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

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. 

HOW YOGA HELPS
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. 

WHAT WE CAN DO
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. 

ONE POSE AT A TIME
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. 

Clear Your Mind and Set Intentions for the New Year

The Beginning of a 6 Month Cycle

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, ending a 6 month cycle that began at Summer Solstice. Now, feminine, yin, receptive and maternal qualties are at their greatest strength. Starting December 22nd, a new 6 month cycle begins. The light of the Sun increases until the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, repeating the cycle.  

It is only natural that milions of people think about their future and set new year resolutions at this time. Working in health and fitness for the past 15 years, I’ve seen gyms, yoga studios and wellness centers fill up each January. Unfortunately, most people’s resolutions fizzle out by February, and the studios returns to business as usual. Have you ever experienced this?

Is it because you’re doing something wrong? Do just need a better system? Goal setting, prioritization, vision boards and getting coached can all be incredible resources. From a yogic perspective, though, the reason resolutions fizzle out is not external, but internal.

“Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in self-forgetting that we find;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.”

-St Francis of Assisi 

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

When I think of intrinsic motivation, I think of this poem by St Francis of Assisi. If you’re like me, you probably read this and feel a sense of inner peace and contentment. To know that being loving, understanding and open to life is it’s own reward.

Go to any major news site or turn on a tv and you’ll see a very different message. A message that I personally have done a lot of work to root out and replace with more empowering beliefs. After practicing these concepts in earnest for a few years, I put pen to paper and wrote down what this poem might look like in action. Who would I be? Where would I go? What would I do?

18 months later I found that piece of paper and realized all of the things I had written had come to pass: move to Austin, build community, eat local, seasonal, organic food, find a mentor, be a mentor to at risk boys, find a beautiful new home and find new work I love. I was amazed to realize my life now reflected what I wrote down. This is not always the case, though.

Intrinsic vs Ego Motivation

How can you tell if something is intrinsically motivated and not just your ego?

I’ve written other lists. Lists of wants and goals in hope of repeating these results. Rather than allowing what wanted to come through me I was striving. I had a sense of discontent, urgency and not-enoughness — and the results of I got amplified these feelings.

Sometimes, the only way to really know is to try something and see what happens. Try taking actions from a place of discontent or urgency and see what your results are. Try making decisions when you’re more clear minded, such as after a yoga or meditation practice and compare the results. Ego motivations will likely feel more tense and have continued negative results. Intrinsic motivations will not necessarily mean easier, but meeting whatever does arise with an internal ease and openness.

A Practice to Clear Your Mind and Set Intentions for the New Year

Any sort of receptive practice is beneficial around the Winter Solstice: taking baths, long walks, having a lighter schedule, getting extra rest, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, yin yoga, langana pranayama (calming breathwork).

A great practice for all of this is Nadi Shodana (channel cleansing breath). This creates a clear state of mind to reflect, journal and set intentions for this time of year, or anytime you need perspective. Everyone’s process will be different, but if you feel inspired to write or take action after this practice, trust that inspiration. If you have any questions or want to share your experience, leave a comment below. 

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Nadi Shodana (Channel Cleansing Breath)

  1. Sit comfortably in a meditative posture

  2. Seal your right nostril with your right hand thumb

  3. Inhale through your left nostril

  4. Seal your left nostril with your right hand ring and little fingers

  5. Exhale through your right nostril 

  6. Inhale through your right nostril

  7. Seal your right nostril with your right hand thumb

  8. Exhale through your left nostril

  9. Repeat steps 3-8 for 3 minutes

  10. Stay seated and return to normal breathing for a few breaths