(Note: This is a guest blog by Carly Samach, otherwise known as @counselingwithcarly on Instagram.)
When my anxiety was at its worst, it felt I was living in a warped prison within my own mind. My ability to live in the ‘now’ was next to none and I consistently found myself being dragged through worst case scenario after worst case scenario. I knew meditation was a huge trend and would try helplessly to attempt to just let my thoughts ‘flow’ and let go. I tried visualizing myself on sandy beaches and far away places from my problems and thoughts. Despite creating some really beautiful vacation getaways in my head, my anxiety was always the winner in its pursuit for my attention.
In late 2017 I heard of a style of yoga called Kambal Yoga® that was meant to help “ground my nervous system.” At the time I was in grad school on my way to becoming a therapist and knew my nervous system was far from grounded. Having done yoga for much of my life I thought, why not, let’s give this a go. Since that first class, I’ve used the skills I learned there daily for my anxiety. I remember the class coming to a close and feeling far from helpless, if anything I felt accomplished. Even better, I stopped trying to ‘let go’ and learned how to simply exist and let my body do its thing.
There are so many types of mindfulness techniques and meditation styles to choose from in the world. Often I have clients tell me an all too familiar story of trying these various techniques and never having anything click or seemingly work for them. What I discovered in that class so many years ago is that to learn how to ride the metaphorical wave of anxiety accurately I had to learn how to be with my body and outside of my mind. Even more than that I had to learn what worked for my body to be able to do that!
It’s been a dream come true for myself as a therapist to help others learn how to integrate different somatic mindfulness concepts with a style of meditation that is not meant to take you to visualized beaches running scared from your anxiety, but rather a space where you can care for yourself, your mind, your body. And in doing so, changing your overall relationship to anxiety.
A big component of this style of mindfulness meditation is grounding restorative poses. The specific poses taught in this class are proven to be effective in helping a person feel more centered to themselves which is really effective in the process of getting out of your head and into your body. In conjunction with poses I teach individuals different ways to use props to deepen the sense of getting back to the body. You’d be surprised how much a simple pillow placement or the way you tuck yourself into a blanket can effectively start turning your attention to your overall body rather than that warped prison in the mind.
Next up on our mindfulness team is breath work. Now in many other yoga / meditation styles and mindfulness techniques you’re taught to breathe at a certain pace which is meant to effectively manipulate your nervous system into slowing down. And in many cases that may be a great skill – but what if I told you it’s possible to simply be an observer to your breath and learn how to let it equalize and do its thing naturally. That it’s truly possible to be a passenger and not have to take control. The willingness to try such a style of breath work in itself is so in alignment with letting anxiety be there and naturally allowing it to work itself out.
But we’re not done there just yet! Now that the body is grounded and your breath is naturally and effectively doing its job for you – it’s time to tap back into the mind. This is where exposure response prevention and mindfulness really can overlap. The style of meditation focuses solely on your role as the observer. You don’t need to hide from your thoughts because you’re learning as I walk you through specific prompts to acknowledge and then let thoughts do what they’re meant to – simply flow along.
To try to summarize why this all works in a simple statement:
When you care for your body, mind and spirit it rewards you back.
As much as we don’t like to admit it, anxiety is a part of our body, mind and spirit. When our only coping skill is to run from, distract and compulse over anxious feelings and thoughts, we lose out on the ability to connect to ourselves and learn from the anxiety and just how capable you are of letting it be there.
It should be noted that this style of meditation and mindfulness practice is not an evidenced based treatment and shouldn’t be used as such. But as a practicing ERP specialist and anxious person myself, I can say confidently that integrating practices like this into your life to supplement your treatment doesn’t just help manage OCD and anxiety – it helps your overall health. Because again, you’re taking care of your mind, body and spirit. I am so grateful to any and all who are open to trying something new like this. In many ways it may feel like an exposure itself. So I leave you with this quote which I remind myself of daily:
“Sometimes the simplest and best use of our will is to drop it all and just walk out from under everything that is covering us, even if only for an hour or so—just walk out from under the webs we’ve spun, the tasks we’ve assumed, the problems we have to solve. They’ll be there when we get back, and maybe some of them will fall apart without our worry to hold them up.”
Mark Neepo ; Book of Awakening
Here’s to walking out from under it all, even for just an hour.
You can learn more about Carly on Instagram @counselingwithcarly
Remember: this blog post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as mental health or medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional advice of your own professional mental health or medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical or mental health professional before trying or implementing any information read here.