yoga psychology

anxiety physiology

Yoga and Drugs (Part 3: anxiety)

Anxiety is something that yoga vigorously attacks. Anxiety is essentially a lack of presence and ability to act in the present moment due to the consequences of the past or expectations for the future. Yoga has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety and seems to be more effective than meditation in the scientific literature, but long-term studies are still needed for determining obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety attacks. I know people with PTSD that practice and they say yoga is life-changing for them. Long term clinical trials with strict controls are needed to really see the positive effects and long-term benefits of yoga on these symptoms.

Yoga forces concentration upon the present moment; it is nigh impossible to do handstands, arm balances, and back-bends without complete focus. Especially when you are pushing the limits of your own body, you need to give it the complete attention it deserves. Yoga trains the brain to ignore “what-if” situations, giving your mind the capacity to be completely present inside of your body. “What if my foot cramps?”, “What if my leg hurts?”. These no longer become possible because you are reacting to the feeling in your foot and leg rather than predicting an outcome.

But it’s not your fault that you are anxious. American society feeds on it, telling you about the things that you need to prepare for and all of the bad things that could happen to you and have happened to others. The news is an amazingly good example. They literally go around finding things to make you startled and uneasy so that you listen to their advice and keep watching. Commercials are another good one. They tell us what we need these things and that if we don’t have them, our lives will not be complete, happy, or fulfilling. American culture also tells us that we should be busy on our cell phones so that we look important, which leads to an inability to focus on what is actually happening in our lives. All of these sources lead us further away from the truth that is inside.

Really, peace and contentment is something that you cultivate and grow. The more time you spend being present, discerning feelings as they pass, and bringing yourself to a place of gratitude, the more ability you will have to over-rule anxiety. Being grateful that you are alive can help alleviate the anxiety over work, take time to consider the circumstances of your life and how lucky you are. It doesn’t come naturally and consumerism fights your ability to be content with what is.

It comes back to the dopamine, serotonin, and over-exciting the central nervous system. Anxiety is almost 100% created by a perception, but is accompanied by physical symptoms like muscular tension (which yoga definitely helps), problems with concentration (which yoga definitely helps), and fatigue/restlessness (which yoga definitely helps). People with symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder claim that yoga helps, though long terms studies have yet to be done on reducing obsession. One of the most debilitating symptoms of anxiety disorder is fear of death, which is one of the most important parts of yoga. In yoga, Shivasana, or final corpse pose is a meditation upon death and liberates the mind and soul into the present.

All of this comes back to yoga as a treatment option for anxiety, possibly more effective than any other for its symptoms. Being content with the present is about breathing and finding beauty in the small things around you, not buying cars and houses or throwing huge parties and getting wasted. Anxiety is fought by sitting still for a few minutes in the morning, taking a walk in the afternoon, and regular yoga practice will be sure to expedite anything you are already doing.  The bliss of not worrying about anything comes from breaking away from the things that you think you need, and detaching from them. This is how the detachment taught in yoga is the ultimate freedom, especially from things such as anxiety.

This concludes the three-part section on psychiatric drugs and the clinically proven effects of yoga on DSM spectrum disorders of anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity.

Here are some resources for you to reference
Yoga health benefits:

Yoga for Anxiety:

Novartis Ritalin Packaging

Yoga and Drugs (part 2: hyperactivity and bipolarity)

Let’s shift our attention from mood disorders and the general neurological benefits of yoga into a more granular subject matter: hyperactive and bipolar personality types and some of the more granular benefits of yoga for these personality types. We’ll dig into hyperactive personalities and anxiety and then talk about how yoga alleviates symptoms. Really this builds on the previous discussion because we are no longer acknowledging these mental states as problems, or as curable with medication.

This is a far more personal subject matter for me; not that I haven’t experienced depression, but I was diagnosed with ADD when I was 6 and took medicine for about 16 years. I was very disruptive when I was younger, although I did not have any problems with finishing my work or keeping up with the class. I was distracting other people because I would get bored in the classroom and teachers really have a hard time dealing with this type of situation. When one child finishes and the rest are still working, because they have to split their attention. Plus, I loved making jokes and laughing really loud when I was younger, super disruptive. So they sent me to a neurologist and got tested and came away with a positive diagnosis for ADD and a prescription for Ritalin.

It is important to understand what ADD actually is; most people think there is something wrong. But the truth is that the only way to measure and diagnose ADD is in a personality test that rates the symptoms on a spectrum. The three symptoms that they look for are: hyperactivity/impulsivity, inattentiveness, and a combination of the two. The descriptions of the symptoms are something like this: “easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli and frequently interrupts ongoing tasks”, “frequent shifts from one completed activity to another”, “failure to complete tasks such as homework or chores”, “procrastination”, “disorganized work habits”, or my personal favorite, “not following details or rules of activities in social situations”. See WebMD for more symptoms.

When a child is diagnosed with ADD, this is what they are being told, “You do not conform to the standards of our educational system and you are disruptive and unproductive. You do not fit the mold of a modern worker in our society so we are going to medicate you with stimulants so that your symptoms and behaviors are more consistent with our other workers.” This is the message we are sending that child, now the next question is, why do we want everyone to conform to a standardized way of doing things?

The truth is that we do not want these children to conform. In fact, these are likely some of the most creative, smart, rebellious, and sensitive people in our culture. Rebels change the world through their vision which requires non-comformity, something that we are actively diminishing in our youth so we can “standardize” the school system. These children are gifted and the reality is that the teacher’s attention is not enough for the child to learn at the speed that a child with ADD learns. These kids are smart, they just need a little extra attention and guidance; people diagnosed with ADD have many leadership qualities that stem from their conformity and ability to perceive things that other people do not notice.

Bipolarity and ADD are actually very interrelated; you will see a lot of overlap of symptoms between the two diagnoses, but bipolar disorder tends to be more severe because of increased societal consequences and the tendency to have “episodes”. They are both largely affected by dopamine, though it is speculated that Serotonin might be more involved with bipolar disorder due to the shifts of mood. So is schizophrenia, though Schizophrenia can have very extreme social consequences. So this pleasure/reward system is really what keeps us in balance and able to react in our waking consciousness.

This is where yoga comes in. Remember how everyone says that your brain is a muscle? By detaching from the senses, and eventually from the internal dialogue of the mind (this takes time), we allow for the system to optimize itself. My hypothesis is that with yoga and mediation, children can learn how to regulate themselves instead of regulating the drugs that are moving through their system. When we practice yoga, we are allowing the dopamine system to calm down, to reset without stimuli, something that may never happen for younger children who are bombarded with TV. Medication is not the cure for the problems in our educational system.

So reviewing just a bit, yoga is a practice that can really assist with ADD like symptoms, bipolar symptoms, probably even Schizophrenic symptoms, because of its effect on dopamine and serotonin. Yoga is balancing and replenishing for anyone, but for me, it completely replaces any medicine I have ever taken. It is a natural way to become more conscious of how we act, the stimuli that affect us, and really to reveal the tendencies of your unconscious mind.

Next, we will get into anxiety. If you have taken stimulants for tests, quizzes, etc, would love to hear what your experience with the drugs have been, positive or negative. Stay tuned for more….

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