Can yoga help anxiety?
Alexandra (not her real name), who struggles with anxiety, talks about the therapies, medicines and activities she’s tried to manage her long-term condition.
I’ve always been a bit sceptical about yoga – it’s considered ‘alternative’, only for the really flexible and you can’t possibly do it without the right clothes or yoga mat. It’s just not for me (or so I thought…).
Since school I’ve never seen myself as someone who is good at any kind of sport. People were super competitive (eurgh) and if you weren’t brilliant at it you were always left on the sidelines. I guess these kinds of mindsets you pick up in childhood are hard to change, as they become part of who you think you are.
I’ve struggled for quite a while with anxiety and have experimented with a variety of things to help me cope, among them CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). This didn’t really help. If I had a negative thought or an (often uncalled-for) worry, the therapist would say something like, “Is that a helpful way to think?” Of course I recognised it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean I could just stop!
Next I tried psychoanalysis (which you can read more about on Mind’s national website here). The video below gives a pretty clear (and kind of spooky) explanation of what this therapy technique is all about.
My psychoanalyst was pretty good at calming me down, but the financial implications – spending over £400 a month – just made it unfeasible in the long term.
Then we come onto the countless number of prescribed medications. Antidepressants, mood-stabilisers, anti-psychotics – some of these helped to varying degrees but nothing really hit the spot. Diazepam (Valium) is initially great, apart from when I need to go to work or drive my car. It just sends me to sleep.
It isn’t surprising really that even after these failed attempts, I still find myself paralysed with terror about something that – while it seems to be the end of the world – is in fact quite easily manageable.
I was at a friend’s house recently – she’s a GP and easily the most stable and calm person I know – and she suggested we do some yoga in the lounge. Frankly, I wasn’t that keen. I would have preferred another coffee. Anyway, she rolled out two yoga mats in front of the TV and put Yoga with Adriene for Back Pain on YouTube. The next 30 minutes involved lots of stretching, breathing exercises and a bit of balancing.
My doctor friend talked a lot about ‘moving with your breath’: synchronising your physical movements with your breathing. I had to concentrate pretty hard on what I was doing to get the poses right. To be honest, I was totally engrossed. That’s pretty much when the obsession began.
The focus on your breath gets you into a meditative-like state. Your concentration is on the pose so your mind doesn’t have a chance to wander – which makes it great for anxiety.
There’s lots of videos to choose from depending on how you’re feeling. When I’m getting ready for bed, I stick on a quiet, mindful ‘class’, and when I’m feeling energetic I stick on a more physically-demanding video. There are morning specific ones to ‘greet the day’, some to get rid of those back and shoulder pains, some to manage stress better – you name it, Adriene has got you covered! The time lengths vary too, from as short as 10 minutes – so there’s no reason to not squeeze a session in before jumping in the shower.
The ability to do yoga in the comfort of your own living room is a definite bonus. I can try the balances without the crippling fear of an embarrassing fall surrounded by a room full of experienced yogis. Adriene’s voice is particularly calming too – my husband sometimes lingers in the kitchen just to hear her talk.
I’ve been practising religiously for about a month now, ‘hitting the mat’ every day. I’m fully converted and am now that person that bores everyone to death with their preaching. I can even do ‘crow pose’, only for about 10 seconds, but I find just knowing I’m making progress rewarding.
I am not saying that I’ve found the solution to my anxiety and am cured forever – unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way.
Perhaps I’ll get bored with it and give up – who knows? But for now, it’s really helping me cope. Yoga is helping me worry less and enjoy life more. And that’s great.
My theory is as long as you don’t lose hope, try and be open minded and continue your search, you will find that one thing that will help you manage your anxiety better.
If you’re on a budget, then believe it or not there are some free (or really cheap) yoga classes in London.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, then please get in touch with our Information Service.
Posted on: 18th July 2018