Anxiety is one of the most common issues I see in the Emergency Department as well as in the general public. This is no surprise given the continuous influx of information, constant access to our devices, social media, advertising, fear based media, and the current pandemic. A holistic approach of Breathwork (Pranayama), Postures (Asanas), Meditation, and diet is excellent for managing anxiety.
Breath and the mind are inexorably linked. The state of one’s mind is reflected in the breath. Notice when you’re stressed, nervous, scared, or anxious, you tend to breathe more rapidly with shallower breaths. So we can use this for our benefit. The quickest way to calm the mind is to control your breath. With conscious breathing, we can activate our parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calming and resting.
Here are a few Pranayama techniques for you to try next time you’re feeling anxious. Close your eyes, block your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale long, slow and deep through your left nostril, and exhale slowly out your mouth. Continue inhaling through your left nostril, exhaling out your mouth for 5 minutes. Another technique is inhaling through your nose for a count of 5, then exhaling through your nose for a count of 10. Repeat for 5 minutes.
Finally, you could also inhale through your nose for a count of 5, hold at the top for a count of 5, exhale through your nose for a count of 5, and hold out for a count of 5. The inhale, hold at top, exhale, hold at bottom should all be of equal lengths. Again, repeat for 5 minutes. If anxiety is something you chronically struggle with, I recommend you do one of these breaths for 5 minutes every morning before you start your day.
Asanas are excellent for getting out of the anxious thoughts in your head and into your body. Embodiment is essential if you suffer from anxiety, so try poses such as tree pose, standing forward bends, Warrior 1 & 2, child’s pose, triangle pose, legs up the wall, seated forward bend. These poses ground, stabilize, and root you into the earth and are calming to your nervous system.
A regular, consistent meditation practice is essential for managing anxiety. Meditation calms and regulates your nervous system, allowing it to destress and repair. It also gives you space and awareness to witness your thoughts, and it is in that space where we have the power to choose our response. We have the choice to not react to our thoughts.
An ancient yogic meditation technique is mantra based meditations. Sit comfortably with a straight spine, bring your attention to your breath. As you inhale, mentally say “Sat” and as you exhale mentally repeat “Nam.” Continue mentally repeating “Sat” on inhale, “Nam” on exhale. Anytime your mind wanders, gently return to the mantra. Sat means truth, Nam means identity, so this mantra means truth is my identity, or truth is my essence.
You can’t underestimate the importance of a healthy diet and gut health for anxiety. Our gut and microbiome is essentially a nervous system, filled with neurotransmitters. That’s how you can explain a “gut feeling,” or if you develop GI distress when you’re nervous for a big event or presentation. The Yogi’s consider our navel center the primary nervous system, the heart center the secondary nervous system, and finally the brain the 3rd nervous system.
A whole foods, high fiber, plant based/plant predominant diet is optimal for a healthy microbiome. Earthy, grounding foods such as root vegetables, soups, stews, and Kitcharie, help to root and ground an anxious person who tends to have too much of the air element and Vata imbalance. Cold, raw foods tend to aggravate anxiety.
And, (hate to be a buzzkill), but if you have a problem with anxiety, alcohol is not your friend. Alcohol adds fuel to the fire, so if you suffer from anxiety, it would be beneficial to take a break from alcohol. Practice some of the breath techniques mentioned above if you find yourself wanting to reach for a glass of wine when you are feeling anxious.
The Yogic System is a powerful means for a holistic approach to managing anxiety. Please reach out to me if you are interested in working together to develop a practice to help you manage your anxiety and stressful daily life. Hope you found this useful.
***This is not intended to provide medical care or medical advice. Please consult with your doctor regarding any medical questions, recommendations, or advice.