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Pranayama for stress and anxiety.
In Yoga Therapy we can be of great benefit to the most commonly occurring mental disorders worldwide including amongst them general anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, acute stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which affect our unique natures in different ways and tests all of our abilities to cope and remain in control when we are feeling far from it in any situation.
Pranayama is a tool to combat stress and anxiety. The nature of the mind (psychological), environmental, genetic and developmental factors contribute to anxiety disorders. Trauma and stress are key players in triggering our anxiety symptoms in our nervous system which can be tamed by the breath. When we learn to slow breathe in a controlled or structured way, in this practice of breath work we develop a quieter, calmer, controlled and peaceful inner world. This can be felt immediately from the practice of pranayama. It instantly lowers heart rate and produces a feeling of calm when we learn to bring the breath under our own control and in turn we control the mind. Giving us resilience to stress. Practiced regularly it creates change on a cellular level. Change which creates balance in our endocrine system. Our calm brain stays “on” and our stress brain is far less ”reactive”. This is due to our higher brain in which our positive hormones are released becoming more active which in turn dials down our lower brain where stress and anxiety are activated. Our circadian rhythms begin realigning and becoming balanced. Sleep, restlessness, low mood and uncertainty are all greatly reduced. Hormonal secretions and activity are balanced and inflammation and ageing of cells reduces also. The practice of pranayama when done everyday is proven to last 24hrs ….not just a few hours after the practice. Numerous studies have shown that pranayama has rapid normalizing effects on the auto-nomic nervous system and much more so than held yoga postures or meditation. It is invaluable to those who embrace its beauty and its strength.
To talk about breathing and its benefits we have to first understand how anxiety and panic attacks affect our breath. In sufferers with Anxiety the breath is usually more shallow and in some instances we find the sufferer literally gasping to hold onto the breath in a stressful situation as seen in panic disorder. In Ayurveda it is recognized as a derangement of the Vatta Dosha and for the suffer their kidneys and heart will be working much harder than that of a non-anxious individual. The lower brain centres will be in a continual heightened state of arousal affecting other areas in the body affecting sleep, hormones, immunity and relationships.
Pranayama as it is called in Yoga or breath-work in general has a direct impact on giving the sufferer the ability to take control of their breath. So lets look at the scientific facts.
There is so much more I could say on other aspects of breathing in our life. So much more. For now my share is on the results anxiety and stress have on our breath and the ability to put things into reverse.
What is paramount in anxiety is “belly breathing” with a gradual lengthening of the exhalation part of the practice in order to reduce arousal by shifting our poor overworked sympathetic NS to parasympathetic NS activity. In Panic disorder “diaphragmatic breathing” is invaluable as it takes us away from the intensity experienced in hyperventilation and gives us back a sense of control. The key is in doing things slowly and gradually. To begin mixed with a flowing vinyasa practice it can introduce breath and movement taking the individual into a place where they are focused and not over obsessing but not too calm too quickly that they panic due to it being too extreme a change. Individuals in a seated position for breath work may need to keep their eyes open in order to not feel out of control, until trust is established that the practice is safe for them. It is also good in the beginning for instruction to be continual so that there is no chance of the mind wandering to more negative thought patterns again. We slowly increase the students capacity for stillness. This is the key.
I hope I have got you wanting to make a change. One that is simple to do and free to do at your leisure. Once you know how in the hands of a breath expert is it not a wonder why more people are not using this tool as part of their life. It is just about the most wonderful life changing practice I know. My prescription is to surrender and embrace its power. Connect to the belly and breathe.
By Siobhan Fitzgerald @ Pranaforlife.com
Thanks to Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Lorenzo Cohen, Timothy McCall and Dr Shirley Telles “The Priciples and Practice of Yoga in Health Care” ( Sage 2nd Edition 2017)