensity of future episodes. Over time, as we walk through each step, we will feel more empowered around our health and fear less the uncertainty that comes with highly anxious moments.
Here are two poses that you can turn to any time you start to feel that nervous energy coming on.
Half Tortoise Pose
The slower you can move into this posture the more abdominal strength and lower back flexibility you will build. Think about the same initial movement as balancing stick:
- Chin away from the chest to keep your spine long – focus on the floor in front of your mat as you come down. If you are in the front row, you should focus on yourself in the mirror as you come down.
- Come down with a flat back (no curve or arch in spine)
- Try to touch your fingertips to the floor first before your forehead – this will force you to keep stretching forward
- This is an easy posture to get lazy in so stay active in the pose! Push the heels of your palms together and lift wrists off the floor to create more stretching in the whole spin.
- Take a big step to the right, four feet minimum (the wider the stance, the easier the stretch)
- Keep your spine straight as long as possible
- Forward fold at the hips, grabbing at your ankles or outside of your feet
- Take 5-8 long deep breaths before returning to standing position