Skip to Main Content

Blogs

  • 22 Feb 2021 by Ginger Bennett

    Coping with anxiety is not about downplaying the causes of anxiety, or invalidating our worries. Instead, by observing the observer, or practicing non-attachment we can learn to recognize our triggers and nurture the parts of us that feel threatened and beckon us towards anxiety. As we practice and better understand non-attachment, we are likely to increase our ability to self-soothe.  

     

    Ensure that Basic Needs are Met  

    When you recognize that something has triggered you, especially when you are not certain what it might have been, it can be helpful to pause and ask yourself a few questions: Do I need food? Water? Rest? Because though these things are not always readily accessible for us, recognizing what might be lacking could alone be enough to settle some of our anxiety. Now, I am not saying that it can all be alleviated with food, water, and sleep, but without these fundamental needs being met it is certainly more difficult to return to a state of equilibrium.

     

    Aparigraha on the Mat

    In moments of dis-ease, coming to the mat for even a short period of time can give us a sense of peace, familiarity, and comfort. To practice non-attachment or aparigraha on the mat is to show up to practice without any expectations, or need to accomplish anything in particular. 

     

    Asana 

    It is common knowledge that the practice of yoga can strengthen and lengthen the muscles, but even the physical practice of yoga is not merely a workout. By connecting breath to movement, we create a moving meditation that can draw us into the present moment and ease the mind. However, it is not necessary to practice for a full hour or half-hour. There are several yoga asanas for mental health that you can spend a few minutes in to de-stress.

     

    Balasana (Child’s Pose) 

    How to: Begin in table-top, draw the big toes to touch, either bring the knees wide to create space for the torso to soften between the thighs or draw the knees together to allow the torso the spill over the top of the thighs to lengthen through the spine. The arms can either reach out in front of you, or you can reach out first, bend at the elbows to draw hands to prayer, and lower the thumbs to the nape of your neck for reverse namaskar, or you can reach the arms long by your sides so that the fingers point the same direction as your toes. You might try on different variations to find which one best suits you. Though this posture is notoriously noted as a resting posture, it can be intense for some, so do not shy away from using your props. It can be helpful to place a block under the seat, or a rolled-up blanket between the calves and thighs. If you have a bolster, you might also try tucking it longways beneath the torso. Rest the third-eye to the earth or to a prop.

     

    Benefits of the posture: This posture brings you close to the earth to offer a sense of grounding. The natural compression of the body created by this shape can offer a sense of being held and feelings of security. The pressure on the third-eye can release stress held by the muscles in the face. 

     

    Sukhasana (Easy Seat Pose)

    How to: Come to sit on the floor or on props (folded blanket or blocks). Root down through the sitz bones, and bend at the knees so that they splay out east to west. If possible, draw the ankles in towards the groin and cross the right ankle over the left. You may land the hands to the tops of the knees with the palms either facing up or down. With an inhale, grow tall through the spine; as you exhale, release the shoulders away from the ears. If it is comfortable to do so, you may close your eyes and draw your attention to the breath. 

     

    Benefits of the posture: Sukhasana is a posture meant to require little physical effort while offering calming benefits to the mind. With the eyes closed and the attention on the breath, you can take the opportunity to turn inwards and reflect without judgment on what is happening in the mind, or to become so present that what is happening in the mind no longer feels like a distraction, even if only for a few moments.  

     

    Vrikshasana (Tree Pose)

    How to: Begin standing with the weight evenly distributed between both feet. The palms can press together at heart’s center. Slowly begin to shift the weight into one leg as you lift and bend the opposite knee to point out towards the side, draw the bottom of the lifted foot either to kickstand on the earth or a block at the instep of the standing foot, or slide the bottom of the lifted foot to the upper calf or to the inseam of the mid-thigh. It is very important that you avoid placing the bottom of the foot at the knee, as you want to protect the joints. You can try a few variations until you find the one that works best for you. When you find your balance, take a few steady rounds of breath before switching to the second side. 

     

    Benefits of the posture: This posture requires that you be mentally present and focused. As you continually redirect your focus on your balance and your breath, you might find that there is less room for anxiety to creep its way in. Physically grounding your feet into the earth as you imagine yourself strong and firmly rooted like a tree can also give a sense of grounding.

     

    Yoga Beyond Asana

    The mat is not only for creating shapes, and asana is not the only way to practice yoga. Whether or not you feel up to a physical practice, you can come to the mat and practice mindfulness in whichever form is accessible to you. Some days, this might look like lying into savasana as soon as you arrive to the mat. Maybe your whole practice is just one long savasana. So long as you are showing up without any expectations, or need to accomplish anything in particular, you are strengthening your practice of aparigraha and chipping away at the human desire to be always in control, which can, over time result in a calmer mind.

     

    The Power of Pranayama  

    "Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor." -Thich Nhat Hanh, Stepping into Freedom: An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training

     

    The breath is a powerful tool; it is our life source; it is the very thing that keeps us alive from moment to moment. We are all breathing all the time with or without conscious effort.  The difference between pranayama and breathing is that in the practice of pranayama, we are intentionally manipulating the breath to achieve a specific result; in this case, the result we are looking for is to regulate the nervous system. 

     

    Pranayama 

    The effects of pranayama on the nervous system can be observed almost instantaneously, as you oxygenate the body. Pranayama, though typically practiced after asana is available all times of the day. The pranayama practice that follows is meant to be performed with generous, even breath, though at no point should the breath be forceful.   

     

    Nadhi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

    How to: Begin in an easy seated position. Take a few rounds of cleansing breath. Hold the right hand out, palm facing up. Close the pointer and the middle finger to the middle of the palm. Maintain this hand position and then draw the thumb to plug the right nostril. Exhale through the left nostril. Pause. Plug the left nostril with the ring and pinky fingers. Inhale. Pause. Plug the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale through the left nostril. Continue in this manner for 10 or so rounds of breath, finishing with an exhale on the left nostril, and then return to your normal breath. 

     

    *There are contraindications for those who are pregnant or have high blood pressure. If you experience dizziness or shortness of breath, return to the natural rhythm of your breath. If you are unsure if this practice is for you, you can speak to your doctor about whether or not these practices will benefit you. 

     

    Meditation for Anxiety 

    There are really helpful apps (such as HeadSpace) that break down the how-tos of meditation. If you are interested in committing to your meditation practice, it is a great tool to keep you motivated and consistent, but the truth is that meditation does not require organized practice. As Thich Nhat Hanh continually preaches, mediation can be done in conjunction with every other daily activity, including mediation while washing the dishes, walking meditation, or mediation for organization. The practice of meditation is not a practice of clearing the mind of all of its content, but rather learning to sit with and observe what’s there while using the breath as an anchor. 

     

    If you are interested in guided meditations, there are many youtube videos, free meditation classes, and virtual meditation classes online. You can also check out these Yoga For Anxiety Workshops/Courses: 

     

    My Vinyasa Practice

    This course focuses on ways to process anxiety through mindfulness and yoga. It is designed to help those looking to foster their relationship with their practice to reduce stress and anxiety. It is easy to follow and you are supported by the guidance of their Yoga Therapy  Clinic.

     

    The Soul of Yoga

    This program helps student better understand that chronic pain is a complex, whole-brain experience that profoundly affects people’s lives, and that by reducing stress, we can shift autonomic nervous system activity and lessen pain.

     

    The Minded Institute

    This 8-week course is a comprehensive and evidence-based program for anyone looking to reduce stress, anxiety, and/or depression. 

    *As an Amazon Associate, Yoga Specialists earns from qualifying purchases.

  • 12 Feb 2021 by Ginger Bennett

    Who is Affected by Mental Health?

    It is common that upon the mention of mental health, the first thing that comes to mind is mental illness. And though it is important to have open conversations around mental illness, mental health is not exclusive to those who suffer from mental illness. Of course, if you suspect that you are struggling with mental illness, it is important to speak to a professional and to seek appropriate treatment, but I am not a mental healthcare professional, and so this article is not about how to identify or treat mental illness in any way.  

    Instead, this article is an invitation to consider that everybody with a mind has mental health to be minded. That is to say, we do not have to wait until we are struggling with depression, or caught in the midst of anxiety to acknowledge or check in with our mental health. Because even if you have not been clinically diagnosed with a mental illness, it is likely that as you experience the ebb and flow of emotions that accompany a life where the only constant is change, you may feel “down” or “a little off” from time to time. 


     

    Effects of the Pandemic on Our Mental Health 

    Even though we have now been struggling with the pandemic for more than a year, and we might even feel accustomed to some of the changes it has brought about, the effects it has on our mental health cannot be overstated. For some, it has been an adjustment of lifestyle: now they work from home or limit social interactions; for others, the effects have been more gruesome, and they have: lost loved ones and not been able to celebrate their life as to avoid gatherings, lost jobs, suffered themselves from the illness, or are stuck at home with a partner who is emotionally or physically abusive. But wherever you fall on the spectrum of bad things that happen due to the pandemic, it is important to acknowledge that your experience is valid. That even though we are not the only ones suffering, and even though others may have it “worse,” the challenges that are present in our lives are still present and challenging, and in need of our effort, time, and attention. It is not uncommon to experience intermittent feelings of anxiety, fear, or uncertainty, and especially not now. 

    However, to be able to address the plethora of emotions that lead to dis-ease requires a certain amount of surrender. Because as quick as we can be to invalidate our own feelings by way of comparison, we can also fight with everything we’ve got to avoid invalidating Ego; we might even go as far as to prevent ourselves from feeling better after we’ve invested both time and energy into feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry, or sad. Because after investing both time and energy into these feelings, we might fear that by letting them go, we are actually admitting that we are somehow wrong for owning these feelings at all in the first place. And being wrong upsets Ego. But what is helpful to understand is that we are allowed to feel bad and we are also allowed to emotionally evolve.  

     

    How to Observe Triggers 

    Once we have determined that letting go of dis-ease does not invalidate our experiences or emotions, and is not by nature an admission of fallibility, the scope through which we perceive reality becomes a little less foggy, and the capacity to observe without judgment just may increase. With the ability to observe without judgment, we can begin the check-in process. This is the process of pausing and peering into the situation at hand with both compassion and non-attachment so that we can ultimately return to peace of mind.

    As we practice mindfulness daily, recognizing when we are triggered will eventually become second nature. But this is a lifelong practice, and some days it will be more accessible than others. On the particularly difficult days, we can begin our check-in with the basics. HALT is an acronym for Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. Now, I am not suggesting that all experiences of dis-ease can be explained away by hunger, anger, loneliness, or exhaustion, but any of the aforementioned would most definitely exacerbate other accompanying experiences of dis-ease.     

    Once the fundamentals are covered, it will be easier to access the rest. 

     

    Yoga and Mental Health 

    In the yoga world, there are loads of airy, ooey-gooey phrases or notions such as “you choose your reality” or  “yoga is about letting go” that when used out of context, can be easily manipulated into a form of spiritual bypassing, or “a tendency to privilege spiritual beliefs or experiences over and against psychological needs creating a means of avoiding or bypassing difficult emotions or experiences” (Picciotto, et al.). To spiritually bypass others’ or one's own experiences in the name of yoga is to misunderstand the aim of the practice altogether.
     

    It has been studied and determined that the practice of yoga is very effective in calming the mind and assisting in the practitioners’ ability to achieve a state of relaxation and peace. Committing to a home practice, even for just 10-15 minutes per day can reinforce our mindfulness practice by keeping us engaged in the present moment. Of course, asana, or the physical practice of yoga is good for the physical body. Strengthening and lengthening the muscles can result in increased mobility, and as we all know, increasing the heart rate can lead to a release of endorphins, but yoga does not end with asana, and the benefits of yoga are not limited to the physical body. 

    Pranayama or breathwork is another limb of yoga and can be practiced in conjunction with seated meditation. To manipulate the breath requires attention to the present moment and to the intricate sensations of the body. To meditate is to gently, yet firmly retrain the mind to stay focused on the present, though the goal of meditation is frequently misunderstood; this practice is not meant to be done as a way to ignore your worries or take any life from them at all, but rather just to simply give you the peace of being present for even a short period of time so that maybe after you can return to that which is in need of your effort, time, and attention with clarity. What I’m suggesting here is not that we disown or take life from what might be perceived as negative emotional responses i.e. anger, anxiety, sadness, irritability, but rather we learn to identify them, to validate them, and detach from them, so that we can begin to recognize what might be triggering these emotional responses and better understand how to cope with them.

    If you are looking to deepen your practice, My Vinyasa Practice offers a free course called Yoga for Anxiety. You can click here to register.