Scared Shitless? 3 Ways Yoga Can Help
Of course we are freaked out! We fear war, natural disasters, rising prices, losing a loved one, and getting old among other things. Fueling the phelthora of uncertainties that come with being a human, we are exposed to an all time high number of graphic images, videos and headlines popping up on our computer. As a result, all of us has fear coursing through our bodies right now. Saying, we don’t feel it, is even more dangerous because that which we don’t feel and acknowledge we can’t heal. We all have fear and it can derail our health and happiness in many ways. But, Yoga Can Help.
Most people know that major traumatic life events impact your health, but did you know that chronic low-grade fearful states arising in your daily life are the real killer? (1) Reading a disturbing headline or upsetting text, or having a near miss on the freeway triggers a cascade of reactions in your body that slowly chip away at your health. Unconscious responses such gripping in your gut, increased heart rate and shallow breathing adversely impact your health, if left unattended. Eventually they lead to more chronic conditions that contribute to even more serious health issues.
The top 3 yoga tools at directly help the fear response are the breath, asana (postures) and mudra (hand gestures). Each one offers you a direct way to address the daily build up of fear in your body and protect your long term health.
Let’s start with the breath because if offers immediate results and prepares you for the second two tools. Breathing is the most powerful detoxing process in your body, however, the fear response causes the breath to shorten making it much less effective. Under chronic stress, shallow breathing becomes the new normal and fewer toxins are removed from the body as a result. This fearless breath technique boosts the detoxing process and resets your breathing.
This is a variation of Simhasana or Lion’s Breath. Begin by taking a few long and slow deep breaths. Focus on the center of the brow, called the third eye in yoga, where insight and wisdom reside. Close your eyes and inhale deeply, fully expanding the lungs. Pause 1-2 seconds, open your eyes wide, and look up towards your third eye. Quickly draw your tongue out towards your chin as you exhale. Near the end of your exhale engage the lower abdominal muscles to push residual stagnant air out of the lungs. Then close your eyes again and take three recovery breaths. Repeat this cycle 5-8 times and let the fearless roar come out!
This breath technique has prepared the body to now take action and paved the way for asana. Here are my top 3 yoga postures to help you face fear with strength and power.
TOP 3 FEAR-BUSTING ASANA
Warrior 2— Take a wide open-stance with a fierce and open heart. Back foot parallel to the back edge of mat, front foot in line with long edge of mat. Front leg in a 90 degree angle, back leg is razor straight. Arms in a T-position. Gaze with focus and clarity at the horizon past your front arm. Hold the pose as long as you can with good alignment and steady breathing.
Fierce Pose— When your body feels like giving up, turn up the heat with this firecracker of a pose. Feet together, knees bent, sit the buttocks back and lift the chest and arms up. Let the legs burn as they hold you in the shape of this air chair. Your legs are powerful pillars that hold you up when the going gets tough.
Wide-legged Forward Fold— When your worn down by fear, turn things upside down for the perfect way to calm the mind and refresh your perspective. Take a wide stance, place your feet parallel, charge up your legs and fold forward from the hips. Lift your lower abdomen and let gravity lengthen your neck and back. Feel blood flowing to upper body and head. After 10 breaths rise up triumphantly with your inhale.
After you have reset your breath and moved your body you are better prepared to sit with comfort and focus. Now we move to more subtle energy practice of mudras or sacred hand gestures.
Mudras contain energy that awaken certain qualities or states of consciousness. From a psychological perspective, mudras are said to work with the mind by reframing your thinking. So it was with the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz who learned how to reframe his thinking to believe the courage he needed to face his fears was there all along. In yoga you don’t need a yellow brick road to guide you. Instead, use a mudra with intention and focus to help rewire your brain.
Shiva-Shakti Mudra— Place your left hand palm up in your lap, take your right hand in a fist with your thumb up pointing upward. This powerful mudra combines the solar energy in the right fist (masculine, Shiva) with the lunar energy in the left palm (feminine, Shakti) and builds inner strength to take balanced action in your life. Close your eyes, and take 10 full diaphragmatic breaths. Feel the mudra giving the thumbs up to your fearless heart.
It’s dicy out there folks! Use these 3 time tested yoga tools to help you feel more at ease when fear is present. Don’t take my word for it — do this 15-20 minute practice everyday for one week and see for yourself. Meet fear with yoga for better long term health.
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Sienna Smith E-RYT 500, Owner Yoga Mountain Studio, Certified Yoga Teacher & Yoga Therapist