I’m going to be tackling the subject of anxiety in the coming weeks, and I thought that I’d start today by addressing an aspect of yoga for anxiety that is rather, well, subjective. Much of the information we have on the blog is science based, whether we’re citing scientific or medical studies, or exploring anatomy as Baxter did yesterday in Which Way Should Your Shoulder Blades Go?. However, when it comes to the yoga and the emotions, there is very little science that we can turn to for guidance. Fortunately, when working with our emotions, our own experience is key. I mean, with emotions, it’s not like, say, cancer. As Andrew Solomon wrote in his book about depression, The Noonday Demon:
"It is my absolute belief that in the field of depression, there is no such thing as a placebo. If you have cancer and try an exotic treatment and then you think you are better, you may well be wrong. If you have depression and try an exotic treatment and you think you are better, then you are better."
The same is true for anxiety. So for people who are feeling anxious, one strategy is to start taking a look at how certain yoga poses make them feel. And this might lead to the discovery that poses that are generally considered “relaxing,” such as Reclined Cobbler’s pose or Savasana, might actually be increasing your anxiety. That’s because for many people, just lying on your back, with your front body exposed, can make your feel vulnerable. Perhaps this is a primitive, instinctive reaction because we are descending from four-legged animals, and for them lying on the back means taking a submissive position and exposing their vital organs. But who really knows? All I can say is that yoga tradition tells us this reaction is common, and I’ve confirmed this theory with many yoga practitioners who suffer from anxiety. Likewise, opening the front of your body in a backbend or twist is considered stimulating and can therefore also feel agitating and increase your anxiety.
|Maybe Not So Relaxing!|
|Maybe More Relaxing....|
If closing your eyes in any of the forward bends or prone poses causes you to brood or worry, let your eyes remain open, with a soft, diffuse gaze.
In the end, always allow your own experiences in these poses to be your guide. What if you find that forward bends and prone poses cause you to feel more anxious rather than less so? In that case, I’d say, by all means, avoid them. And what if you were to say that backbends make you feel less anxious? To that, I’d answer, go for it. Traditionally twists are considered stimulating and potentially agitating, and therefore probably not a good solution for insomnia, but I once had a student who said twists made her sleepy. Hearing her say that was a lesson for me that I keep returning to when I teach yoga for emotional wellbeing.