Monday, June 3, 2019

Yoga for Anxiety

By Annie Piper

Annie Piper presented at our 2017 Conference in New York and here is her article from the Journal distributed at the event.

Here in New York City, where I teach, pretty much everyone who walks through the door of a yoga studio is looking to calm down. I remember years ago meeting with my doctor for a routine check up and confiding that I had “anxiety disorder." He smiled politely, completely unfazed, and said “90% of my patients have chronic anxiety. It’s what draws us to New York, right?”

I wondered then, why, if we’re anxious, do we want to live in a city that might exacerbate our condition? And I guess the answer is, we gravitate towards what we know. We draw on, and pay attention to, aspects of ourselves which are readily available and familiar. Having an adrenalized city mirror our own tension back at us feels almost cozy.

So what I have spent 20 years trying to teach people isn’t so much asana or pranayama, although that is largely what we ‘do’ in my classes. I seldom, if ever, lecture on The Bhagavad Gita or The Yoga Sutras or the Eight Limbs, although I draw deep inspiration from these sources on my own path. I rarely stop to explain a pose or demonstrate. In fact, I don’t find teaching people how to do a yoga pose interesting at all. 

What I do find interesting is the challenge of helping students feel the physical practice energetically and emotionally, encouraging a deep and indisputable connection to the present. What I do is try to guide a group of people into energetic coherence and group meditation (via asana, pranayama, and some qi gong), using language that prioritizes the moment to moment experience of moving and breathing and feeling and thinking.

If we gravitate towards what we know, as humans seem to do, then what I want my students to begin to feel, as deeply and coherently as they can, is the possibility of Yoga, union, connection. I want them to find a deep ease that comes with being introduced over and over again to a steady and unwavering version of themselves. I want them to uncover the Self that gets buried under all that noise.

To tap that kind of energy in the room, I use slow, steady, flow; meditation before, during and after; breath counting; music that calms and/or helps us release emotionally and feel our hearts; psoas release; humming; shaking; yin practice. I use things I’ve borrowed over the years from other teachers (God bless them) or learned in trauma yoga trainings. Of course, I also draw on things that have gotten me through all sorts of my own pain and discomfort.

My hope, always is that the space feels safe, that trauma and broken hearts and anxieties have a home here to ventilate, to be seen and felt and not feared.

Annie Piper teaches at Kula Yoga in Tribeca, The Shala and Prema Yoga in Brooklyn. She is on the movement faculty at NYU's Tisch School of Graduate Acting and The Yale School of Drama. She is the co- teacher of 'The Open Voice' with Jessie Austrian at NYU's Gallatin School. She is certified to teach trauma-sensitive yoga by both the Trauma Center in Boston and with the national organization Warriors at Ease, and continues to bring yoga to veterans throughout the New York area. She has served on the faculty at the Brown University / Trinity Rep Consortium as well as undergraduate Theater Studies at NYU. Formerly an actor and director, She received an MFA in Acting from The University of Minnesota and a BA in Theater from Oberlin College. She certified to teach in 1997 at OM yoga, and studies Qi Gong with Thomas Droge. She is also a Reiki practitioner and the mother of two beautiful and feisty boys in Brooklyn, New York.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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