Sunday, June 17, 2012

Learning: Yoga for Anxiety

I treated myself to a great, three-hour yoga workshop at my favorite studio, Living Yoga Aurora. This time, the topic was treating anxiety with yoga with the guest teacher, Dr. Indu Arora, of Yog Sadhna (yoga as therapy).

The class began with a discussion and word association exercise where we outlined anxiety and its symptoms: shortness of breath, fast breathing, heart palpitations, tightness in the chest area, headache, backache, nervousness, pain, fear, worry, and more. I know I've felt a few of these on several, work-related occasions! Dr. Arora then proceeded to highlight the most common types of anxiety: generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, OCD, separation anxiety.

Most afflicted patients tend to avoid those trigger situations which cause them the symptoms I mentioned above. This affects their enjoyment of day-to-day life, their ability to work or socialize. Causes for these symptoms include the environment, medical conditions (like a chemical imbalance), hereditary, substance abuse/stimulants (drugs, coffee), or medication (some cause sweating or heart palpitations). Puts what we put into our bodies and what baggage our bodies may already bring with them into a different perspective doesn't it?

A balanced yoga practice, with particular tweaks to treat the root causes and symptoms of anxiety, can be an effective tool in a patient's arsenal in developing smoother flow/communication within the body's systems. Yoga has a proven effect on balancing and modulating the body, mind, and cellular level. The combination of breath, pose, mudras and observation create release and smooth flow. The art and science of flow in our body is fascinating to me.


Awareness and observation are key practices in yoga. Dr. Arora likens awareness to an onion. What did I just feel or popped into my mind as a result of the posture, pose, or breath technique I just used? Each has effects in the body. Is there increased body heat, faster heartbeat, or strained breathing? A particular posture or breathing style is releasing a mental or emotional blockage. Memories, emotions, and physical pain can be brought to the surface as indicators of the underlying condition.

Things as subtle as the mouthfeel and taste can indicate particular aggravations within the body. The ideal mouthfeel should be moist and sweet, with only the taste of saliva. If there is any bitterness, stickiness, or dryness these all indicate various afflictions and blockages are at play.


Yogic breath is defined as being deep, prolonged, smooth, and silent. Dr. Arora likens yogic breathing to pouring honey or oil from one vessel to another. There are no ripples, instead, it's smooth and prolonged. Disciplined yogic breath helps lubricate and exercise those parts of our body that we are seldom aware of, but which have a great impact on our mental and physical balance. Breathing massages all the internal organs and provides much-needed oxygenation to all the nooks and crannies.

Yogic breathing can help alleviate a variety of blockages. Dr. Arora covered the basic types of breathing: kapalabhati (focuses on releasing and letting go, a gateway to meditation), alternate nostril (retrains the bodily thermostat), and ujjayi (funnels pure breath through the throat to the mind, the biggest victory is that over our own mind).


Dr. Arora taught the class that there are ways to invoke each of the five elements called upon to help correct a particular symptom and/or root cause.

Mudras, or the special positioning of fingers and hands, can help modify and correct a variety of imbalances. For instance, if your mouth is dry, try touching your thumb to the pinky (samana mudra, just the touch pads) as an exercise to help re-establish the salivary flow in the mouth.

Dr. Arora taught us some helpful mudras in the case our system is out of sync and moving too fast. These can be done while working on pranayama in a comfortable seated position. We also worked on internal chanting of Om when inhaling and hum when exhaling while working on the mudra and pranayama.

As helpful accessories, Dr. Arora discussed the 21-bead of 105-bead chains of seeds, spices, or semi-precious stones that can help guide pranayama meditation while targeting particular body elements. She mentioned 5-line rudraksha seeds (for the 5 elements), turmeric, woods (white sandalwood is calming), and semi-precious stones (clear crystal, rose quartz, adventurine, amethyst).


Dr. Arora discussed briefly the benefit of kriyas, which are focused exercises that work on the inside/outside and upward/downward flows within particular, targeted areas of the body. 

Forward bends, half forward bends, cobbler's pose bends, cow/cat pose, shoulder stand, fish pose, cobra, locust (legs only), crocodile, and shavasana are the best ones to balance calming (for manic pace) with invigorating (for depression, inactivity) and balancing clarity of mind, improved inner flow, and achieve a little more inner peace.

I came away from the workshop with a lot of practical tips, and realized I had already been favoring several practices that would help or complement what my body and mind need the most. I felt balanced and at peace. I have gained a renewed appreciation of the important role mudras and pranayamic breathing, together, can play in my practice. I can't wait to start adding these techniques to my daily practice.


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