It’s a new year and many of us are looking for new ways to revive our lives, make the best of where we are in this crazy world, and bring some balance back into focus. There is a barrage of sensational news stories pour out of our televisions, newspapers, magazines, and computers these days. All of which truly have the ability to hypnotize our minds into feedback loops that produce anxiety in our thought flows. This is why I truly believe, as a psychologist, that we need to gain more comfort with the word anxiety. It’s a term we need to be familiar with and knowledgeable of so that we can develop the skills to recognize it when we see it. Once we can recognize it in our lives, we will be able to apply solutions to our actions and thoughts to lead us to meaningful changes in our outcomes.
The most common mental illnesses in the U.S. are anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, phobias, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As time has unraveled, we have experienced monumental moments in the past year with COVID-19 and political frameworks around the world being openly challenged. Keeping ourselves in balance is no longer a choice, it is a necessity for our mental health as we continue to move forward with life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study in June 2020 which found 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use. If you are like me, you can think of a few people close to you (maybe even yourself) who can fall into that statistic. I can recall on conference calls and in personal chats with my friends, jokes were shared about how day drinking was becoming normal during 2020.
There are a simple set of solutions that can manage anxiety and stress without medication, costing little to no money, and accessible in your home: yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. These three contemplative practices have the power to transform how you work with anxiety, stress, and other depleting mental health issues. What you will experience over time is pure magic in relation to your resilience, adaption, and transforming powers when working with anxiety! There is a secret gift that lies within each human that is unlocked when yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are engaged. This might look like doing yoga once a week, meditating for 20 minutes every day (eyes open or closed, with or without music), and being mindful throughout your day with intention. A fermentation of magic begins to brew in your inner being and the I AM begins to present itself in silent majesty in your life.
The ability to stay calm and in balance with your emotions, thoughts, and motivations are one of the most immediate superpowers uncovered when the compellation of modalities is practiced. Personal habits and behaviors are looked at from a new vantage point, and sometimes for the first time you can see things in a new way—giving birth to new paths you can take within yourself. If this sounds amazing, I encourage you to roll your mat out today and get moving and breathing, because the synchronization between those three mechanisms—body, mind, and breath—are the keys to unlocking the superpowers of your Soul.
The practice of focusing your attention on your breath will show you that you can clear your mind of thoughts easily with practice. Allowing this space gives rise to feelings and emotions, which unlock doors to new perspectives that can help you heal and/or move you into position to seek your next opportunity of growth and wisdom. Yoga will not only stretch your muscles, but oxygenate your body, giving rise to the ability to shift mindsets more easily. As you practice moving your body in rhythm with your breath you will be engaging in mindfulness. At the end of your yoga practice, when you lie in savasana, you are given a divine invitation to lie in meditation for as long as you want. This is an example of how easy it can be to incorporate all three modalities in as little as 30 minutes a day.
In the past 20 years yoga, mindfulness, and meditation research has shown that rooting our attention onto long, calm, restorative breaths of fresh air indeed do unlock the power to increase the well-being of both physical and mental health in our lives. Research has opened the dialogue to helping us labeling what happens in our minds when we take the restorative plunge into these practices.
The long, calm, restorative breathes lead the way inward. We teach ourselves to distract our mind with our breath so we can refocus the center of our awareness and choose how to interact with the present moment. These steps happen without effort but are worth mentioning so we all become more aware of how we are disarming anxiety in our body and mind. Decentering and emotional regulation are two processes your mind engages in when you bring yoga, mindfulness, and meditation into practice.
Decentered. Decentering is the processes your mind engages when it steps outside of one’s own thoughts to find a more objective and non-judgmental stance towards the Self. Decentering is the magic that happens when an individual shifts their thoughts into the present moment. This means that you’re no longer thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch, and you might be instead listening to the hum of the air conditioning, the birds chirping outside, or the individuals talking on the phone down the hallway. Many of us have embraced mindfulness over the past few years and have grown our ability to bring ourselves into the present moment, which means you have been engaging in the act of decentering over and over. This is the act of shifting our focus from autopilot to awareness.
Emotional Regulation. Emotional regulation means is there is a process where emotions are regulating, and then they can be regulated. This is one of the most valuable skills that we gain. When emotional regulation is cultivated through yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, we learn to build a vantage point within our minds. This platform stands as a podium that you view your life from at a 10,000-foot view. Emotional regulation means that you are standing on the platform looking down at the emotions as they ripple through your body, and you are discerning in that moment how you will react. This is not a normal thing for us. We are a reactionary species. Our reptilian brain wired us to be reactionary, so we must practice standing on our platform making decisions how we will react. We will miss the opportunity tot regulate our emotions 99 times, but on the 100th, you finally stop and make a conscious decision how you will react. And as flex this muscle, you will shorten the time it takes for you to regulate your emotions more and more in your life.
As 2021 unravels the red carpet for us, we still find ourselves quarantining at home for the safety of our communities and our families. I encourage you to think about what it is that you might be creating for yourself when you devote a few minutes or moments out of the day to the practices of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. As a yoga researcher, I encourage you to not aim for perfection, rather aim for what you most need. This might mean rolling out a yoga mat and stretching your body in the direction that feels best for you on that particular day, not jumping in your car to race to the 11:00 am class with your mask and mat in hand. You might choose to lay in child’s pose, or simply work on stretching your legs 10 minutes before bed or after you’re in the shower in the morning. Whatever type of yoga that you most need in that moment, take and feel good about it.
Meditation can be a hard practice to people to adopt. I commonly have people ask me what the best way is to get started. I suggest listening to calming music without words to help transform your mind into the various levels of consciousness that interact with linking your conscious and unconscious minds together. Just allow yourself to relax into the music, its that simple. Meditation is a practice, and the practice is constantly allowing your thoughts to leave the space where you are creating silence. I have been meditating for over 12 years and I still can have days I sit down to and cannot stop thoughts from running circles around my head. Enjoy the practice. One way I personally enjoy meditating is to focus on my breath entering and leaving my nose, with long slow inhales and exhales. This simple form of meditation has led millions of mediators over the years of history through passages stored deep within that lead to Shangri-La.
Mindfulness can be practiced in many moments throughout your day. It’s the practice of not thinking about what will happen in the future or worrying or assessing what happened in the past. Rather non-judgingly embrace with full awareness to where you are in that exact moment of time. Sometimes mindfulness is experienced as fleeting, but again I remind you that this is a practice for us to enjoy throughout your day when you visit it, rather than a location that we live in all day long.
Anxiety is something that we all experience. Some of us have learned how to access our self-care tools, have learned to ask for professional help when it’s too hard to manage, or are possibly reading this article to learn how to help. Stay strong and know that you can overcome the anxiety. There are many tools to use. The one I want to leave with you in these closing words is—your breath. Breathe in peace, light, and blissful radiance through your nose. Breathe out all that no longer serves you out through our month. You are loved, you are strong, you are miraculous.
Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1external icon