Amy’s Anxiety and Little Anchors of Healing
When Amy came into the office she said she was having some “stress and was feeling overwhelmed”. She told me that she had been to see her doctor as she was having trouble breathing at times and, “was worried that something was wrong with her heart”.
As we spoke about this she began to cry. She said that, “everything was good in her life and she did not know why she was feeling so much pressure inside”. Amy was 21 years old and about to graduate from college (in six months). She had been in an “intense” relationship for two years that had ended a year earlier. She felt that she had been “adrift” without having any interest in dating since the break up. She did not have a plan for post graduation and felt “lost and overwhelmed” about the next step in her life after college.
We began to identify Amy’s symptoms as generalized anxiety, or in ayurvedic language, a vata imbalance. There was some residual grief around her last relationship that appeared to be heavy and was apparently creating some dullness and inertia in her mind. We might identify that as a more tamasic quality or mindset. Amy’s doctor said her heart was fine and that there did not appear to be a medical condition that needed treatment. The doctor felt that she needed to rest more and maybe “talk to someone”.
Over the course of our sessions we began to create daily routines to support Amy so she did not feel like she was “drifting”. We gave her anchors to start and end her day. Her dinacharya began with tongue scraping, then having some warm water with lemon, followed by neti pot and nose oil with some warming and calming essential oils like rose. We built upon this foundation over the next few months.
To end her day we started with a calming and balancing pranayama, nadi shodhana, and a foot oiling practice with warm, lavender infused, Ashwaghanda Bala Oil. After oiling she did Viprita Karani, or legs up the wall pose, with a sandbag on her belly and a blanket from her feet to her shoulders. She rested in this posture while following her breath as it moved from inhale to exhale, for nine minutes.
Our work revolved around simple daily practices so not to add to the overwhelm that Amy had been feeling. For morning time support, to set her day off with a calm and steady mind, we worked with belly breathing practices. We explored a range of postures and props to support a belly-breathing habit so, should she become anxious she would have a “go to” technique to bypass the chest breathing that was triggered by the anxiety.
Amy was resistant to addressing the grief. This is not unusual as we can stay in relationship to those we have lost (to death, breakup, etc.) by being attached to our grief. We explored this idea and finally agreed upon working a “gratitude practice” upon waking and to send love to the people, including the partner who left her, who she feels closest to in her life.
At this stage Amy began to use Brahmi/Gotu Kola liquid extract to support her nervous system and to cool her mind from the anger and heat that was building. As in western medicine, the stages of grief include tamasic numbness and sadness, and when the process is being digested, there is often anger or rajas. While it can be a tough time for many of us, this is considered a movement toward healing.
Amy continued with treatment for about six months. She did report feeling more steady and was “looking forward, but still a little nervous, to graduation”. At our last session I asked Amy “what title would you give the story of our work”? Amy recalled a Buddhist quote that we had discussed earlier in treatment that resonated with her, “Pain in life is inevitable but suffering is not. Suffering is your choice”. Amy said she felt that her “little daily anchors” would keep her a float when the pain comes, that she can have a choice to suffer less. What was the title of her treatment story? “Sailing the Sea of Pain with the Wind of Healing”