Anxiety can stymie our lives in so many ways. Whether it’s a debilitating panic attack, constant worry or an all pervading fear, anxiety is often an unwanted companion that seemingly only wants the worst for us. However with the right help, guidance and support, there are a variety of techniques that can help. Of course it’s important to note that we’re all different, and what works for one person may not be as effective on another, but from personal experience, my own road to recovery led me, thankfully, to yoga therapy.
After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, I moved to to South East Asia and embarked on an intense meditative practice that lasted for three years, training as a yoga teacher and becoming deeply interested in mind-body therapies. During my own personal journey, I learned that one of the challenges that so many people living with anxiety face, is the often extreme physiological response to a threat; regardless of if that threat is real, or simply perceived.
We may rationally understand that there’s nothing inherently dangerous about a given situation, and that our panic and rolling fear is just our brain’s “flight or fight” response misfiring, telling us that we’re in imminent danger — but none of this knowledge makes the fear any less real. In the middle of a panic attack applying any kind of rationality is nearly impossible, and our fear response is incredibly powerful and hard to overcome without support.
While my own recovery led me to yoga therapy, it’s by no means a cure-all. It would be unrealistic to expect to feel constantly blissful all of the time, but both science and individuals have given credence to yoga’s efficacy as a method for reducing and managing anxiety, and with the right guidance, yoga therapy is a tool we can all use as part of a wider strategy to combat our anxiety. However as with most things in life, a little bit of research can go a long way, and there are some areas to consider before exploring yoga therapy further.
Choosing a Yoga Therapist
Yoga is, in and of itself, a therapeutic practice. However, if you suffer from anxiety you may benefit from the specialized advice and teaching that a yoga therapist can offer you. Yoga therapists are trained across a variety of disciplines, blending the wisdom of the Yogic and Buddhist traditions with detailed medical knowledge, neuroscience and psychology.
It’s this foundation and multidisciplinary approach that can be used to successfully apply the principles of yoga therapy to anxiety, but it’s also important you choose a yoga therapist that you feel comfortable with. Typically, a yoga therapist will discuss your unique circumstances with you, and it’s important that you feel an affinity with them. Compassion and empathy are two very important considerations, and as with talking therapy, you may even need to see a few yoga therapists before you find someone you feel is most able to help you.
In the initial discussion, don’t be afraid to assert your boundaries and explain the full extent of your anxiety. Many of us can feel like we need to put on a public face, even downplaying our symptoms to doctors and healthcare practitioners — but the point of yoga therapy is that it is designed around you. We’re all beautifully complex and unique, and being open and honest about your own challenges is often the first step towards a successful outcome.
Using Yoga Alongside Other Treatment
Complementary and alternative medicine is nothing new, and has been in practice in some parts of the world, such as China and India, for hundreds of years. As a complimentary form of treatment, yoga therapy does not have to be used in isolation — in fact, it works well in conjunction with a variety of other treatments. For example, medication and pharmaceuticals are valuable treatment paths in particular circumstances, and can be especially helpful in extreme situations.
In more recent times you may have also heard the term “Integrative medicine”, a term recently adopted by a number of government and educational organizations, intended to highlight the use of multiple therapy and treatment approaches in order to achieve the best outcomes for mind-body wellbeing. From a very simplistic perspective, this could be viewed as the combination of Eastern and Western medical practices, and both can, and arguably should, be used in tandem whenever necessary.
Who Is Yoga Therapy Suitable For?
Put simply, yoga therapy is suitable for everyone. Yoga therapy is therapeutic in nature, and importantly, designed uniquely for the individual in question. For example, with lower back pain, there are very specific yoga positions and postures for strengthening and supporting the back. Similarly, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are gentle, specialized ways of regulating the nervous system, and in autism spectrum disorders, specific yoga postures can be used to reduce heightened sensory arousal and promote emotional regulation.
For anyone suffering from anxiety, this is an important point. Yoga therapy is never about who’s the strongest or most flexible, but what’s best for you. If that involves sitting in a chair conducting simple yoga postures, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Everything should be conducted in a supportive and therapeutic environment where compassion and understanding become the core tenants.
Whatever your age, body shape or fitness level, you can apply yoga therapy to your own self-care routine, addressing mind, body and soul in order to help manage and treat the symptoms of anxiety. Recovery from anxiety isn’t an easy task, and we often experience setbacks, but incorporating yoga therapy into our daily lives can give us the tools we need to manage our anxiety — and maybe, one day, overcome it.