What is an awakening? And how can we practice yoga for anxiety?
We recently shared part one of an interview with acclaimed author SarahJoy Marsh. In part two of this interview, we talk to SarahJoy about these two concepts.
Grab a cup of your favorite tea and get ready for a great read. This interview is truly life changing.
Welcome back, SarahJoy. We’re so glad you’re here.
First of all, what is an awakening? And can this apply to anxiety management?
An awakening is an embodied moment of insight, supported by intuition, reflective of love and interconnectedness, and profoundly welcoming to us and to life itself. The welcome to which I am referring is an overarching sense that we need not fear being rejected, shamed or punished. This warm welcome soothes our deep hunger for belonging. The experience of awakening is accompanied by this felt experience of being welcomed back home to unconditional belonging.
Isolation, or feelings of isolation, is threatening to a human brain. At a primitive level, we can’t survive in isolation. Nor can we survive our earliest developmental times without an interdependent reliance on others. The hunger in humans for love, safety, and belonging is primal. To awaken to our interconnectedness with life and feel life welcoming us, can profoundly soothe the anxiety caused by our isolation, fear, or pain. Likewise, to reconnect to our intuition, we experience a kind of homecoming in which our trust in ourselves can start being restored.
Since much of our anxiety stems from having our self-trust broken, or repeatedly dismissed, this in itself will lessen our anxiety.
What are the conditions needed to experience an awakening and how does one go about creating this?
On the one hand, yoga teaches us that our indwelling nature is already interconnected, loveable, whole, and radiant. On the other hand, an anxious brain creates a certain amount of mental static, like a radio that doesn’t have clear reception. Lessening the mental static by regulating our physiology to our parasympathetic response, nourishing our mammalian and reptilian brains back to ease and safety, and developing relationships that encourage us to realize our love-ability, such as a relationship with a therapist, yoga teacher, wise friend or life role model, will create the conditions in which we are more likely to experience awakening to who we are most deeply.
On your blog, you talk further about how to create an awakening. We’d like to share that. Following is that excerpt.
When we place ourselves in the right conditions, we cause awakening to happen. I consider this to be one of the universal laws of nature.
To state it in more neutral terms, let’s say this: With conditions, change happens. Change is always happening, of course. Rivers rise. Trees let go of their leaves. Rivers drop. Trees form buds for new leaves. The timing and nuance of each of these is subject to the conditions of nature.
As humans, we’re also subject to the intelligent forces of nature. Yet, we have the elegant opportunity to participate with these forces to cause our awakening. Or not. When we place ourselves in the right conditions, awakening will happen. When a teapot is set on the stove, with water in it, potential exists: the container (the tea pot), the element that will undergo transformation (the water), and intention (how you placed the tea pot; you could have put it in the bathtub where the conditions won’t cause awakening). One more thing is necessary to make these conditions right for awakening: heat. You must turn on the stove if you want to heat the water for tea.
Likewise, we must place ourselves in the right conditions if we want our practices to transform us. Once there is heat under that teapot, the water will be helpless to become anything other than steam. Once you place yourself in the right conditions and apply your focused participation, you will be helpless to experience anything other than awakening.
Yet, what are the right conditions? The right conditions are those conditions that support you to experience your unaltered heart, your heart’s natural expansiveness and love. These conditions include the similar conditions that required to turn water into steam.
Now we want to take a moment to talk about yoga. First of all, what is yoga therapy? And is there a central place where readers can go to find location-appropriate yoga therapists?
Yoga therapy is a psycho-spiritual-physiological therapeutic model. We use the tools of yoga, including breathing, stretching, mindfulness, meditations, and the psychology of yoga, to create opportunities for a student to awaken, to heal, to outgrow a reliance on outdated, painful, self-limiting behaviors, and to expand into their personal potential, equanimity, self-respect, and self-confidence.
The depth and breadth of what yoga therapy provides can’t be fully articulated in this context. However, it is important to know that yoga therapy is tailored to the individual. It is body-centered, spiritually-oriented, trauma-sensitive, and neurologically elegant. We approach therapy with the entire eco-system of the human being in mind.
Many of our readers would like to practice yoga for anxiety, but such classes are rarely offered. How can one turn a traditional yoga class into yoga for anxiety?
Thank you for asking this! Because the yoga industry has expanded so much in the past decade, being able to choose a yoga class wisely is a very important question. Contemporary yoga classes (in today’s yoga culture) may include hot yoga, power yoga, vinyasa yoga, or other designer systems of yoga. A class that is too hot or too cold, too fast or too slow, too competitive, too oriented on the outcome of the ‘perfect’ pose, or even too spiritual or ethereal can represent a risk for the parts of your brain that are anxious. Transforming a publicly offered yoga class, with any of those components, into a safe therapeutic field for those of us with anxiety may not be possible.
A few recommendations:
- Before taking classes, speak directly to the teacher. Find out about her teaching style and objectives for her students. Let her know about your goals for yoga and your experiences with anxiety.
- Ask to observe the class before participating. This will give you a sense of what to expect.
- Seek a studio or a class that teaches yoga with an understanding of the nervous system, proper breathing, the brain, trauma-sensitive practices, and that emphasizes the safety and self-respect of each student.
- Start your yoga practice with a few individual appointments to familiarize yourself with the exercise and also to give your teacher a better sense of how she or he can thoughtfully support you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, SarahJoy. These tips have truly been life changing.
Is Emotional Eating Holding You Hostage? An interview with Sarahjoy Marsh… – With Anxiety in Tow
About: Sarahjoy Marsh is a yoga therapist and educator with a master’s in counseling. She has been training yoga teachers and mental health providers in yoga therapy tools for 26 years. In her new book, Hunger, Hope & Healing: A Yoga Approach to Reclaiming Your Relationship to Your Body and Food, Sarahjoy fuses yoga with psychology, neuroscience, breathing interventions, and mindfulness techniques, to bring readers with eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image issues a practical and accessible guide to recovery. Sarahjoy is a regular retreat teacher at Kripalu Yoga Center and Breitenbush Hot Springs and leads annual international yoga retreats to India. She maintains a thriving schedule of classes, teacher trainings, and private consults in Portland, Oregon. To visit Sarahjoy’s website, click here.