Yoga for Anxiety

I was driving home from Toronto. My holiday had taken me to Stratford for five days and then a few days in TO visiting with family. It had been a great holiday. The day was a bright and beautiful one. Traffic was quite light but, as usual for that highway, somewhat intense. I had done this route every summer for over ten years. Nothing prepared me or warned me of what was about to happen.
Suddenly, there was a tight grip on my chest like someone heavy was sitting on me and I had trouble breathing. My body became rigid and my grasp on the steering wheel intensified. I began to feel hot and sweat started to seep into my hairline.

Nothing had happened but suddenly I was terrified. I knew I was about to die in a fiery crash. Knew this without question; without doubt. Reality had nothing to do with it.

That was my first Panic Attack.
It took four years of therapy which included CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: a therapy widely used to treat PTSD) as well as anti-anxiety medication before I could do that drive again.
Too bad I had not heard about the healing powers of yoga.

Yoga for anxiety.

A month ago a young woman walked into our studio for the first time to buy some classes. After our first class together, some light conversation, and a little ‘bonding’ she said, “My therapist has been telling me for years to try yoga. I think maybe she was right.” If the first class made her feel calmer and more in control, imagine what a regular regime of yoga and meditation would do for her!

Recently the medical establishment has become very interested in yoga. Controlled, valid medical research has begun to emerge on this topic. One such study in 2004 ( Khalsa SB. “Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Bibliometric Analysis of Published Research Studies,” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (July 2004): Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269–85) showed that a regular yoga practice ameliorates the effect of stress: reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and eases the breath. Yoga then acts as a self-soothing technique much like socializing with friends and/or pet therapy. Yoga also helps increase heart rate variability thus providing flexibility in one’s response to stressors.

One obscure but intriguing study (Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91) found a correlation between one’s ability to deal with stress and one’s sensitivity to pain. The non-yoga participants… some described as healthy and others with fibromyalgia…were found to be much more sensitive to pain. The yoga practitioners in this study, perceived pain at a higher threshold; they were more able to deal with the physiological effects of stress.

One crucial component of yoga that has drawn particular interest from the medical community is pranayama…breathing techniques. It is no coincidence that to control over-reactive response, we’ve been taught to take ten slow breaths before we speak. Research has begun in the use of yoga practice – both breathing and movement — for PTSD. So promising are the current findings that researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. are using yoga as treatment for vets showing symptoms of PTSD. They find it more efficacious, with less stigma attached, than traditional methods.

Even my ‘old school’ GP admits that yoga may actually be having a positive effect on my general health and hence on my mind-set/energy in dealing with the day-to-day stressors we all experience. The news is spreading.

So, will I be doing that drive to and from Toronto any time soon? Probably not!! But if I had to, I would not be up all the night before worrying about it. I would begin the day with a sun salutation series. I would approach the task refreshed, energized and armed with an arsenal of breathing techniques to help me through!

I do yoga for many reasons. Anxiety is high among them.

Leave a Comment