The waterfall – a pose to help with anxiety
If you ever suffer from anxiety, whether it’s just low level worrying and rumination or a full-blown panic attack, you know that it’s not a pleasant sensation. As a therapist I give people strategies to help with anxiety. Here’s my favorite pose: the waterfall.
When I’m feeling anxious I feel my chest constrict, my breathing becomes shallow and my thoughts are racing a million miles an hour. I repeat conversations or scenarios over and over again in my head. Each time I think these things my nervous system releases more hormones keeping me in flight or fight mode, preparing me to swiftly evade grizzly bears. However there are no bears. Just my thoughts. The quickest way to help myself out of this state of anxiety is to tip over and put my head upside down in a pose called the Waterfall, bringing my energy back down into my body, grounding myself and letting go.
When you do this pose you’ll notice two things:
- It’s really hard to have anxious thoughts when your head is upside down; and
- You feel much calmer when you’re earthed into the floor like a lightning conductor.
Here’s how you do it:
- Find a quiet space and take off your shoes
When you’re feeling anxiety there’s a tendency to loose contact with your body, so feeling the floor beneath your feet is going to anchor you back into your body. i.e. ground you.
2. Stand with your feet hip width apart, toes slightly inwards
(That’s your ‘real’ hip width not the wishful thinking width). Probably around two hand spans apart. Making your toes turn inwards slightly will stretch some of your glute muscles.
3. Bend forward and touch the ground with your finger tips
Slowly bend forward until you can touch the ground (bending your knees as much as you need to in order to touch down). Make a little claw with your fingers and use them to anchor yourself down into the ground. There should not be any weight in your hands.
4. Let your head and neck hang loosely
This is a pose of surrender; of letting go. Do a few yes and no movements with your head to release the tension in your neck and then just let it hang. When I do this pose I feel like my body is melting down towards the ground like a candle.
5. Breathe in and sigh out
Breath in through your nose and sigh out through your mouth. Letting go of everything.
6. Search for the sensation of vibration
What we’re aiming to do in this pose is let go in your muscles and in your mind. We’re asking your mind and your muscles to relax and melt into the floor. So we’re going to search for the sensation of your muscles letting go. This feels like little vibrations up the back of your body. It’s the opposite of having your muscles locked-up for strength. Keep your knees soft (off-lock). (All you yogis out there – this is different to Uttanasana – you’re aiming for softness not a hard stretch). Slowly straighten and bend your legs to find the place where your legs slightly vibrate. Once you’ve found the place, just breathe into it. Breathing in through your nose and sighing out through your mouth. If you don’t feel any vibrations, make your out-breath longer (it’s often hiding there). And if you’re feeling adventurous you can gently lift your heels off the floor and bend and straighten your legs.
7. Hang out down here for 1-5 minutes
Depending on how much time you have, whether your nose clogs up upside-down, or whether the phone rings. Just hang out down here as long as you feel you want to. Always come up slowly so that your blood pressure can equalise.
8. Don’t worry if you don’t feel any vibrations at first
When I was first taught this pose I hung out there for 10 minutes willing my body to let go. I had anxiety about the fact that I couldn’t do the pose “properly”! My muscles were really flexible from years of yoga and dancing, but my mind was more rigid. It wasn’t until I softened my mind that I felt the vibration and relaxation. There’s no competition, just let what happens happen and enjoy the peace and quiet.
For more information on how I can help with anxiety please have a look at my Anxiety page or have a look at my Services page which tells you all about the different techniques I use to help you recover (counselling, mindfulness and body psychotherapy).