Control. Constraint. Inhibition. Constriction. Fear. Tension. Anxiety. Angst. Anger. Angina . . . these last four all share the same Latin root, angere, which means to strangle or choke.
Do you know how to release the grip, to relax, unbind, let go, let down, and "uninhibit" your mind and body? Let me ask this again: do you know how to relieve and relax your own mind?
I have discovered that we can learn to relax right in the midst of fear or pain and, in doing so, more permanently influence and change the state of our minds and bodies.
In the early 1990s I suffered from acute sciatica. The sciatic nerve is the largest bundle of nerves in our bodies and mine was severely inflamed. This ranked right next to childbirth in intensity of pain. I had to ice the area constantly and I lived on Vicodin (Tylenol with codeine) for days.
I had two of these severe attacks before I learned how to use yoga on a regular basis to prevent them, and also how to completely relax both my mind and my body whenever I first started to feel the nerve clenching up. Prior to this time, the nerve would tend to tighten up even further, then go into spasm and have me close to screaming.
But I taught myself to apply consciousness, awareness and intention to muscles and nerves. Then, having experienced the success of this in relation to the sciatica, I began applying this same technique, whenever anxiety and worry started tightening its debilitating grip on me. And I’m here to say that it works quite well.
I do credit this ability to the kind of awareness that develops through the practice of meditation. Meditation develops one’s sense of aliveness and attunement to mind-body processes to an extraordinary degree. We can catch ourselves thinking and feeling with quite a different sensibility than we used to have, or that non-meditators have. This provides a greater freedom of choice, moment to moment, on how life will go for us and those around us, and what we will experience.
In her book The World I Live In (which was out of print for nearly a century and published again just in 2003) Helen Keller says: “The sense of smell has told me of a coming storm hours before there was any sign of it visible. I notice first a throb of expectancy, a slight quiver, a concentration in my nostrils. As the storm draws nearer, my nostrils dilate the better to receive the flood of earth-odors which seem to multiply and extend, until I feel the splash of rain against my cheek. As the tempest departs, receding farther and farther, the odors fade, become fainter and fainter, and die away beyond the bar of space.”
I believe that just as Helen Keller could sense the coming of a storm through her sense of smell, we can sense the coming of anxiety through our awareness. And, before it comes on full strength, we can dissipate it so the storm doesn't happen, or if it does, it may rain, but not be torrential.
Whenever you first sense anxiety’s presence and its encroachment into your mind and body processes, acknowledge it, take a full breath and, staying with yourself, let it out, relaxing completely. This, of course, will not remit the inner or outer conditions that may be giving rise to the anxiety or pain. But, you can head off the intensity of the debilitation in the moment and be better able to function, so as to discern, and then remedy or remove the inciting causes and bring yourself more peace of mind.