We all know that training hard and eating healthy are keys to optimal health. But with the stresses of our daily lives, it’s also important to take the time to breathe, relax and calm the mind in order to be our best. So we turned to international yoga teacher Dashama Gordon for some advice.
Dashama is the author of Journey to Joyful, producer/star of 23 yoga DVDs, a FitFusion.com instructor and the creator of the 30-Day Yoga Challenge. In addition, she teaches Pranashama yoga and is the founder of Pranashama Yoga Institute. Below, she shares three ways to reduce anxiety in your everyday life.
The first and most important practice to help you reduce anxiety is to be present and stay connected to your breath. Anxiety cannot survive when you become fully present in your body, since anxiety is a condition that is a result of dwelling on negative thoughts about the past or worrying about the future. In layman’s terms, anxiety arises when you are not fully present in the now. If you drop all of your thoughts for a few moments and focus on the inhale and exhale of your breath, you will notice an immediate shift and relief from the feeling of anxiety.
You can start with 10 deep inhales and exhales deep into your belly, and in between each inhale and exhale, try to hold the breath for a few seconds and connect with the silence within you. This will help you to regain a sense of inner peace, and knowing that reassures you everything is going to be OK. Continue this simple breathing practice for as long as necessary, until the feeling of anxiety subsides and a feeling of calm, peace and contentment returns to your mind and body.
Meditation is as ancient as yoga. For more than 5,000 years, people worldwide have been intuitively guided to connect with the silent infinite space within. This is not easy to do in our modern society where we are constantly bombarded with technology and external stimulus. At the same time, this vital practice is more necessary than ever to help us to stay balanced and connected to experience inner peace.
Anxiety is the opposite of inner peace. So in order to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, we must learn to connect with our mind in a new way. If you leave your minds to do as it will, you will find yourself constantly lost in an ocean of thoughts that never end. Many of them repeat themselves inside your mind until they all but drive you crazy. This is a root cause of anxiety. The recurrence of worry or fearful thoughts triggers deeply unsettled emotions that lead your nervous system to feel constantly on edge. Your thoughts begin to trigger the fight or flight signals of survival even if you are just sitting with no real danger within sight.
This must end, and one of the most powerful practices you can incorporate into your daily life is mediation. There is often great confusion about meditation, however. What is it and will you be able to do it? The answer is simple. Meditation is the practice of observing the mind and connecting with your inner body. Yes, you can do this. Like anything, it gets much easier with practice. Recent scientific studies at Harvard and other higher education systems have even indicated that meditation not only brings you a greater sense of inner peace and well-being, but it also changes your brain permanently, in a good way. This means that over time, you will no longer default to your old patterns of anxiety and you will begin to create a pattern of mental and emotional stability and calm that you desire. How great is that?!
It’s definitely worth the time and effort, even if you can just start with 10-20 minutes per day, but studies show the best results with 30 minutes per day, so if you have the extra time, definitely aim for longer meditation sessions. Your friends, colleagues and family will thank you for it.
3. Connect with Nature
It’s unmistakable the power that nature can have over our nervous system. If you ever feel a wave of anxiety, go outside and if possible, put your bare feet on the soil, grass or beach sand. The elements of earth, combined with fresh air and infinite intelligence of nature, will have an immediate calming effect on your mind and emotions. If you are able to jump into a body of water such as the ocean, river, lake or waterfall, that can expedite the effects for you even more.
Although there are many scientific reasons I could share why this works, the more important point is that it just works. When combined with yoga, breathing or meditation, your benefits are magnified. Even the simple practice of watching the sun rise or set can create a wave of calm and peace throughout your mind and emotions that will offset anxiety in a big way.
So you choose— what way do you prefer to connect with nature? Are you an outdoor enthusiast and merely have been cooped up inside for too long working or doing chores? Or perhaps your natural tendency is to stay inside, as a lifestyle, habit or due to unpleasant weather. Vitamin D from the sun has a very real and immediate impact on your mood as well, and can help to alleviate anxiety when you look at the vast blue sky, the magnificence of mother nature and realize that most of what you are worried about is very small in relation to the big picture.
Stay focused on the positive, connected to your breath and movement in your body and you can be rest assured, like the great Bob Marley said, “Every little thing, is gonna be alright!”
For more with Dashama, be sure to check out the December issue of FitnessRx for Women (on sale October 27), where she demonstrates yoga poses for anxiety reduction.