Saturday, February 5, 2011


No, I'm not suggesting you should be anxious right now.

It's Saturday -- you should kick back with your favorite beverage at hand (personally, I favor coffee), some nice music playing -- or perhaps Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! is on? -- and scroll lazily through your RSS feeds, pausing to close your eyes and doze at key moments -- like when you get to something boring. If you have a pet, perhaps you could stroke it at random intervals...unless it's a turtle or an iguana or something. In which case, it's probably not quite such a stroke'y situation. Maybe a grape would be welcome, though.

No, today, I've got a brief book review for you of Yoga for Anxiety, by a husband-and-wife team, Mary and Rick NurrieStearns. As you can see from the author line above, Mary, at least, is a certified counsellor and many of the personal narratives in the book come either from her patients or from personal experience, both hers and Rick's.

This is a pretty helpful little volume. For, me I found the last few chapters -- the yoga poses and everything else to the end -- to be the most interesting and useful. The yoga poses are beautifully illustrated with black and white photographs although the instructions for getting in and out of poses might be a bit sketchy; I have bad luck following flow instructions in books anyway! The meditation instructions are really good -- clear, unpretentious, very straightforward.

Will the book confirm your suspicion that yoga and meditative practice will help anxiety (diagnosed or otherwise)? Yes. Will it give you horror stories about people whose anxiety is 1000x worse than yours? Oh, yes. Does it sometimes have weird evangelical Christian overtones? Yes; those are kind of awkward moments.

I think the authors are, laudably, trying to broaden their potential audience as much as possible; perhaps they are evangelical Christians themselves, I have no idea. I've rather specifically avoided finding out, to be honest. And I know yoga can have a kind of rocky road for Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical/conservative persuasion, because of the perceived "religiosity" of the practice. I think this is a fascinating question and, were I better informed, I'm sure I could go on at length about it, but I'm not, so I won't. I prefer to think that the NurrieStearns's aim is to try and reach the widest possible audience of people for whom these techniques could be helpful and that's pretty much everyone because I know very few people who don't at least get a little anxious before making a speech. They draw examples and inspiration from anywhere they can: if it calms your nerves to repeat that God loves you, they're happy with that; if you'd rather chant om, they're happy with that, too.

My real quibble with the book is how much time is spent right up front -- the first third or so of the book -- i an outline of types of anxiety and what feels to me like a kind of self-diagnosis guide for anxiety disorders. I get fidgety around that sort of thing because I think it can play into a variety of personal issues and when it comes to something that's as potentially serious as a mental health issue like anxiety, it's important to get an outside view, preferably a professional outside view. It's like going to a doctor to get a sprained wrist taken care of; yeah, you probably know what you did; yeah, you probably know what to do for it; but in order to get it taken care of in a way that will let it heal well, it might be a good idea to ask someone whose job it is to make it better.

There are a lot of journal prompts and "reflect on your answers to these questions" and "return to the entry you wrote for the prompt XXX and consider YYY." I didn't find those prompts that useful and it would have been nice to have a few more "and if you find yourself freaking out before you have a chance to write this journal entry, try this" ideas. I'm also not a huge journalizing-type person; I used to be, but I'm not now for a whole variety of reasons none of which are pertinent here. If you are a regular journaler (journalist? journaler...? I don't know. If you write a freakin' journal!), then these prompts might be absolutely fantastic for you and I'd urge you to check the book out and have a go.

Once they do get down to brass tacks, so to speak, the tacks are really useful: actual everyday techniques for use on the spot, so to speak. And constant reassurance that this is a process: some things will be useful; some won't. Some days you will love your practice; some days you will want to throw it out the window. Keep at it; keep trying; keep coming back.

 *Disclaimer: I am not a yoga teacher. I hold no certifications. All opinions here are only my own and only opinions and should be taken as such.

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