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40 million American adults are affected by an anxiety disorder, but most of us are so busy we inevitably drop any self-care routine we’re already forced to squeeze in, leaving even the best of us exhausted. Financial pressure, an overscheduled calendar, and exceedingly expectations from your office, family, and friends all need to be offset with something healthier than post-work cocktails.
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Yoga is an extremely effective way to decompress, ease anxiety, and give you a much-needed respite from overwhelming daily demands. A study from the Boston University School of Medicine found that yoga postures, meditation, and controlled breathing work together to help soothe the nervous system and calm you down.
“When we practice yoga and deep breathing during times of stress, the body moves from a survival response to that of a more easeful state known as rest and digest. Our chemistry then shifts to help promote calm in our minds and brighten our moods,” says Jillian Pransky, head of restorative teacher training at Yoga Works.
And it’s not just yoga teachers who believe in its power to help their clients chill out. Terri Cole, LCSW recommends all aspects of yoga to her clients. “I’ve seen yoga help lift some of the symptoms of anxiety. The mindfulness aspect of yoga on your mat has similar positive benefits emotionally as meditation. Both create a more calm and grounded emotional baseline for my clients who practice at least two times a week.
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Take ten minutes and try one of tools below; your family and friends will thank you for it.
Meditation has been used for centuries to calm the mind and ease anxiety, but there is another yoga practice called pratyahara, or turning inward, which is the step before you arrive at meditation. It involves disengaging from the senses to let go of distractions on the outside, so you can concentrate on your internal experience. It helps you listen to your inner dialogue and recognize where you need to be more compassionate; with yourself, your mother, or the poor lady behind the counter trying to wrap 37 presents. When you become aware of what brings you anxiety, you’re able to pause before you react to it- usually with a more calm and relaxed attitude. Take five minutes to be still with your breath, turning your senses off one by one. Close the eyes, tune out any outside noise, swallow and clear any taste in your mouth, take a deep breath to release any smell recognition, then disengage from feeling any touch sensation as you rest your palms on your thighs. Bring your mind to the breath and keep it focused there as you inhale and exhale.
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Restorative poses are designed to open the body in a gentle and comfortable way, while engaging our Parasympathetic Nervous System to take us into a resting state. The following pose allows you to let the body settle into the floor and relax the torso, while the inverted position of the legs allows fresh blood to circulate to the heart and brain:
Sitting with your right hip against the wall and your hands back behind you, swing your legs up onto the wall and slowly lower your shoulders and head down onto the floor with your hands by your hips. Your sit bones don’t need to be right against the wall if your hamstrings are tight, but try and get them as close as you can. Lift your chin toward the ceiling to keep your throat open, and keep your legs active enough to hold them in place, feet flexed, straight up the wall. (Avoid if you have glaucoma.)
As you learn to control the breath to be gentle and even, the body relaxes and the mind becomes peaceful. This is something you can do anywhere, anytime, and it will help reduce anxiety, increase focus, promote restful sleep, and almost always keep you from losing your cool in an uncomfortable situation.
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Start in a comfortable seated position—this can even be done while waiting to find a parking spot at the mall. Begin to take full deep breaths, creating a steady inhale and exhale. Then mentally count the length of each inhale and exhale. Gradually begin to extend your exhale so that it is eventually double the inhale. For example, if you are working with an inhale of four, then you will exhale to eight. Once you find your rhythm without any strain, try to stick with it for at least 10 rounds of inhales and exhales, or longer if you can. You’ll instantly feel calmer after only a few rounds.
If despite your best efforts, you’re still feeling stressed or anxious, then make sure to go easy on yourself; set realistic expectations, reach out to friends, ask your family for help, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on the good stuff instead.