Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ayurvedic Remedies to Heal Anxiety

We’re all likely to experience some level of anxiety during the course of things. It happens. At least it happens to me. This may be the result of real or imagined fears, financial or job changes, tensions in a primary relationship, or just an overall feeling of things being not quite right.

How do you know it’s anxiety you’re feeling? Your body’s warning signs can include shortness of breath, hyperventilating or “over” breathing, a queasy feeling in the “pit” of your stomach, insomnia, trouble concentrating, and much more.

Mostly, anxiety is reflected in the quality of the breath. One reason, according to Ayurveda, is that anxiety is a vata aggravation in the nervous system. One of the three doshas, vata is dominated by air and ether (space) elements. Altering the breath or using other remedies that deepen and slow the breath—especially the exhale—will help pacify and balance vata.

Plus, altering your breathing is one of the quickest and most effective ways to change how you feel. I recently attended an evening workshop with Kira Ryder (one of Yoga Journal’s Top 21 Yoga Teachers under the age of 40) and she talked about the centrifugal force which moves things away from the center, dispersing and disconnecting. Think of the breath like this when under anxiety. The opposing centripetal force connects and draws things back to their center. This kind of integration is the healing power of focusing on our breath to relax and steady the nerves.

Try one of these simple Ayurvedic remedies to help relieve anxiety:

1.    Strike a pose. Start with crocodile (Makarasana). This easy yoga pose quickly establishes deep, relaxed diaphragmatic breathing as the belly must push into the floor with each inhale. It’s a quick antidote to anxiety, and creates immediate breath awareness. Here are the details to get in to crocodile.

 2.    Find a quiet place and breathe. Simple and healing diaphragmatic breathing, often called “belly breathing,” is an easy way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and tell the body it’s safe to relax. Belly breathing creates expansion in the abdomen and sides of the body rather than the upper chest. It’s the breathing of a newborn baby.

3.    Lengthen the exhale. Once you get the hang of belly breathing (place you hands on the abdomen or lower rib cage to bring attention to where you will feel the expansion of breath), consider slowly beginning to extend the exhale until it becomes twice as long as the inhale. This 1:2 breathing is especially helpful for insomnia. Kate Holcombe’s recent article in Yoga Journal on “Healing Breaths,” is fabulous and describes both diaphragmatic breathing and 1:2 breathing. Check it out. 

4.    Massage feet and head before bed. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, spend a few minutes before bedtime gently massaging your scalp and bottoms of the feet with warm almond oil, sesame oil, or other natural oil with an aroma you enjoy. This is a deeply soothing and self-nurturing practice.

Ayurveda also recommends taking almond milk (click for recipe) to quell anxiety and ease sleep. Or simply open the door, plant your feet, and take a walk. Being outside is healing. Evidence suggests being in nature does everything from boost the immune system to fight depression and reduce stress.

Give one of these antidotes a try and begin to feel that calming ahhhhh….
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