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Yoga for Anxiety was written by husband and wife Rick NurrieStearns, an author and meditation teacher, and Mary NurrieStearns, a psychotherapist and registered yoga teacher. In approaching their subject, the authors pepper their book with many personal anecdotes, including Mary's own history of anxiety and panic attacks. This lends a personal, supportive feel to the work, and the authors take a very encouraging tone throughout.
The first four chapters center mainly around attaining a greater understanding of anxiety. The authors begin by distinguishing between fear and anxiety as well as providing some very basic neurological information about anxiety. They then move on to discussing how thought processes can influence anxiety, explaining how the increased awareness or consciousness developed through yoga can serve to heal anxious symptoms. Interspersed throughout, there are "practices," or brief exercises which apply the concepts being taught (each individual practice is listed separately in the Table of Contents, which serves as a nice reference). For example, in the very first chapter, there are three different breath exercises, including belly breathing (a.k.a. diaphragmatic or deep breathing), a vital skill for avoiding hyperventilation and reducing panic. The subsequent early chapters offer exercises which explore self-identity and self-worth, increase awareness of both external sensations and inner guidance, and assist in breaking free of attachments.
Midway through the book, the authors shift to focusing more specifically on using yoga-based techniques for calming purposes. They start here with mind-based soothing practices. These strategies continue to incorporate some of the principles taught in the first half of the book, such as increasing awareness and concentrating on the breath. Several new concepts are introduced as well, including using a mantra (something repeated over and over), practicing pratipaksa (taking the opposing point of view), and creating a sankalpa (yogic goal setting). A section on physical yoga practices is also included (note that this chapter comprises only about 40 pages of this over 200 page total book). Following a brief introduction, full-page illustrated descriptions of simple yoga postures are presented. Some of the poses are performed using a chair, such as Seated Forward Fold, which involves sitting in a chair and bending over into a forward bend, and some use a few simple props, including supportive supine bound-angle, which requires several blankets and a bolster (or firm pillows). The bodily practices chapter concludes with a few basic yogic breathing techniques to either conclude a yoga practice or to facilitate a calming effect.
The authors close with basic training in meditation techniques. Although this section is brief, they talk about how to carry the principles of meditation into daily life through increased mindfulness. Maintaining yogic practices as part of everyday living is also the theme of the final chapter, "Relieving Anxiety with Ethical Living." Here the authors review some of the ethical guidelines which compromise two of the branches (the yamas and the niyamas) of the traditional eight-limbed yogic system. They continue to suggest opportunities for practice--for example, to develop the personal observance of Self-Discipline, they offer recommendations for "Developing a Personal Practice."
Overall, this book offers a variety of soothing, helpful practices. However, some readers might be disappointed to discover that 1) many of the practices serve to foster general well-being rather than to specifically address anxiety, and 2) the actual practice of physical yoga postures (asanas) forms less than a quarter of this book. Still, this would be a useful guide for someone seeking a more comprehensive, holistic approach to treating anxiety.
© 2010 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.