Yoga Teachings on Anxiety–A Teacher’s Personal Application

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Mark Twain

At the risk of annoying some of my readers, today’s blog is personal. As many of you know, I adore my dog. Not the normal, socially acceptable kind of affection most people feel for their pets. Not even the deep love I’ve felt for the dozens of animals I’ve shared my life with in the past. My love for Tasha is inherently, insanely deeper than that. I have found in her a relationship of loyalty and unconditional love that astounds me every day. I’ve never been happier in my life than I have been since the day my husband and I adopted her.

One of the more controversial teachings of yoga is that we should beware of great joy, for buried in the midst of great joy is great suffering. Instead, the teachings say, we should seek peace. In other words, beware of great attachments, because inevitably they come at a price. Although none of us know the future, I have a pretty good idea what the price of loving Tasha will be. After all, her expected lifespan is significantly shorter than mine. Yet still I delude myself, live in the moment, and ignore the future.

When I found a swelling in her breast last Friday, I was concerned but not panicked. When the vet said we should do a biopsy, I was concerned, but not panicked. When the biopsy came back as “inconclusive,” well, that was the final straw. I panicked.

You see, I have a history of anxiety. Yoga helps me keep it under control, but evidently I still have work to do. And we anxiety sufferers know that the nothing feeds our inner demon  more effectively than the unknown.

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the purpose of yoga is to decrease the exact sort of suffering I feel now by gaining control over the minds five random activities, or vrttis. Sutras 1.5 – 1.11 outline the mind’s five activities.

  • Correct perception
  • Misperception
  • Memory
  • Imagination
  • Deep dreamless sleep

People who suffer from anxiety are often overwhelmed by three of the above.

  • Misperception. Seeing things not as they are, but “colored” in some way. For me in this moment, I see the word “inconclusive” as evil. In reality, it means we don’t know. It is by definition, neither good nor bad.
  • Memory. Particularly as it relates to similar, unpleasant things that have happened in the past. In this case, I remember my favorite cat. He died on the table during a routine teeth cleaning. No surgical procedure really feels low risk when I remember that.
  • Imagination. Those of us with anxiety are masters at imagining the worst, or as Albert Ellis called it “awfulizing.” The future my crazed mind has come up with would be laughable if it weren’t so real to me.

So how do the teachings help me and others like me? Well first, the sutras are very clear. One activity of the mind predominates most of our psyches: Error. And the teachings of psychology show us that in the absence of information, the mind creates a story that is worse than reality about 90% of the time. So no matter what horror story I create in my mind, I can rest assured that I’m probably wrong, and that whatever I’m imagining is worse than reality. I find comfort in that.

Second, yoga gives us specific practices to combat the hold the mind has over us. I’ve written about two specific practices in prior blogs that are useful in cases of anxiety:

So, I will continue to spend time in my practice, and I hope each of you will as well. Yoga’s biggest gift to us has so little to do with our bodies. Its biggest gift is increased inner peace.

Time for me to practice what I preach.

Namaste.

Tracy

PS–And truly coincidentally, I’m teaching a yoga class for anxiety soon. Check it out at http://www.wholelifeyoga.com/anxiety.html

A follow up several days later.

The yoga teachings were right again.  My mind was in error.  “Inconclusive” may have meant we didn’t know, but now we do.  The follow-up appointment with the vet this morning showed no cancer.  😉 Guess I get to keep my attachment to this lovely beast awhile longer.

3 thoughts on “Yoga Teachings on Anxiety–A Teacher’s Personal Application

  1. Jesamine Mello

    Tracy, I fully understand what it means to love something, but at the same time have a lingering fear that someday, the object of my love may be gone. To experience love without attachment – now that is to love something in fullness. That doesn’t mean we will not feel the pain of the loss once it is gone; we are, after all, human beings. Our capacity to love something fully, knowing it is fleeting reflects the true understanding of non-attachment. To experience the pain of lost love is the same thing to me – it is non-aversion. You are honest about and willing to accept the “consequences” of your love and that is a beautiful thing.

    I can really appreciate where you come from when you speak of anxiety’s hold on our mind. For me, keeping in mind YS (2.1) “accepting pain as purification,” the question to ask as a yogi is, “How can we cultivate a Yogic perspective of anxiety and find a way to face and transcend it, rather than trying to fight it or overcome it?” How can we let it burn its way through all of the layers and penetrate the bliss at the center of it all?

    Your reflections on anxiety and its association with misperception, imagination, and memory were very insightful. Anxiety is indeed a cruel mistress, but at the same time it can also become our ally if we realize that it is often a calling for us to shift something about ourselves. The Seen exists for the sake of Seer (YS 2.21) – everything we experience is an opportunity for transformation.

    Thanks for sharing and I am very happy to hear Tasha is okay.

    Reply
  2. Lizz Maunz

    Tracy,

    She is so beautiful-and you both look so happy; glad she is OK! You are absolutely right to cherish every moment and not to waste the joy of today by dwelling on what might-or might not-happen tomorrow.

    Reply
    1. Whole Life Yoga Post author

      Thanks, Lizz! She is beautiful, isn’t she! I’ll keep her with me as long as I possibly can….

      Reply

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