One of the most prominent topics currently is anxiety, and in certain circles, Yoga has supposedly been presented as a panacea for its solution.
In these media, sequences of Yoga postures (Asana), gaudy breaths, mantras and “other scenes” are generously served as the magical solution to anxiety.
I propose that we try to understand where reality ends and this hallucinatory fantasy of Yoga for anxiety begins.
Yoga for Anxiety?
We have to part waters, distinguishing between:
1 — Those who wish to obtain information on a specific subject, with the aim of reflecting on the different existing currents of opinion.
2 — Of the usual naïve “New Age”, neo-Vedanta, who now fervently embrace the anti-vaccination movement and are puppets of agendas with obscure objectives.
With the naïve “New Age”, any rational and scientific approach is useless. They live in a very peculiar world of doctrinal beliefs, which deprive them of any trace of sense and objectivity that may eventually exist between their ears.
Therefore, this opinion article is aimed at the former, with whom it is possible to dialogue, even when we have different points of view.
But before reflecting on Yoga and its action on the psycho-mental content of human beings, perhaps it is not inconsequential to scrutinize the word anxiety and in what context it is applied.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a general term used for various disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry.
Anxiety is a reaction that almost all of us have experienced in the face of some day-to-day situations, such as: public speaking, looking forward to important dates, job interviews, on the eve of tests, health exams, among others.
Deep down, it is a natural psychophysiological reaction to factors that make our mental program enter non-pathological stress levels, for which we have emotional and mental skills to manage.
However, some people experience this reaction much more frequently and intensely, which can be considered pathological and compromise health and emotional balance.
In these situations, fear and eventually panic attacks start to take over life.
In this case, it is important to seek the help of professionals in the health area who are competent to monitor these cases (psychologists, psychiatrists).
Unfortunately, nowadays, there is still some social stigma for those who seek help in the area of health and mental balance, as if everything could be solved with a pat on the back, a sofa talk, some Pranáyámas, some Yoga Asana sequences and some Mantras. All served in the fashion metric: “The twenty-one days!”
In fact, it is important to accept that consultation with health professionals is the right step when we no longer have the resources to manage these situations.
Signs of anxiety
Pay attention to these signs:
- See potential danger signs in everything
- Deregulated appetite
- Constant sleep changes
- Muscle tension
- Fear of public speaking
- Be always worried and apprehensive about everything.
- Be always on the verge of a nervous breakdown
- Irrational fears
- Constant restlessness
- Physical symptoms that restrict well-being
- Obsessive thoughts
- Digestive problems
If most of these symptoms are part of your daily life, it is time to consider quickly seeking help from a professional (psychologist, psychiatrist).
Run away from the “coaches” that swarm on the Internet with dubious weekend courses to treat your mental health.
In general, a correct therapeutic approach, well-conducted physical activity, regular contact with nature, re-establishing resting rhythms, healthy and balanced food, are the best recipe for acquiring skills to deal with anxiety.
How does the practice of Yoga enter into this story?
We are now prepared to reflect on Yoga and its action on the psychophysiological content of the human being.
First, it is necessary to make it clear that Yoga is not a therapy, nor has its techniques ever intended to create a prescription to solve any pathology.
The purpose of Yoga is to make practical techniques available to human beings to guide them on their journey and spiritual discovery.
Using the classic text Yoga Sutra, Patañjali, its writer, clearly defines what Yoga is and what path to follow;
Chapter 1. Verse 2
Yoga is the state in which identification with mental activity ceases.#1
It is clear that Patañjali does not indicate that the state of Yoga is the total suppression of mental activity, but rather the disidentification of the observer’s consciousness (Drastuh) with the natural activity of the mind (which is a product of the Gunas (1) of Prakriti (2 )).
In the following verse, Patañjali refers to the objective consequence of the previously clarified state of Yoga:
Chapter 1 Verse 3
Then the beholder (Drastuh) rests in his own essence.#2
That is to say, it enters the state of Kaivalya. In this verse, the term Avasthãnam indicates the return to the original state.
Deep down, translating this into more familiar terms, the return to the original state is to reach Samadhi.
In verse 4 Patañjali is clear as to what takes place outside the state of Yoga:
Chapter 1 Verse 4
Otherwise, the observer (Drastuh) assumes the form of mental processes. #3
That, as already mentioned, all the production of mental activity is a consequence of the action of the Gunas of Prakriti.
In this way, the Drasthu (observer) becomes involved and confused with the production of mental activity.
In the next verse, Patañjali enumerates the mental modifications:
Chapter 1 Verse 5
The mental modifications are five, and they can be painful or not.#4
It should be noted that mental changes are the direct consequence of the relationship of human beings with themselves, with other beings, with the cultural, social, family, and professional environment in which they are inserted.
It is how the human being interprets and processes this interaction that makes it painful or not, and what can be a natural “stress” in the process of living, can slide into the previously mentioned disruptive anxiety states.
In verse 6 are explained the five mental modifications that can be painful or not:
Chapter 1 Verse 6
Right knowledge, misinterpretation, imagination, sleep, and memory. #5
In the next few verses, Patañjali discusses the characteristics and consequences of the five modifications of the mind.
I draw particular attention to memory (Smritayah) which is divided into two types: conscious and unconscious.
Conscious memory involves remembering experiences.
Unconscious memory is the dream, a state where consciousness is absent. This memory also has two parts: an imaginary one and a real one.
We could now discuss memories of imaginary and real sleep. But we would get away from the initial theme.
I just leave a consideration.
“Nothing comes from nothing, everything is contained in its cause”
We cannot extract cheese or butter from grapes, just as oil does not appear from milk.
It may seem strange, but in reality we are nothing more than simple conscious and unconscious memories.
Without memory, we cease to exist as a Being, we are a cluster of physiological functions.
Therefore, we can presume that any state of anxiety, pathological or not, has its root in the way we live our conscious and unconscious memories.
And, surely, living these memories leaves a record in our body, in the conscious and unconscious physicality and organicity.
Example: When arriving at the beach, we can have the pleasant sensation of swimming and feel the freedom in the water, or on the contrary. If we previously had a traumatic experience with the water, the simple approach to the beach can provoke a state of anxiety with physiological and emotional consequences that leave us paralysed.
Yoga does not separate body, mind, and spirit. They are part of the same package.
In the second chapter, Patañjali presents the practical techniques to lead the practitioner in his process towards the aforementioned state of Yoga.
The integration of physicality and organicity in consciousness, and its disidentification with the production of mental activity, are part of Yoga’s proposal.
I have no doubt that the practice of Yoga helps to improve our physical, mental and emotional balance. And, consequently, to understand and manage anxiety states with another look.
The practice of Yoga is not aseptic and innocuous, it produces physical, emotional and mental effects.
“Starting to practice Yoga with pathological symptoms of anxiety without the therapeutic follow-up of a psychologist or psychiatrist is completely inadvisable”.
As for “stress”
and anxieties caused by our lifestyle, habits and routines, the practice of Yoga is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for our body, mind, and emotions.
Consult a health professional if your anxiety does not allow you to live stress-free. Later, if that’s your way, try to start the practice of Yoga.
“If you feel life fervently and feel the normal stresses of being alive, ditch the stories and stretch out the Sticky-Mat. Start practising!”
#1- Chapter 1. Verse 2 “Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah”
Yoga is the state in which identification with mental activity ceases.
#2- Cap 1 Vers 3 “Tadã Drastuh sva-rupe avasthãnam”
Then the observer (Drasthu) rests in his own essence.
#3- Cap 1 Vers 4 “Vrtti-Sãrupyam- Itaratra”
Otherwise, the observer (Drasthu) assumes the form of mental processes.
#4- Cap 1 Vers 5 “Vrttayah Pañcatayyah Klistã Aklistãh”
Mental changes are five, and they can be painful or not.
#5- Cap 1 Vers 6 “Pramãna-Viparyaya-Vikalpa-Nidrã-Smritayah”
Right knowledge, misinterpretation, imagination, sleep, and memory.
(1) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guṇa
(2) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prakṛti