Yoga to overcome
Overcoming fears and anxiety with Yoga
We get a lot of visitors to our website daily, for the usual reasons: timetable and pricing, workshops and retreats…but of all the reasons people come to our website, one of the most common google searches (apart from rice bubble cake, yes seriously!) that bring people here are the words “yoga to overcome fears, yoga postures for anxiety, yoga techniques to overcome the fear of public speaking”…
I did a blog post (included below) about overcoming the fear of public speaking when I first began teaching because I myself was one of the people googling how to overcome fears and anxieties – especially when it came to public speaking. And I guess lots of people were, and still are, looking to yoga to help them overcome their own obstacles. So I reached out to the yoga community and asked if teachers would like to share their tips and techniques they have learnt, so that when people land on our website they have information and yogic techniques they can apply to their lives to help overcome and push past their fears.
The amazing yogi’s below have shared their experience and knowledge in the hope that it may help someone out there, googling the words fear, anxiety, shyness, public speaking etc.
So now you have a space where we offer tips and techniques such as:
Asana. Breathe. Meditation. Visualisations. Mindfulness. Mantra. Singing….and so much more!
Breathe and Move through your feelings ~ Hannah Crerar
The first time I experienced a deep savasana – it was incredible. I was about 16 years old and it was a feeling I could only liken to having had a few drinks – inhibitions and self-consciousness completely dropped away. I walked out of that class feeling invincible. Years later and with a much more regular practice, I definitely believe yoga has helped me to build confidence and overcome fears. It’s not that I never feel fear or vulnerability but my relationship to those feelings is changing as I recognise they are temporary.
The best advice I have about getting rid of anxiety is to literally MOVE and BREATHE through the feelings. And that doesn’t have to be through yoga – it can be dancing, walking, running, swimming, even jumping up and down. When we use the body – incredible changes can happen mentally.
Inversions are my favourite poses to release tension (forward folds, downward dog and legs up the wall). As I exhale in these postures I let go as much as I can. I find core work is a great way to get me feeling powerful. The third chakra located near the navel is the centre of self-esteem. Anything from plank pose to sit ups – once my core is engaged, I notice my whole posture changes. My spine elongates and my shoulders draw back. The power of good posture is underrated. Test it out for yourself: walk as tall and as proud as you possibly can and try to pull a sad face – it just feels wrong ☺! As scared as you might think you are – take a big, deep breath, draw your shoulders back, smile – and you’re on the way to convincing the world and yourself that you own the show!
Hannah Crerar is a Wellington based Yoga teacher, she writes regularly for her own blog hannahyogaandsoul.com
Hannah recommends the below asanas to help breath and move through fear and anxiety:
Inversions: Forward Fold, Downward Facing Dog, Legs Up the Wall.
Core: Activate your Solar Plexus with Plank, Boat or Sit Ups!
Fear of public speaking ~ Tash Domonkos
Like most people around the world I have spent years trying to overcome the fear of using my voice – especially for public speaking. I remember reading somewhere once that humans are more fearful of public speaking than death!…which I guess is a good thing (but that’s a whole different blog!), but really – we shouldn’t fear either.
I use a mix of the below techniques before classes to warm up my voice or anytime I’m required to speak in front of a group to settle my nerves. So, you ready to overcome your fear of speaking up, speaking in public or just find your most beautiful voice? Read on yogi…
Roaring Lion is a key yoga pose that you can practice to help find your voice, and although public speaking is one of the most reported fears worldwide, sadly it doesn’t seem to be a popular posture to practice. Roaring Lion helps to develop a strong and beautiful voice while also giving you a mini face and neck lift, bonus! This could be a good exercise to practice with kids too as it is fun and a little bit silly!
Sit with your buttocks resting on your heels, knees spread wide apart, your palms on the floor in front of you, fingers facing inward. Inhale and open the mouth wide and extend the tongue out and down towards the chin. Have the eyes looking up towards the ceiling or gaze at your eyebrow centre (looks cross-eyed!). As you exhale, say “AHHHHHHH” from the throat. Repeat this 5 times.
Of course meditation is included in this list! Even people who don’t meditate will readily admit they know the amazing benefits even 10 minutes a day can have in your life. In particular chanting “Aum” (or “Om”) helps to bring peace and calmness to the body, mind and spirit while also helping you develop your voice.
Aum chanting Meditation:
Sit comfortably in a seated position, hands resting on your lap. Close the eyes and mouth, take a few breathes in and out and relax the body. When you are ready, inhale deeply through the nostrils, as you exhale open the mouth and chant out loud “A-u-m-m-m-m-m-m“. See if you can make the m-m-m-m-m-m longer than the A-u. Repeat this for 5 minutes. Once finished sit quietly for a few breaths and feel the vibrations of the chanting within and around you.
Pranayama (Life force and breath)
Pranayama is the vital life force within all of us and it uses the breath to balance this energy within your body. Pranayama breathing techniques have easily become one of my most favourite yoga exercises to practice because it helps to calm nerves and anxiety quickly. Practiced regularly, ten minutes of the right Pranayama and your voice will be strengthened and improved while leaving you feeling centred and calm.
Sit comfortably in a seated position, hands resting on your lap. Close the eyes and mouth, take a few breaths in and out and relax the body. When you are ready, inhale and bring the index fingers to your ears and gently plug them. As you begin to exhale, separate the teeth and make a humming sound similar to the sound of a bee. Once you have exhaled fully, replace your hands in your lap and repeat the process again. Repeat this 5 times.
Kirtan (Chanting or Singing)
If you are anything like me, singing is the last thing you want to do if you are naturally shy. My first experience with Kirtan had me wishing I was anywhere else when I realised it involved singing. Kirtan uses traditional indian instruments and a chant (usually in sanskrit) that is sung by the person playing the instrument. As the person plays and chants, the chant is repeated back by the participants. Kind of like a sing-a-long! Kirtan will often leave you feeling energised and is a great way to let go of stress and tension, while helping you to use your voice. To experience Kirtan, research yoga studios around you and find a session that you can go to, you don’t have to sing straight away just immerse yourself in the experience and see what happens…
Tash Domonkos is the founder and co-owner of Beginner Yogi Yoga Studio and BYOM.
Techniques to use before an event / speaking / performing ~ Brigid Costello
The amateur practices until he gets it right. The professional rehearses until he can’t go wrong
Working with your breath ~ Shirley McLeod
The breath, oh the breath!
My favourite breathing techniques:
Counting the breath
Come to a relaxed state, and count the number of breaths you take in one minute (one breath is counted as an inhale and exhale). That is your one minute number. The next time you are feeling stressed or anxious, take a moment, and take the number of breaths you counted in your minute.
Lengthening the breath
count the length of time it takes you for each inhale and exhale, and slowly work to increase the length of each. For example you might start out with each breath going for a count of three. The next time try to lengthen the breath to four counts, then five, then six.
Using the breath to encourage sleep
If you are having trouble sleeping, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Inhale deeply for the count of 4, hold the breath for 7 counts and exhale slowly for 8 counts.
Meditation: Consistency is Key ~ Lianne Brooks Hall
In my own life, I have noticed with a regular consistent practice that I am able to deal with the day to day challenges but also deal with the mental challenges of stories and beliefs that we identify as our personalities.
Meditation is the most simple of practices that requires nothing from you except to be still and focused. In the beginning that seems like a lot but with consistency and patience it becomes a beneficial daily habit. Meditating is like taking a shower for the mind, we can come away feeling refreshed, calm and centered.
In my own life, I have noticed with a regular consistent practice that I am able to deal with the day to day challenges but also deal with the mental challenges of stories and beliefs that we identify as our personalities. I have wrestled with shyness and low self esteem through my teenage years and early adult life. Meditation and Yoga has taught me to get out of my own way and shown me a practice that is empowering, encourages positivity, acceptance and nurtures self love.
Try Anapana Meditation!
Anapana meditation is one of the few meditations that can be used for a wide range of purposes. To establish mindfulness, concentration, body knowledge and insight.
- Sit upright comfortably, perhaps use cushions, use a wall or sit on a chair. Kneeling is also a good option for some people.
- Very simply bring awareness to the breath and the sensation of breath at the nostrils as you breath in and out. When the mind wanders (as in invariably does) bring the focus of the mind back to the sensation of breath at the nostrils again.
- Then repeat repeat repeat! Some people feel the temperature of breath, others may notice the slight tingling sensation of air passing in and out. It doesn’t matter what you feel the point is that you’re just noticing any sensation.
- To gain the most benefit of meditation consistency of effort is key. Starting with 5 mins and gradually increasing the length of time to 10, 15 to 20 or 30 mins. Anyone can do it and anywhere. Wear comfortable clothes and a space that you won’t be disturbed or distracted.
- Once you have set the groove of a regular practice it becomes a habit and the benefits help us unravel and reveal the deeper positive aspects of ourselves. Perhaps when the time is right we eventually see that the things that perhaps blocked or stopped us from being our true selves start to dissipate and no longer take our attention. Peace out!
Yoga to overcome shyness ~ Caroline Mastreani
Before discovering yoga I was quite a shy person. I was self-conscious and overly concerned about how I was perceived by others
I noticed after a couple years of yoga practice however that I was starting to feel more comfortable with myself and more at ease in situations that would have previously caused me to go red in the face with embarrassment. All the same, I will never forget the day that my good friend Katie asked me to start teaching yoga at the studio where I attended classes in Port Vila, Vanuatu. My first response was ‘no way, how could I lead a yoga class?’ No matter that I had been practicing yoga for a fair number of years. The idea of getting up in front of a group of people and guiding them, or that they would want me to lead them, was really hard for me to get my head around. With Katie’s gentle, yet persistent, encouragement I turned up one Saturday morning and led a full room of students through the Ashtanga primary series, a practice I had been doing for many years. We moved from pose to pose on the wave of the breath, stepping out of our heads and into our bodies. It was a moving meditation and it kept me grounded, unaware of the anxiety I had been feeling. Upon sitting up after Savasana, I saw a room full of smiles and I realised in that moment that my fear did not need to lead me. Instead, I could choose to be present, to be vulnerable and to face the fear head on…taking control rather than giving it up.
Pranayama – Breath Control
Yoga has given me a number of tools to tackle fear and anxiety. The first is a strong focus on the breath. When fear or anxiety seem to be taking hold, I stop and look to the breath. When I am worried, stressed or fearful, my breath tends to become quick, choppy, restricted and short. I may even feel that I can’t take a full breath.
One way I can change this is to focus on the exhalation, trying to lengthen it each time I exhale. In that way the inhalation will come more easily as well. Another technique I often use is two-to-one breathing, where I count the breath and make the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation. Inhale for three seconds, exhale for six. So, when I feel the fear, the absolute first thing I do is stop and catch my breath.
Try a simple Pranayama!
- Find a comfortable seat, close the eyes and take a moment to settle
- Breathing through the nostrils, inhale for the count of 3, filling up the belly like a balloon…hold briefly…and then exhale for the count of 6
- Begin with 5-8 rounds, slowly building as you get comfortable
- When you are finished, come back to the natural rhythm and flow of breath and open the eyes
The self-observation that comes with a regular yoga practice has meant that I am more mindful of my thoughts, my unconscious patterns and habits. During my practice I am aware of physical sensations; I am watching my breath; I am observing the movements of my mind; I am understanding how I react to discomfort. The quiet space that a yoga practice provides means we can begin to learn about ourselves in a way that our day-to- day life doesn’t always allow. For me this means that when fear starts to creep into my mental space, I am now more likely to be aware that it’s happening, and I can take steps to steer myself in a different direction. This self-understanding is the first step to change. This knowledge frees me from the clutch of fear and anxiety, it is my path to freedom.
Asana – Postures
As I realised after teaching that first Ashtanga class, any practice that moves me in sync with my breath in a flowing way will help me to stay present, not allowing the fear or anxiety that is trying to creep its way into my mind to take hold. By using each inhalation and exhalation to come into and out of the poses, I find that I just start to soften into the physical practice and the mind follows, relaxing in turn.
Balancing poses are another good way for me to ward off any impending feelings of anxiety. When we attempt to balance, whether it be on one leg, or our head or hands, we bring ourselves fully into the present moment. The concentration needed to stay upright without falling over naturally takes us out of our heads and away from these emotions. By connecting with the physical self in this way we ease the grip of fear.
Finally, I always work backbends into any practice where I’m trying to overcome self-doubt, nervousness or anxiety. When we live controlled by fear, we are essentially closing ourselves off to possibility, to potential, to life itself. Backbends work to reverse that, to open us back up by opening the heart centre. Rather than live hunched forward in an effort to protect ourselves, we can instead open the front of the body, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by letting go of the need to hold on to anxiety and fear as protection. The courage that it takes to do this will mean that we are willing to put ourselves out there, just as we are – flaws and all, and asking the world to accept us.
As yoga teacher Erich Schiffman says, “The purpose of yoga is to facilitate the profound inner relaxation that accompanies fearlessness. The release from fear is what finally precipitates the full flowering of love”.
Tree Pose (Vriksasana)
- Stand in Tadasana
- Bring your palms together at heart centre, gently press your thumbs against your heart
- Shift the weight into your left foot and bring the inside of the right foot to the inside of your ankle, calf or inner thigh
- Find a drishti (point of focus) directly in front of you or on the floor, keep your breath easy
- Stay here for 30 seconds to a minute and then balance on the other side
Visualisation Meditation for fear, stress and anxiety
When the word ‘visualisation’ comes up, people often think of a 90’s tape recording of a woman’s voice telling them to walk into their secret garden. This is not that. Below is a very easy and very effective visualisation technique to use to release stress and anxiety and create positive energy.
Once you get the hang of this visualisation you can literally use it for anything! Money, relationships, career, health, travel….what ever it is that you would like to increase positive feelings for or invite into your life, use the below visualisation and watch your mood lift, negativity disapear and magic enter into your life!
1. Lie down on your back and close your eyes and mouth… breathing naturally through your nostrils.
2. Once you feel relaxed, bring to mind a fear, stress or anxiety. Now imagine in front of you there is a tall pole and at the top of the pole there is a symbol/picture of your fear, stress or anxiety to represent what this pole is for. Now place a bar on the pole indicating your current level of stress or anxiety – the bottom being very fearful, stressed or anxious and the top of the pole no fear, stress or anxiety.
3. Once you have placed the bar at the current level for your fear, stress or anxiety levels, reach out and push the bar all the way to the top of the pole. Imagine your energy lifting and your fear, stress or anxiety melting away as you push the bar up. If you have trouble getting it to the top, push it as far as you can and try again the following day. Keep going until you can push it to the top and eventually keep it there.
4. Choose another fear, stress or anxiety you would like to release or overcome. Repeat the process, creating as many poles as you like. Have them lined up one after the other and visualise them everyday to create positive energy and release fear, stress and anxiety.
Activate your Chakras!
The Chakras are wheels of energy, located in different areas of your body. If your chakras are balanced then the energy of that chakra is working for you in that area of your life (be it physically, mentally or spiritually). If your chakras are imbalanced, certain areas of your life (energetically linked to a particular chakra) wont be working as well as it could if it was healthy and balanced.
Explore the seven Chakras below and then have a go at activating and cleansing your Chakras. You can work your way from the base to the crown of your head or simply choose one to work on.
MULADHARA – BASE CHAKRA
Location: Base of the spine
Common issues: Not feeling grounded in life, feeling like you don’t belong (family or community), struggle to survive (food, money, shelter), not able to manifest that which you desire, health conditions of the lower half of the body (hips, legs etc), nourishment of the body, trust issues, materialism (overactive).
SWADHISTHANA – SACRAL CHAKRA
Location: Just below the navel
Common issues: Unable to express yourself creatively,sexually or as an individual, frigid or overly sexual (over and under active), desires and needs are often suppressed, lack of pleasure and joy in life, feelings of envy or guilt towards others, any health conditions to do with reproductive area, kidneys and bladder.
MANIPURA – SOLAR PLEXUS CHAKRA
Common issues: Any thing to do with confidence and self-esteem (over or under active tendencies), will and determination, feeling powerful or powerless, lacking discipline or ambition, not feeling strong, gut feelings, health issues surrounding the stomach area.
ANAHATA – HEART CHAKRA
Common issues: All matters of the heart – self love, relationships, intimacy, devotion, giving and receiving love (over and under active), any health conditions surrounding the heart.
VISHUDDHA – THROAT CHAKRA
Common issues: Speaking your truth or being truthful, keeping secrets, expression, fear of public speaking, feeling stifled or suffocated, not being able to listen, problems with communicating effectively (over or under active), any health issues surrounding the throat area.
AJNA – THIRD EYE CHAKRA
Location: Forehead, in between the eyebrows
Colour: Indigo (like the night sky)
Common issues: imagination (over or under active), not trusting ones intuition, psychic abilities (over or under active), any health issues surrounding the head.
SAHASRARA – CROWN CHAKRA
Location: Just above the head
Common issues: Belief systems, connection to a ‘higher power’, no divine presence in your life, trouble understanding, not being able to surrender, lacking enlightenment and purpose in life, any health concerns around the brain and nervous system.
Activate your Chakras!
Lie in a comfortable position and spend a few moments settling the body and the mind, keep the breath easy and soft. Place your hands on the Chakra you want to activate, for example, if you wanted to activate your solar plexus you would place your hands on the stomach – above the navel and below the chest.
Begin to send breath into the Chakra, and if you like, imagining the colour of the specific chakra filling up the space as you inhale and draw the breath in. As you exhale, consciously let go. Stay on each Chakra for two – three minutes and then move onto another, or simply open the eyes.