3 simple ways to beat anxiety with your yoga practice


With the festive season upon us there's a lot to get excited about and be thankful for, but with all those good and abundant times ahead, there can be elements of struggle thrown in too. It's a time of joyful excess, celebration and increased socialising. So far so good right? But for many this can throw up it's fair share of worries, be those financial, health-related etc. In truth, any change in lifestyle is bound to impact our health a little or sometimes a lot, but there are ways to lessen the impact while still being able to enjoy life to the full. As someone who is no stranger to worrying, I have shared below some simple tips and tricks that have worked for me.

Inversions

I realise that yoga inversions don't always conjure up images of calm, but I'm not talking about the handstands here. The fact is, any physical position you can get yourself into where your heart is even slightly elevated above your head is going to start the process of restoring calm. This can be as easy as child's pose, in fact, child's pose is probably the best pose out there for a quick energy reset. Ever wonder why when you got dizzy as a kid you were told to put your head between your legs? It sounds strange now but makes perfect sense when you think of what many grounding (forward folding) yoga poses involve. See below for how to get the most out of your child's pose.

  1. Position your knees mat wide or at least wider than usual

  2. Reach fingertips forward and rest the belly down toward the ground

  3. Place a brick under the forehead for added lengthening through the spine

Diet

I'm hesitant to offer dietary advice, because I am not a registered nutritionist. Furthermore, as someone who has a history with eating disorders, I know how confusing reading literature that suggests any kind of dietary restrictions can be. However, if I can share one thing that has quite literally changed my life in the last three weeks, it's cutting refined sugar. I know one of the main anxiety stimulators out there is caffeine, but for me to cut that out would be difficult, given my early starts and busy teaching schedule, I'm sure there's a better alternative out there, but as I said, I'm not a nutritionist, I just do what works.

What I have found, from my own experience with cutting out refined sugar, alongside other less 'whole' foodstuffs, is that my reaction to stressful situations has transformed. In short, I am much less reactive, and I was curious as to why this was, so I asked a teacher friend of mine who does know her stuff when it comes to nutrition what the link was, and what she told me was fascinating. White refined sugar and flour are drugs, plain and simple, and they serve to recycle the stress hormone cortisol within the body, which also can lead to weight gain around the middle, where it becomes most dangerous.

I am really not an advocate of restriction, but acquiring education about the fuel you put in your magnificent body to power it to do all the extraordinary tasks you set it is certainly food for thought, and if you can drastically diminish your stress and anxiety levels with just one simple adjustment, to really take your yoga off the mat, wouldn't you take the opportunity?

Pranayama

'Prana' in Sanskrit means 'life force energy' and 'Yama' means 'to extend or draw out'. Other sources simplify the definition to mean, simply, 'breath control'. Pranayama can be as simple as counting the length of your inhales and exhales, and then there are other methods that involve, blocking one nostril at a time, extreme external retention of breath and so on, offering up the experience of feeling practically high in some cases! However, in the interests of this being a tip for anxiety reduction, we probably don't want to overstimulate the flightier aspects of our nature just for now. Below is a super simple technique you can practice pretty much anywhere you can be still, be that standing, seated or laying down.

  1. Close your eyes and take a minute to tune into your breath as it is, not effecting any change just yet, but simply becoming an observer

  2. Now that you are more aware of your breath, start to associate the inhale with a lengthening up the front side of the body

  3. Start to associate each exhale with a lengthening down the back side of the body

  4. Establish a count of 4 for the inhale and 6 for the exhale

  5. Introduce a brief pause at the top of the inhale and focus your awareness on the crown of the head

  6. Introduce a brief pause at the bottom of the exhale focussing your awareness on your pelvic floor muscle*

*this is your root chakra, energetically your sense of connection to the earth, inviting in a sense of grounding and support