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Yoga for Anxiety

Everyone sometimes feels anxious for no identifiable reason. At these times we think, "Something is happening-I must stay alert." Panic victims share these feelings, but for them the stakes are higher. Their distress is so overwhelming that the fearful possibilities take on mammoth proportions. "I'm having a heart attack," they think, or "I'm losing my mind." We all experience periods of vague anxiety, which often pass without our ever discovering or having to acknowledge the causes. Panic anxiety, however, is the cue for a determined (and often desperate) search for a source.

Panic attacks are characterized by rapidly escalating and overwhelming anxiety. In the beginning, panickers are rarely able to identify what has made them anxious, describing the episodes as occurring "out of the blue." The attacks are triggered by frightening physical sensations that occur suddenly, much like an unconscious reflex. Among the most common are shortness of breath, a rapid heart rate, heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, a feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, and dizziness. Frightened sufferers develop painfully sharp sensitivity to these sensations, often making several trips to the emergency room before they finally realize that their symptoms are panic-related.

Physical sensations alone are not the core of the illness. Fearful thoughts, unpleasant emotions, avoidant behaviors, disturbing sensations, and deteriorating relationships all collude with one another to maintain panic. Thoughts such as the fear of dying or of having a mental breakdown are common. Even mild anxiety can trigger an attack, and any disturbing emotion can be interpreted as a precursor to full-fledged panic.

Yoga tells us that before searching for a cure it is important to look deeply into the nature and causes of illness. It is also important to get an idea of how things will be when symptoms have been removed, because otherwise we may have illusions about what recovery will be like. For example, eliminating anxiety is not the outcome of treatment for panic-the outcome is the ability to manage anxious feelings.

Yoga training can be particularly useful here, for yoga teaches us how to interact with the nervous system. If we want to soothe and strengthen it, we need to learn deep, relaxed yogic breathing. Regardless of the pathways of arousal, breathing is the language of nervous system balance and control.

Practicing yoga is a good way to learn breathing skills, for it is a gradual process, often needing considerable support over a period of time. Yoga teachers quickly recognize when a student is having trouble (as is often the case with panickers), and they know a wide variety of alternate practices that will help the student master breathing skills.

Yoga psychology also suggests many techniques for resolving conflicts, including acknowledging and accepting the conflict in all its depth; recognizing the need for some kind of change; resisting the inclination to act out feelings or to do nothing; exploring alternatives; communicating with others without blaming them; accepting feedback from others; using discrimination in accepting or rejecting alternatives; surrendering to necessary losses; acting with determination; accepting outcomes with equanimity; working calmly on a problem even if a negative outcome, or no outcome, seems inevitable; and letting intuition suggest new possibilities. These strategies are derived from what in yoga are called the yamas and niyamas-the attitudes toward life that are the basis of all yoga practices.

Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana :

Trianga means three limbs or parts thereof. In this posture the three parts are the feet, knees and the buttocks. Mukhaikapada corresponds to the face touching one leg. In Paschimottanasana the back of the whole body is intensely stretched.

Technique :

  1. Sit on the floor with the legs stretched straight in the front.

  2. Bend the right leg at the knee and move the right foot back. Place the right foot at the side of the right hip joint, keep the toes pointing back and rest them on the floor. The inner side of the right calf will touch the outer side of the right thigh.

  3. Balance in this position throwing the weight of the body on the bent knee. In the beginning body tilts to the side of the outstretched leg, and the foot of the outstretched leg also tilts outwards. Learn to balance in this position, keeping the foot and toes stretched and pointing forward.

  4. Now hold the left foot with both the palms, gripping the sides of the sole if you can then extend the trunk forward and hook the wrists round the outstretched left foot. Take two deep breaths.

  5. Join the knees, exhale and bend forward. Rest first the forehead, then the nose next the lips and ultimately the chin of the left knee. To achieve this widen the elbows and push the trunk forward with an exhalation.

  6. Do not rest the left elbow on the floor. In the beginning one looses the balance and topples over to the side of the extended leg. The trunk should therefore be slightly bent towards the side of the bent leg and the weight of the body should be taken by the bent knee.

  7. Stay in this position from half a minute to a minute, breathing evenly.

  8. Inhale, raise the head and trunk, release the hands, straighten the right leg and come to the position.

  9. Repeat the pose on the other side, keeping the right leg stretched out on the ground, bending the left knee and placing the left foot by the left hip joint. Stay for the same length of the time on both the sides.

This article has been written by Dr. R. Nagarathna, Dean, Division of Yoga & Life-sciences, SVYASA
This article is published online courtesy
and Arogyadhama

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