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.