Dealing with Anxiety and Challenge through Yoga
If you want a better way for when things get hard, with anxiety and challenge, stress and pain, wherever you are it needs to begin here. Yoga can help.
A friend of mine asked some good questions about guiding people who are experiencing pain and difficulty. In this case she was talking about pain in down dogs and high lunges. In more cases, we’re talking about pain and difficulty, trauma and challenge, across pretty much all of life.
The yoga poses are one place where we might see these things. What’s hard, what hurts, what helps. How do I handle things like this in my life. And maybe the yoga, tai chi or whatever we practice can become a place to work on it. Noticing what we’ve got is is how we begin working with what we’ve got.
Change happens in what you practice where things are easy
From noticing where you are, always there’s something simple you can practice, to make the changes you want to make. It will change what you find in your yoga. It will also change what you find in your life.
When there is some difficulty, always begin where you’re comfortable. You don’t learn to climb mountains by dropping yourself out of a helicopter at 7,000m onto a vertical ice wall with a couple of axes. The best you could do here is survive, and you’ll do it by scratching and clawing using whatever strategies and abilities you already have. Which are likely the same ones that got you into this predicament in the first place.
Change happens very far from here. It happens in what you practice when things are simple, easy, and ordinary. The things you do all the time, without much need to think about whether you’re doing them in the best possible way. Because you’re not on a vertical ice wall. Well, now it’s time to think a little different.
Nothing hurts, heals, or prospers in isolation
If you want a better way when you find yourself 7,000m up on that vertical ice wall, one way or the other, it needs to begin right now. Because there’s nothing that hurts, heals, or prospers in isolation of space or time. Where you are is always created by how you got there, every step of the way. And it’s created by everything in that picture, your whole life. Everything counts, especially all those moments you think don’t count. Count those double.
As a foundation, here are three steps you can follow to get ready, for pretty much anything.
1) Begin where you’re comfortable. This can be from sitting or standing, on hands and knees or lying down. Roll gently around from here to see that your whole body is easily movable.
2) Create a good base to support you. A good base means a position for your hands, feet, whatever connects with the ground, that supports where you are and where you want to go, so you don’t need to use extra strength to be where you are or go where you’re going.
3) Breathe deep, and create a connection between your body and breath, so your breath moves you.
Now, you can begin. Whatever the challenge, pick a place to be nearby that is comfortable. If the challenge is down dog, begin on hands and knees and follow this process above. If the challenge is some balancing pose, like high lunge, begin standing easily or from hands and knees, both work fine.
If the challenge is approaching people at work that create a 7,000m wall of anxiety, also begin here. Pick something simple, something in yoga, tai chi or qigong, that looks a bit like that wall. Back away a little, and practice from simple. The habits and abilities you create in your body here are the habits and abilities you’ll have in your body everywhere.
From this place, move from your center. When you want an arm or leg to go somewhere, move your whole body as a whole body, not as a collection of disconnected parts that need individual instruction and fixing. This never goes well. Instead, move what needs moving from your center, so it moves first because your whole body is movable, and then because your whole body is connected as a whole body, through your center.
Be movable, connect, and create your base
We’ll try this down dog challenge as an example, but this goes for pretty much anything at all. If a challenge is coming your way, you want to be movable, not rigid and immobilized. You want a connection between your body and breath, and between your center and everything you’ve got. So whatever you do, you do it as one whole you, not a collection of disconnected parts. And you want a good base to support you, so all this is possible. These things are simple, but not easy. So let’s begin with down dog.
From hands and knees, create a nice wide stable base – hands and knees at least as wide as hips and shoulders, probably wider. And the distance from hands back to knees not so long. Now roll from your center, leaning gently to the right, opening your belly a bit to the left, so your left hand might slide a bit toward the right, and your left knee might unweight a bit, maybe lifting and hanging an inch from the ground. Not because you’ve tried to move your hand or your knee, but because you’ve moved your center, and your arms and legs happen to be connected to your center.
Repeat on each side a few times, gradually increasing the size of these movements until you’re in a very gently down dog, soft in your elbows and knees. Here, soft can mean bendable, not locked tight. So for one person you might see a deeper bend in knees sometimes, for another it might look more straight, but without energy invested in locking anything straight. Soft, movable.
You can follow the same process from a low lunge with back knee down, moving into a high lunge. Or from standing, sliding a foot back, coming into a soft and movable lunge position.
Pain often happens where people are carrying too much tension in their bodies, investing too much strength and concern in “getting it right” – performing the right pose, looking the correct way, copying what someone else has done. Which is very different from creating out of your own center, your own being. We might all look somewhat the same, we’re all in these human bodies. But, how we each get where we’re going is what matters most.
The reality of where you get is created by the reality of where you are now
It can be with stress, tension, and pain, one disconnected isolated part at a time. Or it can be with ease, connection, and harmony. The places we end up might look kind of the same. But the reality couldn’t be more different.
The most important thing in your position as a leader in all this, is that you practice this way yourself. Even if something is easy for you, even if you can just do it any way at all, always take these simplest things, simplest movements and moments, and use them to practice how you soften, allow yourself to be moved, and then move your whole self as a whole self, in harmony. This takes a lot of practice, and it needs to begin where things are easy for you, to have it also where things are challenging.
If you teach other people only from what you have studied, or what you think might be right for them, this is more difficult. It doesn’t tend to work very well. It’s better to teach simply what you have done, and what you always do for yourself every day. And the more your practice in your own body and life in a wider variety of situations and settings over time, the more those people you lead become not so different from you, and your own experience. It’s a better place for you to be. It’s also a better place for you to lead.
If you’d like to keep going here, we have online and in-person yoga trainings all around the world.