Relieving Anxiety at the Beverly Yoga Center

yoga

I recently took Mindfulness & Yoga for Anxiety – Part I, a yoga class at the Beverly Yoga Center that is designed to help people better understand their anxiety. Carly Carney, the owner of the Beverly Yoga Center, taught the class, which included a discussion on how anxiety manifests and an educational component. Carly answered my questions about her inspiration for the class, the importance of stepping away from the anxiety-inducing news cycle, and what to expect from part II of the class.

What inspired you to begin a yoga class focused on relieving anxiety?

What I’ve noticed frequently with people who attend yoga and meditation classes is that there is a degree of anxiety people experience when coming into their bodies. There is a general sense of restlessness and a great deal of mental noise trying to figure out what it is they are feeling. It’s often a reason that people come to yoga and also a reason why people tend to shy away from it.

In our culture there is a negativity bias and judgment towards anxiety that there is something wrong with us and we aren’t doing something right. There’s a lot of inner pressure and discomfort around it and I wanted to create a class that would help to begin to develop some friendliness towards this very common experience that people have in life.

Anxiety is also something that can easily manifest inside my own inner being if I am not cognizant on how I spend my time and what I choose to do to nourish myself. Anything difficult can feel like we are the only ones experiencing it in life and by getting it out in the open hopefully is the first step in extending kindness that there are others who have similar experiences.

The discussion during the class on how everyone’s anxiety manifests was very interesting. Why did you decide to begin the class with asking the participants how their anxiety manifests?

There are two answers to this question. First, anxiety simply manifests on an inner level, which may mean a racing heart, tight muscles, constant worries, restlessness, agitation, irritation, etc. There is a sense of sensations on the inner body. This is a side note, but these become so dominant that they begin to feel like what is normal for us, which is actually not true. It’s just that these experiences dominate our experience most of the time.

The other piece to this question is that anxiety also manifests on an outer level because generally it is a difficult feeling to experience and it’s difficult to be with so we find ways to numb this discomfort with distractions. This can manifest in ways like excessive addiction to our phones, numbing with food, television and alcohol, overemphasis on cardio exercising, constantly doing and staying busy. These are all attempts to not feel what is happening on an inner level because that is not in the social conversations we are having among friends, peers and colleagues. It’s the momentum of the anxiety that keeps us going or makes us want to numb out.

Can you explain the difference between the feelings body and the physical body? 

This may be interpreted in many different ways, but from my perspective the physical body is the more gross aspects: bones, muscles, organs, tissues, etc. The feelings body from my perspective is sensations, senses, qualities of the heart, and general feelings.

I enjoyed learning about neuroplasticity and how anxiety affects the nervous system. Why was it important for you to include an educational component in the class?

I think that it’s important to have an experiential component of learning about the breath, body, heart and mind. It’s equally important for people to understand the physiology to learn a wider perspective about how their brain and nervous system are wired. There is some degree of empowerment when someone understands their own body and mind. They will begin to see and feel first hand how these ideas play out in their mind and body and then can make thoughtful and mindful choices about how to support and bring calm to their own experiences. The education piece is an important part of helping students learn about their own inner life.

You mentioned how even receiving a news alert on your phone can trigger anxiety. You advised not to check your phone during down time. Instead of checking social media, people can practice mindfulness or try a breathing exercise. Do you have a favorite breathing exercise or calming technique that relieves anxiety?

Unfortunately, we have become so hardwired for bad news that it feels normal to our system. The amount of messages coming through about the world we live in is devastating and frequently putting our system in high alert. Just take as an example, a local shooting that isn’t far from our own neighborhood. Think of how the body responds. My body gets tight, thoughts of worry about our city and my own children set it.

The next is about the political platform and how the candidates are badgering one another. The original tightness gets compounded with this new tightness and worry. The cycle continues on and on because there aren’t ways that are a part of our society as a whole that interrupt it besides numbing or exhausting those feelings.

After all these years I still on a daily basis just focus on simply belly breathing. I notice the belly rise and fall with each cycle. By coming back to the breath, it inherently brings us back to the moment even if I need to do it a million times in a day. Just because this is what I teach and practice doesn’t make me perfect. I consider myself to be completely human trying to find my way in a life that is busy, complicated and scary. But despite that, I am dedicated to finding peace and stillness inside.

Why did you decide to incorporate journal exercises in part II of the class?

I find different journaling exercises to be tremendously helpful in seeing what beliefs, thoughts, stories, perspectives are in companionship with anxiety. Often we are embedded in thought that we don’t know what we are thinking. Most of our thoughts are the same and repetitive anyways. Journaling is one way to distance our thoughts and see what is triggering the anxiety. It’s a different way to work with our experience.

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