It is no secret that many anxiety sufferers are highly sensitive people. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in North America. They are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with an incredible woman who has been studying anxiety for many years. Her name is Anita Kaiser and she has been running specialty anxiety workshops for the past 3 years. Anita suffered from anxiety in her 20’s, and understands first hand what it feels like. I wanted to know what she thought was the best relief for anxiety. Her answer – yoga.
Q: What would you say is one of the biggest challenges anxiety sufferers face?
A: The whole issue with anxiety is that people aren’t dealing with the present moment. Anxiety by its very nature is either being worried about the future or being worried about the past. When you take the time and tools to help get present – then everything changes. Not immediately, but slowly, things start to get better. The other major challenge I find is that people think they are the only ones who are dealing with these thoughts and feelings, and that this is something they will have to deal with always.
Q: How does yoga specifically help people with anxiety?
A: Yoga helps people connect to their body. It is all about slowing down and getting connected to the physical body in the present moment. Yoga uses the breath and the body to help with groundedness. By taking the time to practice regularly, peoples awareness begins to grow. They start to notice things as they happen in their body. They start to be present a little bit more. Eventually this groundedness and connectedness helps them to see patterns of behaviour. Yoga also helps people to notice when their breath has started to become shallow, or their fight or flight system has been triggered. Through yoga, people start to see that there is another way to be.
Q: What are the best yoga poses for anxiety?
A: There are so many asanas (physical postures) in yoga that can be beneficial for anxiety. It really depends on the person and their level of fitness, as well as their flexibility. One of the best and fastest ways to relieve panic or severe anxiety in the moment is to practice the alternate nostril breath. Use this technique for 5-15 minutes. Once you get to the 10 minute mark, this is where deep changes start to happen in the brain and body. You will notice after just a couple minutes of this breath work there is an immediate decrease in anxiety, however, for a longer term healing, 10 minutes and up is ideal.
- Begin in a comfortable, cross-legged position. You may choose to sit on a folded blanket, bolster, or block to elevate your hips and reduce knee pressure. Sit up straight, but relax your body. Soften your jaw and breathe naturally.
- With your right hand, bend your index and middle fingers, keeping your ring finger, pinkie finger, and thumb extended.
- Close your right nostril with your right thumb.
- Inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- At the top of your inhalation, close your left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand as you release the right nostril.
- Exhale through your right nostril.
- Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale deeply through your right nostril.
- Seal your right nostril again with your thumb, then release your left nostril.
- Exhale out of your left nostril. You should now be in the original position, with your thumb sealing your right nostril. This is one cycle.
- Balance your inhalations and exhalations so they are the same length through both nostrils.
- Repeat up to 10 full cycles, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as you gain experience.
Additionally, any type of forward folds help to ground the body. Whether it be standing or seated, legs bent or straight – folding forward over the hips and finding your breath can help tremendously to bring you back into the moment.
Lastly, my all time favourite yoga pose for anxiety has many benefits. Legs up the wall. Getting close to the wall with the hips (I prefer to be touching) and then swinging the legs up so that they are straight up the wall. Depending on the flexibility in the hamstrings some people may need some additional space from the wall to make this comfortable. This is an excellent pose to help you soften and connect to the breath. It’s perfect to stay in for anywhere from 5-15 minutes.
Q: Is there something you know about anxiety relief that most people don’t know about?
A: I have read many studies over the past year indicating how much the health of your gut is connected to anxiety levels. One of the protocols I always use with my clients who come to me with anxiety is making sure that they are taking a good high quality probiotic. I personally prefer something that is certified organic.
Anita has been teaching yoga to adults and children for over 8 years. She has been running speciality workshops and classes specifically for people with anxiety for the past 3 years. She is highly committed to making this world a better place by bringing awareness and grounding to all those she meets through the practice. When she isn’t teaching she is spending time homeschooling her daughter and going on fabulous hikes with her husband and dog. Connect with Anita www.anitakaiser.com