Whether you suffer from acute anxiety disorder or a more generalised form, you'll know the symptoms like the back of your hand. That familiar feeling of dread, fear and panic... and all for a reason that your conscious mind knows is totally ridiculous.
Anxiety can rear its head in so many different ways. From insomnia to fully blown panic attacks, days spent hidden away in bed due to the sheer pressure it drowns you in and a sudden loss of control over your thoughts and actions. However your body reacts, one thing is for sure: it isn't nice and it isn't pretty.
For the longest time I refused to accept its presence. I would give in to its destructive hold whenever it decided the "time was right" and simply accept that it was a part of my life. Sometimes it would only last a few hours... heart palpitations, sweaty hands. Other times it lasted days and kept me totally detached from reality.
It was only when I found myself in a month long bout of anxiety so bad it left me seeing no other option than medication that I realised it was time I took charge. It was time to take control over the disorder that had controlled my thoughts, emotions and actions for so long.
And that's where yoga came in. Yoga and its focus on mindfulness, wellbeing and anchoring yourself in the moment.
After fighting against it for so long, yoga taught me how to deal with it. How to escape it before it dug its claws in too deep. How to be bigger than it.
But don't just take my word for it. Check out these 10 tips on why yoga really is anxiety's best medicine.
1. It teaches you techniques for breathing
In yoga, you have to be conscious about your breathing. One of the common side effects of anxiety is panic attacks: aka, the inability to control your levels of breathing. Take yourself back to your Pranayama when you start to feel anxiety's prickling hand.
2. It allows you to be present in the moment
Yoga is demanding. If you aren't present in the moment, if you aren't really concentrating on what you are doing, you're going to lose the balance or position. So you need to be anchored in the present, pulling all your focus onto your body. Anxiety is defined as "a persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry about the future." The ability to draw your mind back to the present is therefore an incredibly useful way to steer away from those toxic thoughts about the future.
3. It gives you control
Whilst your instructor can assist you with your poses, ultimately yoga is all on you. It's up to you, your mind and your body what you can and can't do. You control every moment. Anxiety often feels like a lack of control. Putting yourself in a state where you are able to take that control back reminds you that you are in charge... not your anxiety.
4. It raises your self confidence
Ever felt the joy of finally nailing crow pose? Or that very first, unaided headstand? Yoga is amazing as your progress is plainly obvious. And that progress? It's a huge confidence boost! When anxiety leaves you with low self esteem, turn to those poses you know you absolutely nail. Show yourself how powerful you and your body are.
5. Redirects thoughts back to your physical self
More often than not, anxiety is the fear of something that is either a huge exaggeration of a situation or something that hasn't even happened yet... it isn't even "real". It can feel near enough impossible to rationally look at the situation and why you are reacting in such an extreme way. Yoga forces us to look at every single part of our body, from the top of our heads right down to the tips of our toes. It is one of the most crucial elements of the practice. This technique helps you to break down your physical self when anxiety strikes. You can engage in introspection in a calm and collected way.
6. Releases tension
Anxiety can cause your body to tense up, particularly in the neck, shoulders and back. Yoga helps you release that tension, allowing your body to become freer and more open... and as a result? Your mind is sure to follow.
7. Aids insomnia
It's a known fact that exercise helps disrupted sleeping patterns, and yoga is no exception. The steady, conscious breathing is also a strong force against anxiety when it strikes at night as it steadies your heart and allows you to breathe through the panic, moving you away from a mind in overdrive. A gentle sequence before getting into bed works wonders for putting you in a more relaxed state of mind ready for sleep.
8. Improves digestion
Many yoga poses focus directly on stimulating the abdominal region, aiding digestion. Stress (brought about by anxiety) has a negative impact on our digestion; finding ways to counteract that impact is paramount in the fight against anxiety.
9. Stimulates blood flow
Upside down poses increase and stimulate blood flow to the head, resulting in a detoxification of our adrenals. Adrenals are known to decrease in depression - an illness that can go hand in hand with anxiety. They are vital to our wellbeing as they produce the hormones we need to deal with stress. So healthy adrenals = healthy you!
10. Evokes peace and calm
Let's not forget that undeniable sense of serenity yoga provides you with. The mixture of the deep movements, calm setting, gentle instructions and beautiful music work together to build the ultimate tranquillity. And when anxiety attacks, tranquillity is exactly what you need.