A Simple Way to Work With Anxiety - From a Yogic Perspective

A few weeks ago I noticed I felt anxious and I couldn't figure out the source of it. There was a steady, low-level urgency and discontent to my thoughts. My feet were cold. My stomach felt agitated. Have you ever felt this? 

In Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, this is an excess of Vata (air element); too much cold, movement and change. The really cool thing about Ayurveda is how simple it is. If i know the imbalance, that means I know how to restore balance.

At last if I catch it fast. In most cases, these imbalances build momentum. It can be hard to interrupt, as I'm sure you've experienced. It becomes easier to do things that create imbalance. Multitasking. Throwing off routines. This brings Vata further into excess and makes the anxiety worse. Before my yoga practice, I would not have been aware of any of this. 

Thanks to my practice I'm able to notice these things earlier on. I can notice how I feel before, during and after a thought or action. I can notice how throwing off my routines, trying to multitask and even eating cold foods all increase anxiety. 

I can also notice thoughts and actions that have the opposite effects. Eating warm, grounding foods. Doing one focused task at a time. Balancing my schedule with movement and rest. These things may seem unrelated, but they all have qualities of Kapha (earth element) and increase feelings of calmness, contentment and clarity when Vata is excessive. 

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and online, most people have some level of Vata excess. So what can we do about it? Kapha increasing tasks are a great place to start. 

I find my Vata is best pacified by having a meditation cushion. A place in the world that I only ever go to when i want to meditate. Those two feet of cushion are sacred space. I’ve intentionally done this to create a pavlovian response, so as soon as I sit down, the anxiety, worry and doubt are much easier to notice. 

There is a lot of great research to show that having a set time and place that you are going to do something makes you far more likely to do it. For me, my meditation cushion is one of those places. It could move around to different rooms. I may get a different cushion someday, But I have that place, and it helps a lot. 

So i went to my zafu and sat. Restless, discontent, anxious, worried, doubtful, and, most importantly, curious. Curious about the source of these thoughts. Curious about the feelings associated with these thoughts. No distractions. No judgment. Noticing the thoughts and feelings and being fully with them. Not long after, the feelings passed through me. 

I no longer felt urgent about every thing i could be doing and felt clear on the one thing to do next. I wrote out everything i was feeling and then the one next step after that was clear. Just like in a yoga class. Do one pose. Do my best. Then move on to the next post. Not overthinking it. Not trying to do 100 poses at once. Just being with each pose, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then letting it go, and moving on to the next. 

If anxiety is something that you’ve worked with, you don’t have to have a zafu cushion like me; it could be a blanket, a patch of grass, a tree to sit under. Find your own sacred space and make it your own. Use it to sit in quiet and stillness. To reflect. To recharge. To recenter. And when you get lost, confused, anxious and overwhelmed, like we all do, you have a place to go back to and get perspective.