YOGA & ANXIETY
Feeling anxious is an emotion that everyone will experience. You may feel nervous when faced with a problem at work, before exams or before making an important life decision! However, when you suffer with an anxiety disorder, it’s a bit different. Worry and fear can be overwhelming and constant, preventing you from doing things you love, or even carrying out daily tasks. The most common type is General Anxiety Disorder, which can create a feeling of limited control, low self-esteem, persistent fear, panic attacks, anger and defeat in situations.
A definition given by the National Institute of Mental Health states Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of activites (e.g., work or school performance) that occur more days than not, for at least 6 months. People with generalized anxiety disorder find it difficult to control their worry, which may cause impairment in social, work or other areas of life.
When anxiety is present, it can feel like it becomes you. You may feel like you want to ignore, evade it or struggle through without fully accepting it and therefore don’t seek help to overcome. This can lead to prescribed medication often being the only option in the hope that the grip it has on you will disappear.
There is always a place for medication and a professional Doctor should always be consulted first, however holistic approaches such as Yoga, Exercise and accompanying relaxation techniques can really help alleviate the symptoms in daily life!
HOW CAN YOGA BENEFIT?
Regular yoga practice can help you stay calm and relaxed in daily life and give you the strength to face events as they come without getting agitated or feeling helpless.
Yoga encourages mind and body connection, fostering the control of your attention and has been shown to be extremely beneficial for the treatment of anxiety. It can help to decrease worry by developing mindfulness and reduce the physiological symptoms by affecting the nervous system.
Yoga utilises physical poses (Asanas), breath control (Pranayama) and relaxation through meditation. This allows for the reduction in perceived stress and anxiety by numerous methods;
FOCUS ON THE BREATH – Soothing, controlled breaths can turn your awareness from external worries to internal focus, helping to calm down the stress response that leads to the feeling of anxiety.
AWARENESS INTO THE BODY AND OUT OF MIND – In Yoga, your attention is directed to the present moment – thoughts, feelings and body sensations are encouraged to be experienced in a non-judgemental environment. When you are able to extend this into your daily life, it may help you focus on your current feelings and experiences rather than worrying about future events.
Yoga can also help reduce self-criticism, promote self-image and self-confidence as it is focused on no judgement and dropping the Ego! It becomes a practice of you, your mat, your body and the union of body and mind with the breath. Yoga allows us the time and space to attend to current thoughts and experiences and accept that thoughts are transient, mental events and time will pass – even though it doesn’t feel that way now.
COUNTERS THE STRESS RESPONSE – Yoga can help to regulate the nervous system by increasing activity of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Digest). It can cause a lowering in blood pressure, heart rate and increase relaxation in the muscles. Yoga and mindfulness can alter the level needed for a stress response to be initiated (Gabriel 2018), reducing the excitability of the cardiovascular system and therefore the physical feelings of anxiety that can take over!
WHATS THE EVIDENCE?
- As early as 1971 It was demonstrated that yoga yielded improvement (82.5%) for symptoms of general anxiety and depression (Deshmukh, D. K. (1971).
- A Study in the US (Lemey 2018) found a reduction in stress and anxiety levels after a 6 week course of Yoga and meditation.
- Gabriel et al (2018) found that compared with a ‘treatment as usual’ protocol, an 8-week intervention of Kundalini Yoga induced greater anxiety symptom reduction than those in the control group.
- Klatte (2016) concluded that body-oriented yoga with the central components asanas (Postures) and pranayama (Breathe) represent a promising complementary approach to the treatment of mental disorders.
- A Pilot study by Streeter (2007) found that experienced yoga practitioners had a significant (27%) increase in whole-slab GABA levels after a 60-minute session of yoga postures compared to no change in GABA levels in controls after a 60-minute reading session. GABA levels help to increase mood, and reduced activity in γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) systems has been found in mood disorders and anxiety disorders.
WHERE DO I START?
“The hardest part of Yoga is showing up on your mat, what follows will change your life”
If you can, get along to a local class or get in touch with a teacher to do private 121 to get you started in your yoga practice. CLICK HERE for some postures that can help to draw the focus externally and help create calm that you can practice at home!
Deshmukh, D. K. (1971). Yoga in management of psychoneurotic, psychotic and psychosomatic conditions. Journal of the Yoga Institute, 16, 154–158
Balkrishna, V., Sanghvi, L., Rana, K., Doongaji, D., & Vahia, N. (1977). The comparison of psychophysiological therapy with drug therapy. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 19, 87–91. 17.
Sethi, B. B., Trivedi, J. K., Srivastava, A., & Yadav, S. (1982). Indigenous therapy in practice of psychiatry in India. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 230–236. 18.
Sahasi, G., Mohan, D., & Kacker, C. (1989). Effectiveness of yogic techniques in the management of anxiety. Journal of Personality and Clinical Studies, 5, 51–55.
7. [Ref list]
Lemay, Virginia, John Hoolahan, and Ashley Buchanan. “SAMYAMA: Stress, Anxiety, and Mindfulness; A Yoga and Meditation Assessment.” American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (2018): ajpe7001
Martin-Merino, E., Ruigomez, A., Wallander, M., Johansson, S. and GarciaRodriguez, L. (2009). Prevalence, incidence, morbidity and treatment patterns in a cohort of patients diagnosed with anxiety in UK primary care. Family Practice, 27(1), pp.9-16
Gabriel, M. G., et al. “Kundalini Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: An Exploration of Treatment Efficacy and Possible Mechanisms.” International journal of yoga therapy (2018).
Klatte, Rahel, et al. “The Efficacy of Body-Oriented Yoga in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 113.12 (2016): 195.
Streeter CC. Jensen JE. Perlmutter RM, et al. Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: A pilot study.