How Yin Yoga & Breathing Can Help with Anxiety
Is anxiety taking over your world every now and then?
Do you feel overwhelmed easily with an agitated mind?
Do you worry about your future, the current situation, pressure from social media, fear of failure, fear to lose your job, fear of not being good enough, not being loved?
You are not alone. During these unprecedented times of the pandemic, uncertainty has become the new norm.
In the last 6 months I myself had two anxiety attacks that ten or even five years ago would have caused a total emotional breakdown that could have easily lasted over a few days. I am not saying I am not experiencing anxiety any longer as it won’t disappear, however, we can learn techniques and tools that help us to get back control over our life and stay calm.
I still notice anxiety, yet it doesn’t last for long. Why not? Because over the last years through attending courses, personal growth trainings, becoming a yoga teacher, counselling, reading and researching the topic I created a collection of tools that work for me. One of them is simply breathing: I breathe, I breathe deeply, I connect to my breath and shift my focus from the mind to the breath, allowing my mind and the racing thoughts to rest, relax. Staying focussed on the breath and creating a pattern of equal in- and exhalations – also called coherent breathing – helps my mind slow down, become quiet and gives me space to relax.
Coherent breathing is the foundation of both, my personal yin yoga practice as well as my yin yoga teaching.
Now you might ask, how exactly do I practice coherent breathing and what is yin yoga?
Let me start with the latter: yin yoga.
Yin yoga is a complementary practice to the more dynamic activities, whether that is a dynamic yoga practice, such as vinyasa flow, power yoga, ashtanga yoga or running, HIIT or simply a hectic lifestyle which all have one thing in common - they are of YANG qualities: heating, moving, active, strengthening, pushing, pulling, doing.
Therefore, YIN qualities are the opposite: cooling, slowing down, static, passive, soft, receiving, being. How do we practice yin yoga so that it contains all these qualities? We begin by holding poses passively for longer periods of time (3 to 5 minutes), we become still and passive. By doing so, we place gentle stress (anatomical term for stretch) on the deeper connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments as well as the fascia which connects the whole body like a network. Through these longer holds we release physical and muscular tension and strengthen our connective tissues as well as our immune system. By slowing down, moving gently, observing our breath, our emotions and the sensations in the body, we become mindful and reach a meditative state.
By being more passive we slow down, we bring the awareness to the area we are working on and this is where we start breathing deeply, yet gently into the body, into the tissues. The breath has a healing and nurturing quality and that’s how we use the breath in a yin practice. Often though when we slow down and become still, there is room for the mind to get busy, to create noise. This noise can be similar to being anxious, overthinking things, especially in moments of stillness and that’s where coherent breathing finds its purpose.
I was practicing and teaching coherent breathing long before I even knew there was a name to it and research behind it. I came across the term coherent breathing by two physicians, Dr. Richard P. Brown and Dr. Patricia L. Gerbarg who wrote a book in which they write and I quote: “Studies are revealing that by changing the patterns of breathing it is possible to restore balance to stress response systems, calm an agitated mind, relieve symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), improve physical health and endurance, elevate performance, and enhance relationships.”
To explain in simple words how coherent breathing works, all you need is an equal in- and exhalation. You can be lying down or sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and start breathing slowly in and out through the nose, just regular breaths to start with without trying to control. Let your body and mind to relax and soften. Then start to silently count your inhalation to three and your exhalation to three too, do that until you are ready to breathe up to 4 on both, your in- and exhalation and continue breathing on that count. Make sure you feel comfortable and are not pushing the breath. With practice your breath will slow down more and more, maybe to the count of 5 or 6, so that you might reach five to six breaths per minute. This shall not be forced rather practiced slowly and with great patience.
HOW TO PRACTICE YIN YOGA & COHERENT BREATHING TOGETHER
If we now combine the two we have a very relaxing, calming practice not only on a physical level through the yin yoga poses but also on an emotional, energetic and mental level which is enhanced through coherent breathing. Another great advantage of the breathing is that by counting the breath during your yin practice you stay present, connected with breath and practice.
Doesn’t that sound incredibly soothing? Why not trying it out next time you feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or simply need some relaxation and peace of mind? Should you not have time for a yin practice, you might find 10 minutes to practice coherent breathing which alone is used to calm anxiety, relieve stress. Either way, combined or as stand-alone practice you are in for a good treat to help your agitated mind to relax and calm.