Heart-Centered Somatic Yoga & School for Somatic Soul Work

Teaching Yoga for Anxiety: Do's and Dont's

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. What has worked for you doesn’t necessarily work for your students, clients, or patients. I believe that this is THE most important thing to understand when working with students experiencing mental health challenges. There are so many great therapies and practices out there, but some will work for you and others will work for other people. There is great power in teaching from experience and specializing in the one topic where you know you can make a contribution. Yet, if we want to make a difference to more people—even if it’s just by referring them to someone more qualified—it’s important to educate ourselves in order to understand a wider perspective of being, thinking, and feeling than our own. It will not only help us tailor our therapy and advise better, but it also allows us to make the best referrals.

Most importantly, it prevents us from projecting our personal experiences and preferences onto them. Because while kundalini yoga is great, it can create nervous system imbalances in a highly sensitive person (HSP). And while I’m a big fan of restorative yoga, I have clients that I sent to vinyasa yoga instead.

“We are all incredibly unique and it’s hard to know how our student or client really feels—even if you think you do.”

So the best way to get to know someone, and what their struggles are, is to listen. To listen not only with our ears but also with our mind, heart AND body. It’s incredible how much information we can pick up on if we learn how to truly listen and attune to someone. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will know what to do with that information though. A student may be telling you that they feel anxious, but that doesn’t say anything about what lies at the root of their anxiety or about what they need.

I remember participating in a colleague’s yoga for anxiety class. We started the class by lying down on our backs. Basically, you’re telling someone who feels agitated and unsafe to lie down (submit) in a super vulnerable position. It’s a recipe for more anxiety!

I understand his misconception. If someone feels anxious, we should help them calm down, right? And the best way to calm down is by doing something calming, like slow deep breathing, a restorative or yin pose, shavasana, or guided relaxation. Well, here’s the mistake. We make an assumption (based on our own needs and experiences) as to what will make our student or client feel calm and centered.

Starting close to the ground with a slow and meditative approach works for certain types of anxiety. It works for the HSP, for someone who feels exhausted, burnt-out, scattered, and overstimulated. This is an airy type of anxiety that usually responds well to relaxation, grounding, and somatic integration. It may be a nightmare though for someone who is agitated and restless. These are often the successful type-A personalities, but it may also be the over-worked mom who tries to keep everything under control. Someone who is more fired-up like this may struggle to connect to themselves, really drop into an experience, and may even find it hard to close their eyes. They may leave a yin class feeling more agitated and even frustrated and angry—while underneath wondering whether something is wrong with them.

“Starting close to the ground can be great for some types of anxiety, but a nightmare for others.”

Even though we are all incredibly unique, we have a lot in common too. By studying the different typologies and archetypes of people and their symptoms, we start to recognize how these energies also move through us. As we become more aware of these subtle shifts inside of us, it becomes easier to recognize these patterns in others too.

This gives our framework an experiential understanding of where someone is off-balance, where they are on their path, and what practices, habits, and life routines they might benefit from.

So if you thought that guided relaxation and nadishodhana pranayama are great practices to reduce anxiety, think again. True healing never comes from a one-size-fits-all approach. Anxiety doesn’t define a person, nor does it say anything about the ways in which that person experiences anxiety. Do they feel restless? Ungrounded? Or do they have a tendency to freeze? Depending on how a person feels anxious and how they respond to anxiety, they will benefit from different practices.

As a yoga teacher or coach, you can only guide your student or client if you know what to look out for and understand what the different symptoms of anxiety mean and need. Secondly, we need to ask the right questions so that we can help our students and clients find their own answers.

Deniz

Deniz Aydoslu, MA, is an advanced certified yoga and meditation teacher and expert in the therapeutic application of yoga and somatics for mental health. She helps women heal emotionally and restore their connection to Spirit by integrating the body, heart, inner child, and soul into a meaningful whole. She offers deeply transformative work as well as simple tools to improve well-being, creativity, and productivity through fun, easy, and nourishing self-care tools.

As an experienced yoga and meditation teacher, somatic educator, and shamanic psychotherapy practitioner, she infuses her work with the healing power of love and the value of nature as medicine.