Ashtanga Blog

Yoga and anxiety

How yoga practice helped me deal with chronic anxiety.

Tania Kemou performing an Asana on a beach in Greece.

I’ve been dealing with anxiety since a very young age. I remember as a child I often had the feeling that something bad was about to happen.

Later on in life, I tried to rationalise it, understand it, analyse it, find its origins. I did. But it only helped so much. Knowing the root of our troubles is not always enough to make them go away or control them. Often enough a deeper understanding that goes beyond the limited capacities of our rational mind is required. 

For me, a somatic experience was necessary. I needed to feel the anxiety rise in my body, observe its waves and watch it fade away. Yoga practice showed me what was there, how it manifested and what it did to me. Conscious and calm breathing, whenever I could access it, helped making this feeling of being about to disappear dissolve. 

It goes without saying that the process was not easy. It took me a lot of years to find ease of breath in backbends for example. I would always blame it on my tight chest and shoulders but a somatic experience is never always just about the body.

Wherever I experienced tightness, I also found accumulated and repressed fear. Whenever my breath would become fast and shallow, it was the fear commanding, controlling me. Slowly, with a lot of patience, persistence and faith, the periods of uninterrupted peace became longer and longer. I learned to breathe into the fear, dare to expand instead of contracting, which was what i was used to doing.

Accessing a nervous system that was programmed to always be hyper alert had to happen through the body. I needed to feel the pain and also the healing in my bones.

Anxiety will always be somewhere close to me but the feeling of being swallowed by it is in the greatest part gone. The two hours I spend daily on the mat are a promise I make to myself to be there, be present, listen, feel, accept and let go.