Upon entering a Ph.D. program in mental health counseling, I was sure my education would teach me all I needed to know about how to treat and cure anxiety—something I had personally struggled with since I was very young. I thought mental health issues were like bacteria in the body—identify the right antibiotic (or treatment for the anxiety) and the healing begins.
After walking off the stage at graduation six years later, I sat back in the chair, watched others receive their diplomas with pride, and contemplated what I had learned. A lot came to mind, of course, but the conclusion to which I came about mental health in general is that, as scholars, we have far more questions than answers.
Even those with Ph.D.s in mental health professions are struggling every day to balance emotion, alleviate stress, and create healthy relationships. As we all contemplate the future and wrestle with how much control we actually have in our lives, it's inevitable that feelings of fear and worry about the future bubble up.
If we are not paying attention, our anxiety can end up being in charge, leading us to make fear-based decisions, move the nervous system into overdrive, and leave us feeling disconnected from others and ourselves. There is a plethora of treatment options available, including psychotherapy and medication.
If you ask me, the most accessible and affordable cure is in our own bodies and minds.
Anxiety, at its root, can be identified as raw sensations in the body. When we apply the practice of restorative yoga to anxiety, we can begin the practice of observing those raw sensations and then toning our own nervous systems. Over time, we "build the muscle" of being able to choose when it's time to consciously plan ahead and address concerns in our lives and when it's time to surrender to life's inevitable unknowns.
Most of us need a little practice in the letting-go part. On a physiological level, restorative yoga (depending on the posture, of course) teaches us to relax the facial muscles, release the chest muscles, and soften the belly. We learn to relax the fingers and toes and soften the brain. On an emotional level, restorative yoga teaches us to strengthen our muscles of surrender, observance, and acceptance.
In restorative yoga, we use the body to heal the mind.