More and more people come to me, both as an acupuncturist and as a yoga instructor, seeking help for their anxiety. It is a constant plague on their daily lives and can be paralyzing at times.
I have found that anxiety lives in the future (as opposed to shame and regret which live in the past), is often created by worrying about situations over which we have no control. Upcoming medical test results or wondering if your child will be okay by herself at the mall are only two of the thousands of things that occupy our minds at any given minute.
The constant worry about “but what happens if…” can consume so much energy, that it can leave you distracted, unproductive and exhausted at the end of the day. If you find yourself constantly playing the “what if” game with yourself, you probably feel pretty tired and anxious most of the time.
In the present, there is peace. That is not to say that you shouldn’t plan for the future, only that if you are constantly dwelling on thoughts of the future, it is very difficult to find peace and satisfaction. You are also missing all of the wonderful things that are happening right now. In this moment, you are okay. The wise Ferris Bueller once said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Anxiety keeps us from being able to see the present and keeps us from living our lives as fully as possible.
The good news is that anxiety is a learned behavior (some might even say an addiction), which means it can be unlearned. Worry is a mental habit that can be broken with a little time and effort.
Yoga asana and meditation are two great practices that help bring your mind into the present moment. The physical practice of yoga is great for anyone whose anxiety feels like excess energy that needs to be burned off. When your body is being physically challenged through yoga, it is very difficult to worry about all the laundry that isn’t getting done. You are not thinking about your child getting hurt at school when you are deep into Warrior II. By breathing deeply and moving your body into challenging positions, you connect your mind and body, giving you a way to quiet your mind and calm your nervous system.
Meditation is also a great way to calm anxiety. If you feel untethered or ungrounded by your anxiety, meditation can be a great way to bring you back down to earth. If you can breathe, you can meditate. The most challenging part is allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable while trusting that the feeling is temporary. Understanding that nothing is permanent helps you move through the waves of anxiety when they hit, rather than trying to fight against them. No one likes to feel anxious, it is physically uncomfortable, but when you give those feelings a little bit of space, they dissipate. Meditation helps us to be less reactive to those uncomfortable feelings.
Simple Meditation Exercise For Anxiety
(you might want someone to read this to you while you practice, or you can record it for yourself to play back)
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Notice your breath. You don’t need to breathe in any particular way, just notice what happens naturally. Notice the natural ebb and flow of your breath. Notice the alternating cool and warm sensations at your nostrils. Notice the expansion and contraction of your rib cage and belly. Now start to feel your anxiety. Notice the sensations just like you noticed your breath. If the feelings are too overwhelming, go back to observing your breath for a few moments and then let in a little bit less anxiety next time. Can you observe the anxiety without getting caught up in its story? Try to feel the physical manifestations and move away from any words in your mind. Don’t worry about “doing it right or wrong.” Your mind will wander, it is okay. Any time the feelings of anxiety get too strong, take a deep inhale and a slow exhale and move your attention back to your breath. Repeat this process as many times as you feel you need. Once you feel calm and grounded, take a deep inhale and a slow exhale. Open your eyes.
With time and practice, your anxiety will cause you less panic and discomfort. You will feel more in control of your thoughts. You will start to look for what is true, rather than focusing on what you believe might be. You will start to focus on what you have control over, as opposed to what you don’t.
Janine L. Agoglia MAOM, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac, Dipl. CH is a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist who has been practicing at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA since 2003. She graduated from the New England School of Acupuncture with a Master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and practices a combination of Chinese, Japanese and Korean acupuncture as well as Chinese herbal medicine and Chinese dietary therapy.
Janine believes in a holistic approach to health and wellness. In addition to addressing patient symptoms she helps each patient look at his or her lifestyle, emotional state, exercise, diet and stress levels, so that she and her patient can work together to move the patient toward their optimum picture of health. Janine believes that she and her patients are a team, working together for the common goal of creating better health and overall well-being. Her passion is to help each person feel better in his or her daily life and to help each patient overcome their particular health challenge(s), be it pain, women’s health issues, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, stress, anxiety or any other health issue that they are struggling to conquer.
In 2008 Janine co-founded Veterans Acupuncture Care (VAC) Metrowest, a community-style acupuncture clinic that offers free acupuncture to veterans, active military, first responders (active and retired) and their family members. The purpose of this clinic is to offer free stress and trauma relief to this underserved population. For more information on this clinic visit www.vacmetrowest.com
Janine is also a certified yoga instructor and has been teaching Vinyasa Yoga since 1998. Her background as a modern dancer adds creativity to her unique style of Vinyasa Yoga. She allows her students to be free to listen to their own bodies, while exploring all the benefits that yoga has to offer: breath, movement, strength, flexibility and inner calm. In 2005 she created a DVD called Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People so that her students could continue their practice at home when they couldn’t make it to class. Janine also gives private lessons, adjusting each person’s practice to best fulfill their needs. To order, please visit www.acuyogamama.com.