People in my classes report both short term and long term benefits from yoga when it comes to anxiety. In the short term, they say having attended a yoga class makes the rest of the day easier to handle. This can stem from a combination of a number of things:
- the mood-lifting effect of having taken the time to do something that is good for them and that they enjoy
- rebalancing the nervous system with slow, deep breathing and savasana, and
- the neurochemical effects of shifting attention to the body, which lowers stress-related hormones and neurotransmitters while simultaneously increasing those chemicals that inhibit negative thoughts and induce positive emotions.
In the long term, I think the key word is patience. Even people who don’t have anxiety have told me that yoga increased their ability to be patient in frustrating situations. Anxiety makes everything seem urgent, overwhelming, and impossible. Frustration with self and others comes on quickly. The practice of yoga builds patience through purposefully and repeatedly removing our attention from our mental chatter and placing it in the body, using the body as the object of meditative focus. With an ongoing practice, we build the brain’s tolerance for frustration by increasing both the number of neurons devoted to patience as well as the strength of their connections.
With patience comes peace. Through the practice of yoga, we are increasingly able to slow down and handle the situation in front of us with thoughtfulness and compassion. This in turn allows us to rebuild our self-confidence, to know that we can take life as it comes. Then we can stop worrying so much about the past and the future and engage whole-heartedly with the present. That's the goal anyway!
Has yoga helped you manage anxiety? If so, I'd really like to hear your story. You can post here in the comments or you can email me through the contact page or at yogatoeaseanxiety(at)gmail(dot)com.