In yesterday’s post, The Greatest Love of All, I touched on the topic of seeking approval from others. Today I would like to discuss this topic further.
Humans are social creatures. From the time we are born, we are blanketed with attention from our family. As we get older, we learn the cause and effect of good behavior and bad behavior. When we act good, we receive positive attention, and when we act badly, we receive negative attention.
Fast forward to adulthood, and we find ourselves seeking love and affection from outside of ourselves, because through the attention-seeking behavior of our childhood, we are not made aware that love can come from within. Sometimes, we do not find the attention we are seeking, and it causes loneliness and heartache.
Another consequence of attention-seeking behavior is that we are constantly concerned with how other people perceive us. Does he like me? What will she think if she only knew? Will they think I look good today? These constant questions, along with a needy heart, can often bring anxiety into our lives.
Stress is different from anxiety. Stress is an immediate cause and effect, e.g. someone makes a loud noise, and you jump. Anxiety, on the other hand, is long-term worry over something. For instance, have you ever gone on a first date, and you constantly wondered over and over if the other person was going to call to make a second date with you? Or, have you been on a job interview, and the thought of whether or not you would be offered the position kept cycling through your mind? That is anxiety, and a lot of people suffer from it chronically.
I was one of those people, as I was plagued with anxiety my entire life up until a few years ago. My mind would constantly be thinking and worrying, and it would never shut off. My anxiety was so bad that I had insomnia as well. Essentially, my worrying mind rarely gave me a moment’s rest.
In yoga, we call that the monkey mind. We calm the monkey mind through pranayama, breath work, and through dhyana, meditation. Even asana, or the physical practice, can help calm an anxiety-laden mind, because we are only focused on what is happening in our body, and we are instructed to pay attention to our breath.
When we focus our attention on slowing down the breath, the mind automatically slows down. During the course of our hectic daily lives, when we are not conscious of our breathing patterns, we tend to take short, successive inhales and exhales. Pranayama allows us to slow down the breath, and to concentrate on filling the body to capacity with the breath. Both stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest and digest nervous system, which slows the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, relaxes the muscles, and calms the mind.
In meditation, our goal is to be present. If a thought arises, we notice it, and we avoid the urge to judge it. With a meditation practice comes increased awareness of our own thoughts. With an increased awareness of our thoughts, we are less likely to be imprisoned by them. We learn to control our thoughts, instead of letting our thoughts control us, as is a common feeling when one has anxiety.
You are greater than your thoughts. In our society, we tend to only think of ourselves as a summation of how our bodies look and how our minds think. In yoga, however, the body and the mind are just tools through which we become conscious of our Spirit, our true self. Think of it this way, through the body, we experience the physical world. Through the mind, we process external data, and we can grow our intellectual selves. But it is through the Spirit that we become more attune to our emotional selves, that which makes us human. All creatures exist in mind and body, but no creature quite exists in emotion as human beings.
I cannot stress to you enough that if you suffer from anxiety, there is a solution. I know a lot of people who have anxiety and are content to let the anxiety continue in their lives. I can say with certainty that I personally would never choose to live that way again. If you suffer from anxiety, I highly recommend starting a yoga practice.
Remember that there are many variations of yoga. Your yoga practice could just be practicing pranayama and dhyana. If the highly physical yoga intimidates you, there are other options out there for you. If you are having trouble finding the style of yoga that you want, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to help you research a yoga studio in your area that would be a good fit for you.