Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. There are many kinds of anxieties, ranging from social anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder to specific phobias. Most of these are associated with a loss of confidence, and particularly with a lack of basic trust, which is marked in childhood. However, anxiety is also correlated with a complex and variable set of risk factors such as brain chemistry, genetics, life events, and personality.
Easily recognizable physical symptoms of anxiety include quick, shallow breathing, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and feelings of narrowness or rigidity.
Anxiety is treatable, but unfortunately, the large majority of people affected never seek professional help. It is important to face your fear in order to discover its cause. Depending on the severity and depth of your anxieties, this does not have to be something you face alone—almost anyone can benefit from the support of family or friends, and for traumatized or depressed people, working with a therapist can be very helpful.
Yin Yoga teaches us a simple but powerful method for soothing the worries that have become so prevalent in our daily lives. Please join me below in a series of accessible poses and a guided meditation to help leave our anxieties behind and find physical, emotional, and mental equilibrium.
Sit on the mat in Easy Pose and straighten your spine. Be aware of your natural flow of breath. Let it deepen with every breath. Place your hands on your abdomen, left and right of your navel, and consciously direct your breath there. Then take the hands onto the lower ribcage and breathe into your chest area. Place your hands below your collarbone and breathe into the upper apex of the lungs. As you inhale, lift the hands upwards or forwards, and lower them again as you exhale. Put one hand on the lower abdomen and one hand on the upper abdomen. Now link up the breath across all three levels. Become aware of the small pauses between breathing in and out, and extend them a bit further. Now either breathe with an extended inhalation, very evenly, or with an extended exhalation—depending on what feels harmonious to you. However, always breathe in such a way that the breath can still flow easily. Come back into the natural flow of breath and notice whether anything has changed. Alternatively, you can also do Full Breathing while lying down. Place your feet on the floor and leave your hands resting on the abdomen. This version is ideal before going to sleep, for example, or if you are lying awake and unable to sleep at night.
Easy Pose with arm and shoulder stretch (Sukhasana)
This position opens up the hips and stretches the whole back as well as the arms and shoulders.
1. Come into Easy Pose, your right arm crossed in front of the left. Bend forward in a relaxed way with a rounded back, and cross your arms so that your right arm is in front of your left arm and the palms are facing upwards. Alternatively, you can grip the opposite shoulder.
2. Then change the arm position by placing the palms downwards on the opposite knees. Remain in Easy Pose for three to five minutes, including both arm positions. Then straighten up again, release the arms and legs, and move to and fro loosely a few times. Then change sides—crossing the left leg in front of the right one, and the left arm in from of the right—and repeat the process.
Sit on the mat, place the soles of your feet together, and pull the feet towards the pelvis. Let the knees drop gently outwards, or support the outsides of the legs with two blocks if this stretch is too intense for you. You can also sit on a blanket or a cushion. Relax the back, let your upper body sink forward passively, and place your arms where it is comfortable for you.
Rainbow Bridge (Modified Urdhva Dhanurasana)
This position mobilizes the thoracic spine, opens the heart chamber, and stretches the shoulders and insides of the arms.
Place a yoga bolster and a rolled-up blanket straight across the mat. Then lie down with your back on the bolster, which supports your pelvis and lumbar spine. Your shoulder blades are on the blanket, and your arms are placed alongside your head. If you would like to intensify the stretch, you can extend out your legs, or for a gentler variant, leave your feet placed on the floor.
Stay in Rainbow Bridge for three to five minutes. Then either sit up again with activated pelvic floor muscles, or roll to one side out of the position. Relax into a supine position.