Anxiety, or the rush of adrenaline, is the body's response to a perceived or actual threat of something painful, uncomfortable or scary that triggers a response typically called "fight/flight/freeze." This is when the instinct is to fight to protect, avoid and leave the uncomfortable scenario, or freeze in a sense where the anxiety feels trapped in the body. When the body is in a constant state of anxiety and it is not released in a healthy way then all sorts of symptoms can develop, such as medical conditions, eating disorders, addictions, social avoidance, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsiveness, etc.
So how does yoga help? Yoga is an ancient healing practice that utilizes physical postures, breath control and a philosophy of becoming more conscious to make healthier choices. For instance, forward folding poses, such as bending at the waist on an exhale, allows not only the body to release anxious energy, but brings an emotional idea of letting go. There are many types of yoga. I have found, with my clients in a worry state, that flow-oriented yoga can be quite helpful. This is a practice where the physical movements are guided by the breath and then the nervous system starts to calm down. Think of the option of flow, and breathing into emotions when in unease, rather than the fight/flight/freeze option, which gives the mind and body a healthier way of living.
In psychotherapy, learning tools to foster a relaxation response is helpful, but a deeper practice is to learn how to be more comfortable with things that are uncertain or uncomfortable. Then the mind and body are able to learn how to face fears, rather than the old, habitual response of fleeing or avoiding, because the anxiety is too uncomfortable.
Yoga Healing Groups (the next one for women starts April 29) weave together these yogic and psychotherapeutic tools within the yoga practice.
• Lori Haas, LCSW, CEDS, is a holistic oriented psychotherapist and yoga teacher specializing in recovery from anxiety, trauma and eating disorders. Reach her in Ahwatukee at (602) 332-4360.