The pandemic has induced a roller coaster like existence with sudden highs and lows thus negatively impacting mental equanimity. The “new normal” with transformed professional and personal routines has generated challenges of social isolation and uncertainty of the present and future. Also, the rapid strides in technology has exacerbated mental and emotional demands increasing anxiety and stress levels. It has thus led to a spiralling of mental issues like anxiety, panic attacks, feeling overwhelmed or unsettled etc. Yoga practices of asanas (poses), pranayama (breath focus) and meditations, presents a holistic complementary solution with other therapies to alleviate anxiety, enabling mental balance.
Yogic practices inhibit the areas in your brain responsible for fear, anger and negativity and stimulate the happiness centres in the brain leading to a state of bliss and relaxation. When practiced regularly, yoga can enable an equanimous emotional state and boost feelings of serenity and making you better wired to positivity.
Below are stories of celebrities which serve as an inspiration and a path to success for anyone struggling with anxiety disorders :
- Oprah Winfrey: American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey was called “arguably the world’s most powerful woman” by CNN and Time.com.
Winfrey said in a 2013 interview that anxiety nearly caused her to have a nervous breakdown. She practices Transcendental Meditation, a form of silent mantra meditation for 20 minutes, twice a day.
- Former India captain MS Dhoni talks mental health, says he is not immune to stress and anxiety. His cool composure on the cricket field is the stuff of legends. But he has no qualms conceding that he is not immune to anxiety and fear. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s in the conquest of the mind that the genesis of Dhoni’s success story lies.
- Another celebrity, battling anxiety is fashion mogul and reality TV icon ,Kim Kardashian. In a 2016 episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, she opened up about her anxiety issues. Her younger sister Kendall Jenner also struggles with anxiety and they both attend a meditation class.
Studies indicate that practicing yoga facilitates release of a chemical called Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a relaxant. Its role is to suppress neural activity in order to prevent your brain from getting overly excited. In doing so, it controls how much fear, stress, anxiety or nervousness you’ll feel. Research shows that yoga increases your GABA levels by 27% (Boston Medical). People suffering from anxiety and mood disorders usually have lowered levels of GABA.
It is said that GABA mimics the action of anti-anxiety drugs and alcohol, indicating that yoga practices can induce the brain to a relaxed, positive state.
A 2017 study indicated that yoga practice for children improved their emotional health including reducing anxiety compared with the control group. Similar effects have been observed in the elderly.
- Human brains are designed to deal with unique life-or-death threats (fight or flight reaction) and not for continuous high stress levels. Chronic stress has been linked to impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex (controls logic, reasoning, planning) that can manifest in our lives as anxiety or panic disorders.
- Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. Different areas of the brain are responsible for various functions, and grey matter plays a significant role in all aspects of human life. The grey matter in the brain enables individuals to control movement, memory, and emotions.
- While yoga increases the volume of grey matter is some areas of the brain, it also has an opposite effect on other regions of the brain. An example is the amygdala, which is located in the frontal part of the brain plays a critical role in your emotions like fear and anxiety. Regular practice of yoga results in a reduction of grey matter in the amygdala means that there is less activity in this part of your brain. So that, you’re better at handling anxiety and balancing your emotions.
- Yoga practices stimulate the brain to release chemicals that induce relaxation and also lowers stress and anxiety levels enabling mental upliftment. Key among these are Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins also known as the ‘happiness hormones. E.g.: Dopamine makes you feel rewarded and lets you experience pleasure; Serotonin helps relieve stress and anxiety and Endorphins make you happy .
Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present. A yoga session requires precise and mindful movement, keeping both mind and body completely engaged
- Yoga is mostly a mix of aerobic and anaerobic practices skewing the body towards ‘ parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) compared to exercises which skews the body towards the sympathetic nervous system ( fight or flight reaction).
- While modern medicine has the ability in many cases to heal physical diseases and alleviate psychological disorders. It is argued that a purely medical approach is far less effective in healing the emotional, intellectual, and personality layers of the human entity.
There exists an indisputable connection between a person’s overall physical and mental health and the inner peace and well-being yoga is designed to achieve (i.e., Super yoga for the brain).
Practices: Below are some practices that can be used to alleviate anxiety
1.Warm ups: Before commencing the practices recommend warm ups (6-8 repetitions each) like curling and stretching toes, ankle, knee and waist rotations, elbow bends, shoulder shrugs, neck rotations etc.
Below are some asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breath focus) practices. The asana practices focus on the 5 spinal movements (upwards, forward, backward & lateral bending and twisting)
2.Kati Chakrasan : A lateral bend for the spine and trunk, helps improve breathing.
- Stand with your feet planted firmly on the ground about 1.5 feet apart.
- Keep left hand on the waist and bend your body to the left , lifting the right hand up close to the right ear and palm facing the ceiling. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and return. Repeat on opposite side.
3.Hastapadasana : (Hand to foot pose) It is a forward stretch pose done standing , signifies ‘letting go’. It refreshes the brain, calms the mind and relaxes the heart.
- Inhale raise the hands high and slightly backwards and bend forward with exhalation. Let the fingers or palms touch the floor or on either side of the feet.
- Try to keep the knees straight. To return gently raise the head and trunk. Repeat 2-3 times
4. Parvatasan (Mountain pose) . It is a seated pose and helps refresh all systems. It opens up the spine letting pranic energy flow.
- Be seated in a comfortable position, raise the arms in front of your chest, interlock fingers and turn them outwards.
- Stretch the arms above the head with inhalation. Exhale and bring the arms down, repeat 2-3 times.
5. Ushtrasan (camel pose) : backward bend to gain confidence, calms the mind and builds emotional stability. Avoid in case of knee or spinal issues.
- Kneel on the floor with knees and feet shoulder-width apart. Place palms on the back of the hips, extend shoulders and elbows back.
- Inhale expand chest and take head up and bend backwards. Hold for as long as comfortable.
- To release exhale and slowly come back to centre.
6.Mukha Dhauti (variation): This breathing practice helps slow down the breath and is also very good for relaxing the body and mind. ‘Dhauti’ is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘purification’ or ‘forceful exhalation’.
Technique: Sit in any meditative pose , hands resting on the knees. Keep neck and back erect. Breathe in fully through both nostrils, gently stretch the neck backwards and blow out through the mouth towards the ceiling as if you are blowing out a candle. Repeat 4-5 times.
Links for uplifting story and meditation practices :
Inspirational story on change – The Eagle
Meditation on relaxation –
During meditation it is suggested to use self-affirmations like “ I choose to nurture positivity, I become calmer and more relaxed with each breath”. You can create some of your own!
- Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 3.6 percent of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization, and celebrities are far from immune. In fact, anxiety is fairly commonplace in Hollywood and among others in the spotlight given the demanding nature of their professions.
- The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990. Highly emotionally intelligent people can shake off shake off out-of-control anxiety or fear.
Yogic practices balances your lifestyle from the inside out. The asanas (musco-skeletal stretches/postures , Pranayama (breath focus) and meditations which involve building mental equanimity tends to bring about an emotional wellness and positivity.
The human brain is now considered to be a highly dynamic and constantly reorganizing system capable of being moulded and remoulded across an entire lifespan. It is believed that every experience alters the brain’s organization at some level.
As you practice and repeat asanas, pranayama and meditation over and over, the new neural connections in your brain get stronger and stronger !
Neuro Yoga practices can enable enduring mental resilience which is worth striving for. An unbreakable sense of well-being will make you a better person and improve quality of your life!
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- Illuminating lives with Yoga – Mrs. Geeta Iyer
- Yoga practices for stress management – Mrs.Usha Karnik
- illustrations – Getty images; momentous institute; clipart library.com, depositphotos.com/ Giphy.
- economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/msdhoni talks mental health