Calming Anxiety

Here we are, in the cyclone of vata. We see people expressing their imbalances in extremes of all kinds. A great part of what I’m hearing from people is an expression of vata excess, or imbalance, in the mind. While there are many ways to describe a vata state of mind, the key word in our culture seems to be anxiety. When I think of the patterns of my conversations surrounding anxiety, I find they mostly sound something like this:

Q: What is anxiety?
A: It’s a state of vata excess, in the mind and body. It can feel like worry, fear, dread, insecurity, overwhelm, hypersensitivity, poor impulse control, internal conflict, indecision, instability, and you get the idea. A lot of people describe anxiety as feeling stressed.
Q: What do you mean by ‘a state of vata excess, in the mind and body?’
A: It’s an energetic state where there is more vata present in your life than your being prefers. According to ayurveda, we can sense imbalance at the level of spiritual intuition first. If the imbalance remains unrecognized, we will then see  signs of that same imbalance at the level of the emotions and mentation patterns. If the imbalance  remains unaddressed, we  manifest signs and symptoms of that imbalance in the tissues of the body. In my experience, the first tissues affected in the body are the digestive. This is why we are all acutely aware of the effects of stress on our guts.
Q: How do I know if there is more vata present in my life than my being prefers?
A: Simple, if you have an excess of vata energy, you will be seeing signs and symptoms of vata imbalance (see table below).




Feeling like you’ve been doing a lot but still don’t really have a sense of where you are headed in this life, what you are about, or where you feel at “home”; A pervading feeling of restlessness, or being unsettled

trouble sleeping
difficulty focusing
difficulty completing tasks
cycling of emotions
impulsive speech or behavior
addictive tendenciesinterrupting your own thoughts with tangential ones
dry (and itchy) skin
dry hair
brittle nails, dry cuticles
dry lips and mucous membranes
runny nose
dry scratchy throat
dry, itchy eyes
gas, intestinal gurgling, belching
constipation, hard stools, straining
low appetite and bloating
increased coating on tongue
PAIN, especially musculoskeletal
stiff, creaky-cracky joints
dark circles under your eyes
increased urinary frequency
inability to sit still
tremor, unsteadiness in movement
Q: Okay, great. I have a vata imbalance. How did this happen?
A: Don’t feel badly. Practically everyone I know, including myself has vata imbalance. It’s a result of living in a very vata environment–modern urban living. We can see the clear abundance of vata energy in our culture in the incredible amount of movement, transition, and stimuli alone. Modernization, globalization and urbanization are forces high in vata. So  environment is one clear input of vata energy into your being. Vata energy can be coming into your life in as many ways as there are energy. The most common inputs of vata I see in peoples’ lives today are transitions (e.g. divorce, moving, change of career), travel, lack of routine, and eating habits (e.g. processed foods, eating while surfing the internet). This is why most everybody in our modern culture has experienced anxiety on the rise.
Q: Now I’m completely overwhelmed, and don’t remember or didn’t process most of what you said because I was thinking about other things….um, what was I going to say? Oh yeah, so how do I get rid of this extra vata if it’s coming in through all these different ways?
A. The good news is that as you balance vata, you will feel less overwhelmed, and have improved processing and memory. There are as many opportunities to balance vata, as there are inputs of vata. The key here is to choose the opposite qualities of vata in every aspect of your life. So aiming for more warmth, grounding, stability, stillness and nurturance in all facets of your life: relationships, career, routine, and food for example.

For anxiety-relief, ten powerful tools to reduce vata in the mind and nervous system (in no particular order) are:

1. Having a baseline routine. Nobody experiences the same thing everyday, but we can have a baseline to our daily rhythm. Rising and going to bed at approximately the same time, and even having a simple ritual (e.g. drink triphala, go to restroom, read affirmations) in the morning and night can be a very effective way to strengthen circadian rhythms. The stronger your circadian rhythm, the less vata there is in your circadian bodily functions (e.g. appetite, alertness, hormonal patterns), and the less anxiety you will experience in your mind.

2. Brahmari Pranayam. This is “bumblebee” breathwork exercise. I won’t do it justice to just write about it, so stay tuned for a video demo. Or you can look this one up in Light on Yoga by Iyengar. The truth is any exercise to deepen and slow the breath is going to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce anxiety, and as such there are a few types of breathing exercises that can be vata-reducing.

3. Forehead-to-the-ground asana. It’s incredible, but true. Literally placing your forehead to the ground (and taking a few deep breaths while you visualize Mother Earth absorbing all of your excess stress) also calms the stress response which anxiety is a byproduct of. You can be in child’s pose, in any variation of a forward fold, or even just laying flat on your belly, and all of these poses reduce vata.

4. Marma Point Therapy. This is akin to using acupressure on a certain point along an energetic pathway (nadi, or meridian). For anxiety reduction, there is a lovely point on the left hand. More specifically, the marma point is on the left palm just below the middle finger bottom knuckle. For most of us, the bottom of the bottom knuckle is going to be about a quarter to a third of the way down from the top of the palm. Allow the left palm to collapse and relax as you press into the point with your right thumb. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

5. Getting enough sleep. We have all been sleep deprived at some point in our lives, and most of us can remember how vata that felt to be moving through the day floating, half-present, and feeling depleted. Sleep is when the body rejuvenates, so making sure we have enough time in slumber is a great way to allow the nervous system to restore itself, reducing anxiety by addressing root causes.

6. Vata reducing nervines. This is a class of herbs that warms, and rejuvenates the nervous system tissue. Most of these herbs also have grounding effects on the subtle energetic body. My favorites are shankpushpi, jatamamsi (hard to get in the US), ashwagandha, brahmi, and tulsi. See your practitioner for appropriate combinations and dosing.

7. Spending quality time with yourself. By connecting to the experiences that bring you true joy, you can reduce vata and reclaim some of your usual energy expenditure to others. Most of us do not have enough time alone where we are engaging in fun, or quality-time with ourselves. We use our alone time to work or clean or get things done. When we enjoy our alone-time (and prioritize it), we ending up grounding in our sense of self and purpose and reduce vata in a powerful way.

8. Consciously reduce the multi-tasking. Focusing on one thing at a time, and completing the activity, is a great way to reduce vata in the mind. The more we try to do at once, the more scattered and anxious we feel, and the less likely we are to produce quality outcomes.

9. Shirodhara. This is a lovely ayurvedic body therapy which involves dripping herbal oil over the third eye (6th chakra) and allowing the warm oil to coat the entire scalp. You can find this at any ayurvedic healing center, and even may upper end spas. Warm oil scalp massage at home produces similiar anxiety reducution, especially when done regularly.

10. Meditate. Most people I know begin meditation because they want to address their anxiety, or stress. Everyone with a regular meditation practice will report diminished symptoms of vata in the mind, including anxiety.


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