At the end of this article, there is a guided practice of the breathing technique, Nadi Shodhana. This is a pranayama that soothes an overactive nervous system.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” -Kierkegaard
This week, I asked students if they had ever experienced the physical feeling of anxiety. And, they all laughed at me. Of course! They experience it as a gripping or funny feeling in the chest, belly, upper back and even jaw. The heart beats faster. There is a feeling of heat. Generally it is considered to be an unpleasant feeling, associated with unpleasant events.
But, this quote opened my eyes to the idea that anxiety isn’t always associated with negative events. Even situations we perceive as positive can trigger that grippy, unpleasant feeling, especially situations that remove old boundaries and barriers.
If a creature that has spent it’s life in a confined area suddenly finds an open door, do they run out, kicking their heels in the thrill of freedom? Chances are, they proceed cautiously, looking around carefully, and feel the nervous feeling that accompanies the unknown. Why should we react differently to a freeing event?
In addition, the sensations of anxiety are often physically similar to euphoria. When I imagine the feeling of excitement and joy in a newfound freedom, I imagine it accompanied by a faster beat of the heart, heat, and that tickle in the belly or surge of energy in the chest.
Anxiety can certainly signal that something needs attention. But, it can also signal that something wonderful is about to happen. A boundary has been removed, and we are about to begin the, often uncomfortable, job of growing larger and more wonderfully into our new space.
Still, anxiety must be managed. If unexamined and unchecked, it can lead to long-term physical issues. Yoga has many tools for soothing the nervous system.
Breathing techniques, or pranayama, is one of the tools. A very simple technique is to simply notice your breathing, making the inhales and exhales a little deeper and even in length, and then make the exhale a little longer. You can do this with a count: inhale for the count of 4, exhale for the count of 6, for example. Or simply notice the great and lengthen the exhales for a few rounds, softening tight muscles and feeling a little heavier on each extended exhale.
Or, below is a pranayama that can help when anxiety is a regular occurrence in your life. This pranayama is called Nadi Shodhana. Practiced each day, 5-20 minutes at a time, it can bring a more healthy balance into an overactive nervous system. Even practicing it for a few minutes can quiet the mind, and you may find yourself adding a few minutes of meditation naturally after this breathwork.