June 24, 2020

‘Changing all these world situations is not in our hands. We are not going to stop all these things. But what is in our hands is the ability to find joy and peace right here and now… We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel as free as birds’.

-Sri Swami Satchidananda

I don’t mind admitting that the past three months have been tough. I never imagined facing a viral pandemic and having to physically isolate or distance myself from friends and family. Facing uncertainty, financial problems, loneliness and the competing demands of work and childcare has led to anxiety for so many of us.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear. We all experience anxiety visiting us at times, but it’s problematic when it feels like it’s moved in.

As a Pregnancy and Women’s Yoga Teacher (who is also heavily pregnant) I am aware that anxiety in pregnancy is really common and likely to be exacerbated by COVID-19 measures. Often women feel guilty about experiencing anxiety and then worry about the effect on their baby; which creates a vicious cycle. If this speaks to you please know that it’s very unlikely your baby will be affected by this anxiety. Know that you are not alone and that support is still available through your midwife or GP.

Whatever your maternity status or gender, if you are struggling with anxiety please know that it is not your fault, but you can do something to feel better. We are all unique and different things will work for different people.

When I feel anxious I use a personal affirmation or mantra. It’s a clear, positive statement often starting with ‘I am’. Here are a few examples:

  • · I am safe, relaxed and all is well
  • · I let go of control and expectations
  • · I am stronger than I know I am
  • · I am supported by the universe in every way

It is usually said in the present tense, aloud or in the mind. Repeat your affirmation with confidence and conviction, at least 3 times. It may be written down as a visual reminder. Having an affirmation can be a powerful tool, providing a point of focus, creating a positive mindset and even bringing about a desired outcome.

‘You need not go to a particular place nor have a particular time for it. It is not somewhere outside you, but always within. Wherever you are, your mantra is with you’.

-Sri Swami Satchidananda

Having a simple breathing practice ready can be helpful for some. Pranayama roughly translates as ‘control of the flow of life force’ or breath. The mind and body are intricately connected. By controlling the breath though breathing practices, we can have a direct impact on the body and the quality of the mind. To understand how, we must first look at the nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system is a physiological network which controls the functioning of the internal organs, and does not require constant conscious input to operate (for example the heart, liver and kidneys). Anatomically the autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches; the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

The parasympathetic nervous system controls resting activities, slowing the heart rate and digesting food (rest and digest).

In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system regulates active functions, including responding to emergency situations or physical exercise. When this system is activated, the heart rate increases and blood is directed away from the digestive organs and toward the limbs, readying the body for physical activity.

Breathing is partly under voluntary control, but it is also regulated by the autonomic nervous system (Rama, Ballentine & Hymes). Or put another way, although breathing is mainly an unconscious process, conscious control of it may be taken at any time (Satyananda Saraswati). The breath becomes the bridge between the physical body and the quality of the mind. We can utilise the breath to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The breath can send the body into ‘rest and digest’ mode and relieve any sense of panic or anxiety in the mind. Maybe try the following practice of Golden Thread pranayama:

  • Become aware of your natural rhythm of breath, without changing anything.
  • Breathing in through the nostrils, breathe out through slightly parted lips and teeth, as if you were about to whistle a tune.
  • As you exhale, imagine a fine golden thread spinning out from in between the lips in front of you.
  • If you are struggling to exhale, simply widen the gap between the lips for an easy breath.
  • Allow the end of the golden thread to carry you further and further away with each exhalation.

We will also be providing many other tips and tools, including meditation, mantra and pranayama to support our physical, mental and emotional health during our Stress and Anxiety Support Series at Heather Yoga. Our last workshop is this Saturday 27th June at 5pm-7pm. For more information please click here.

Author: Lauren Robson is a regular teacher for Heather Yoga and will return to her classes after her maternity leave from July 2021