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Yoga and Anxiety, Part 1

40 million U.S. adults suffer from anxiety (that’s around 18 percent of Americans age 18 and over), making it the most common mental illness in the country. This number is gradually increasing; even those who have not been diagnosed are prone to experience stress, tension and anxiety in their day-to-day life. Today, many are anxious about how to deal with their anxiety!

Stress, fear, anxiety – if we start counting all those instances in life when we have experienced these emotions, we may lose count! Anxiety and nervousness over passing an important exam like the SAT, or our parent’s reaction to our report card, or a first date or a job interview– we have all lived through moments like these.

A little bit of fear is normal. In fact, just like salt in food, some small amounts of fear can be good, helping us stay disciplined, focused and dynamic.

The problem starts when fear becomes so persistently intimidating that it interferes with our everyday life. Everyone suffers mild anxiety from time to time, but chronic anxiety takes a tremendous toll on our body, draining our energy and leaving the body in constant stress. These effects are magnified when combined with an unhealthy lifestyle, which can result in

  • Muscle tension
  • Constricted breathing
  •  A mind whirling in a swirl of thoughts that feed the problem.

Eventually, it can become an anxiety disorder, a state of excessive, chronic uneasiness, worry, or fear of the unknown. This is where techniques for managing the mind can help.

Techniques to Manage Anxiety

Here are some ways you can manage anxiety:

  • Sing, dance and celebrate. The very intention to celebrate will pull you towards a harmonious state.
  • Have faith and let go to the universe, or higher power. Know that the universe loves you and accepts you totally. A sense of security comes with the feeling of belongingness.
  • Remind yourself of the big picture and commit to a greater goal. Just look at the sky and see how small your problems appear. At the same time, know you are one of a kind.
  • Do something spontaneous. Anxiety grows from thinking too much about some anticipated action.
  • Be ready to face the worst. This will bring stability to your mind.
  • Finally, I recommend practicing yoga and, in particular, Sudarshan Kriya. This is a powerful breathing technique that uses specific, natural rhythms of breath to get you unstuck from stress. Sudarshan Kriya is a time-tested technique that millions of people across globe practice. One of its many benefits is a tension-free mind. Six years ago, I learned this technique at an Art of Living Happiness Program. Every day since, I have been practicing it because it helps me to de-stress and recharge.

Yoga and Anxiety

Yoga is not just asanas, the physical body postures. The full tradition of yoga includes meditation, pranayama (breath-work), and ancient wisdom. Whether we know it or not, many of us have actually practiced yoga to calm our mind. For instance, have you ever told yourself or a friend in a difficult situation to just take a deep breath? That is using the rhythm of our breath to affect our mind, a practice of yoga. It is the ancient “chill pill.”

Humans have an innate ability to heal; what stops that healing is the stress and tension of daily life. Yoga calms our entire system. Today yoga is synonymous with peace of mind, relaxation and stress reduction. Through it, we can manage anxiety and release physical tension by moving our attention to the concrete reality of our body and breath.

You may have heard the phrase “adrenaline rush.” An adrenaline rush happens when we get stressed about a potential threat. Faced with such fear, the level of adrenaline rises, causing our heart to beat faster, muscles to tense and the body to sweat profusely. Scientific research shows that regular yoga practice can help significantly to reduce the level of this stress hormone.

For practical tips on how to incorporate yoga into your life, check out my next blog article, “9 Yoga Tips to Overcome Anxiety Disorder.” And of course, I do recommend also looking into the Art of Living Happiness Program!

For more on Yoga and Anxiety, check out Part 2.