by: Alia Sebben
These days, yoga in the mainstream media tends to portray some unrealistic expectations. For example, our instagram feeds are filled with images of young, beautiful women with model physiques, showing off an advanced posture in an exotic location, whether it be in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or next to a statuesque palm tree at sunset. While consuming this content has the tendency to trigger the dreaded comparison mindset, did you know the ancient practice of yoga goes much beyond the fancy physical postures? The most basic form of yoga can actually be practiced anywhere, and not by contorting your body in a drastic way, but through simple breath control.
I’m always saying in my classes that the quickest way to panic attack is to take shallow, sharp breaths with no focus on your exhale. Give it a shot even as your reading this to experience the sensation yourself. Our breath is the gateway to our practice, and it is also the factor that most powerfully shapes our experiences, on the mat or off.
Here are five ways in which you can ease your anxiety and enhance your mood by controlling your breath and combining it with simple yoga techniques:
1. TAKE INVENTORY OF HOW YOU FEEL, PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY, EMOTIONALLY
Next, place one hand on your heart, one hand on your belly and exhale completely, counting from 5 back to 1. Inhale into the hand on your heart to the count of 5, and exhale backwards from 5. Inhale to the space between your palms for 5, and release the exhale by starting at 5 and counting back to 1. Inhale to the hand on your belly for 5 seconds, exhale counting backwards for 5 seconds. Now, inhale to the count of 7, inhale to your heart, your ribs and into your low belly, then exhale to the count of 10. Repeat 10 times. Note how you feel after.
2. TAKE A WALK, MATCHING YOUR STRIDE TO YOUR BREATH
Take note of the sounds and smells around you, and note the temperature of the air on your skin. Find a steady pace, and if possible, take your shoes off and place your bare feet on the ground. This is called grounding, and can be very powerful for when you start to feel your anxiety set it.
3. SUN SALUTATIONS
Seated or standing, take a few mini Sun-Salutations. Inhale while reaching both arms up over your head, then exhale your hands through your centerline, connecting your palms in front of your heart space. Inhale arms again while looking up, and exhale your hands through center, releasing them down towards your mat. Then pause, taking a few rounds of breath with your palms pressed onto your mat. Soften your shoulders down your back. Slow your breathing down. Repeat 3-5 times.
4. LEGS UP THE WALL POSE
For times when your anxiety manifests as jittery legs or bouncy limbs, try taking Legs up the Wall pose, also called Viparita Karani in Sanskrit. Start by finding a clear wall space, and lie down on the floor. Bring your legs parallel to the wall, creating a 90 degree angle with your legs and your torso. Shimmy your shoulders underneath you, press the back of your head into the ground, face your palms upward, and simply breathe. This posture can be done anywhere and is beneficial for everyone, especially after long stints of travel.
5. FINALLY, BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU ARE CONSUMING!
Excess screen time, loud music, caffeine + sugar can all contribute to an anxious mind. Focus on incorporating more calming things, a relaxing bath, a silent meditation, a walk in nature, etc. If you consume caffeine, try switching to tea instead of coffee for less of a jittery buzz. If sugar is a main part of your diet, try incorporating sweets that have a low-glycemic index (like coconut sugar or whole-fruit).
If you’re looking to further your yoga and meditation practice to help combat anxiety, take a peek at the Yoga for Mental Health series on Yoga Studio App. There are multiple practices created specifically to nurture our mental health. For example, the Yoga Nidra sequence is specifically designed for those with an over-active mind. Our mental health is essential to our our well-being, and giving it the time and attention is deserves doesn’t have to be as complicated as one may think. Enjoy, and Namaste!