Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Breath Bliss: Conquering Anxiety through the Body

One of the tools I have been using for many years to combat my depression and anxiety and fear issues is Kundalini yoga, which offers a wide array of breath work -- an encyclopedia of breaths for just about anything that ails you, whether physical, mental, or spiritual.

Recently, I decided to add a breath teaching moment to the beginning of my yogadance classes, and it had immediate and palpable results. At the end of class, during savasana (corpse pose), I felt a deeper sense of relaxation emanating from my resting students and myself. The air felt thick with calm; that's the only way I can describe it.

Later, the students told me it affected them during the whole of the class to have started with breath work. It drops you immediately into your body, I think. It is a "warming up" of the more subtle bodies.

This addition to class happened for a variety of reasons, but a big influence was a friend, who, when I suggested a breath to sleep better, said, "Wow. I've done that yoga for a while now and never thought to use the breath in such a day to day way."

Prescriptive breaths. Wouldn't it be cool if doctors wrote these on their prescription pads?

I think even those yogis and yoginis among us who have practiced for decades can forget the simpler things.

This week, I have been teaching breath work to be used when you are feeling anxious.

I was having a lot of anxiety about a week ago, and Marcy said to me, "GO DO that breath thingie that you make me do!" She was stern, I tell you, Stern!

I did it and it worked. Of course.

This breath is meant to replicate the anxiety in your body so that it can then burn up the anxiety in your mind.

Sit in an easy pose, whether on the floor or in a chair.

Tuck your elbows into your ribs. Lift your hands to about45 degrees from your shoulders. Your palms should be facing. Place both your ring fingers and your pinkies under your thumbs.

The breath is all through the puckered lips. As you take four quick breaths, bring your arms toward your shoulders in a jerking motion. This should be really fast and your body should tense. Remember, you are replicating anxiety.

Then exhale in one breath through puckered lips as you put your arms back to the beginning position forcefully. Forceful is the key to all the parts of this breath.

When you first start doing this, do it for a minute. It will be harder than you think. Try to work up to three or seven minutes. Follow with lots of long, deep breathing.

You'll feel a lot going on in your arms. It reminds me of what I call the release of the green goo. When I am really anxious, I can feel prickling in my upper back and if I get a brief massage, I feel it leak down and out my arms.

This breath does the same thing for me.

Try it the next time you are feeling overwhelmed or frightened or wound up in a bad way.


Linnea said...

I taught my son how to do that "breath thingy" because when there's too much cacophony around him in school he gets strung out. It's amazing how well it works.

Susan said...

Thank you, Christine for sharing your wisdom!

Emma said...

Yes, breathwork is super-powerful!

When I started yoga, I was unable to take more than 2 deep breaths in a row. ANY change to my breathing triggered intense feelings of anxiety and panic attacks.

People who have panic attacks have to start breathwork gently at first, I think, for this reason. But if you stick with it gently, it will change your life!

speck of dust said...

wow, feeling REALLY anxious right now and haven't heard of this technique. Will start putting it into action. Thanks so much!

Megan said...

Oh Bliss, I so want to try this, but I just can't "see" the position. Anyway, can I convince you to do a short video or take a photo for me? (Or maybe direct me to an image of it.) It would be SO helpful.


Christine Claire Reed said...

Megan, I'll think about doing the photo thing in the future. Thanks for bringing that up. Hmmm... :)

Emma, Yep. Though in the case of this breath, the point really is to feel those feelings. And as someone with severe anxiety, I can attest to the burning away that this creates -- like both Linnea and her son.

The long deep breathing story does not surprise me. I think, actually, that long deep breathing is one of the absolute toughest breaths for most people. Unless you played a breath based instrument, you've probably never been taught to breathe. (and by "you" I mean all of us!!) :)

claire said...

Godde bless you for this, BreathChick!!!

Carolynn said...

Oh boy, could I use THIS! I'll have to find a quiet spot where I won't scare my colleagues. *smile*

Linda-Sama said...

I worked with a private student for over two years who had to re-learn how to breath. of course she breathed, but she was so disconnected from her body due to trauma that she literally could not feel the left side of her chest. she did not believe she was breathing into her left lung until I told her, yes, your chest is moving.

and it boggles my mind how indiscrimately pranayama is taught in American yoga classes or else not at all. yes, I said, it: INDISCRIMATELY. I don't believe a yoga teacher has any business teaching pranayama to group classes unless they have taken a course devoted to pranayama itself. it really amazes me to see the de-emphasis on the breath in yoga classes here, or barely giving it any attention at all.

in the Krishnamacharya lineage that I study in, the BREATH is central to yoga. a yoga class is nothing without an emphasis on the breath.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Yes, Linda! It's one of the reasons I initially fell SO IN LOVE with Kundalini yoga. The constant emphasis on breath -- and the variety of breaths, including breathing correctly for chanting. :)

healthy kitchen said...

i enjoy reading your posts.

will definitely give your anti-anxiety breathing technique a try.

Wild Roaming One (WRO) said...

i suffer from anxiety too, and definitely would be interested in seeing a pic or video of how to do this correctly...or even where to find images on the net? Thanks Christine, anxiety is so damn debilitating, and anyway I can teach myself (& my 5yr old anxious daughter) is appreciated!

WRO xo