Reduce Stress and Anxiety by Turning to the 8 Limbs of Yoga

There is more to yoga than just the poses (asanas). In fact, there are eight branches (or limbs) in total! I discuss them below and go into detail on a few that are very important when understanding anxiety and how to thrive in the anxiety age.

1. Yamas-these bring you into harmony with the world. They include the following:

  • Ahimsa-kindness
  • Satya-truthfulness
  • Asteya-nonstealing
  • Brahmaharya-moderation
  • Aparigraha-generocity

2. Niyamas-these will bring you harmony within yourself. They include the following:

  • Saucha-purity
  • Santosha-contentment
  • Tapas-austerity
  • Swadyaya-self-study
  • Tswara-pranidhana-surrender

Tip: Focus on one or two yamas or niyamas a week (or month) at a time until you’ve hit them all and see how you can use them on or off the mat in your life.

3. Asana-these are the postures we use to connect mind body and spirit to stillness. I discuss a few helpful ones related to anxiety and stress relief in another post. I recommend putting a sequence together that works for you within your time constraints each day. Remember that these are important, but there is even more to the practice of yoga!

4. Pranayama-mindful breathing by focusing on your breath and releasing the racing negative thoughts in your mind. This can be practiced along with the asanas or separately.

5. Prathyahara-gaining mastery over external influences including negative impressions. This strengthens the mind and helps with meditation. This includes the control of the following:

  • Senses
  1. Shanmukhi-mudra – this is a gesture and a way to direct awareness inward.  By doing this gesture you close out perceptions of senses (hearing/seeing/tasting/touching).  For about five minutes, place your fingers gently over your eyes, nostrils, and ears while breathing in.  Release one of your fingers placed on your nose and breathe out.
  • Shambhavi mudra – this is a gesture you can perform by gazing at your “eyebrow center”, or the spot in between your eyebrows.  This is the “third eye” chakra.  Sit upright with your spine long.  Gently close your eyes and then open them and focus your gaze on some spot upward and in front of you without moving your head.  Be sure not to strain your eyes when you perform this gazing.  Soon you should see your eyebrows form like a “V”.  Chant “OM” (“ah”..”oh”..”mmm” followed by a pause) while you do these steps.  Lastly, sit your gaze at the spot between the brows and concentrate on that area.
  • Action
  • Prana (breath)
  • Withdrawal of the mind

I personally believe the limb of prathyahara is an important one for sufferers of stress and anxiety because many times it’s these outside influences that can make our minds race. We worry about every little thing on the news, our friend’s issues, past family baggage, etc. when all we really want is to focus on those things that are meaningful to us in our lives. This is not TV, magazines, or keeping up with the Jones’s. For this limb, make a list of the things/people/feelings/goals/etc. that are important to you and you alone. If something external is not a positive influence to reinforce one of the items on your list, let it go and drop it from your life.

Samyama (Meditation): Meditation will focus your mind on something for an extended period of time. With practice, this can make your mind calmer and your body stress free. Off the mat, you will begin to find the space in between a stressful event and your reaction to the event.

6. Dharana-concentration and focus

Example: Yoga nidra-moves your brain from the active beta state to the more relaxing alpha state. There are some great yoga nidra teachers online, including  Jennifer Reis and the Mindful In Minutes Podcast.

7. Dhyana-letting go

8. Samadhi-bliss and complete harmony of self with the universe

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