The Bhagavad Gita is a great tale of bravery and courage. One where five Pandava brothers who represent dharma, or the inherent laws within nature and culture, the innate sense of goodness and right-ness within the world, and the hundred Kaurava brothers who represent greed, hatred, anger, and nihilistic tendency. The odds are stacked against the good guys. But luckily the good guys are, or were, brave and courageous. This allegory is just as relevant now as when it was written.
Arjuna, our hero, is an amazing archer. His arrow always hits his mark. And he’s something of a hotty too. He’s strong and powerful and the ladies like him. His reputation as a strapping warrior was known throughout the lands. But even he is not beyond debilitating anxiety. And despair. And hopelessness.
The Gita opens with him in such despair. He’s laying on the floor of his chariot, in the middle of the battlefield, telling his charioteer Krishna that he just cannot fight. The Kauravas are his cousins, and other family members, even his archery teacher are on the opposite side and he cannot bring himself to fight this battle against those he cares about.
He must fight, however, as Krishna tells him because it is a battle for his very soul and for humanity to regain a state of balance once again. And Krishna, the divine attractive force, Arjuna’s superego (forgive the hack Freudianism), begins to explain. Yoga is the way to regain inspiration and motivation and to realize the true path that needs to be taken. There are three ways to practice yoga: karma or action, jnana or knowledge, and bhakti or devotion.
Karma Yoga Krishna tells Arjuna that he must act for the sake of humanity. Arjuna has trained all his life to be a warrior, and this is the moment when the world needs him most. The Kaurava brothers have usurped the throne and are spreading their unique brand of adharma — the opposite of righteousness — in the land. People are counting on him, but most of all, he is prepared to do this, he knows how to do this, and he is the best situated to help return society to its proper direction.
Jnana Yoga Krishna then expounds knowledge about why this battle is so important. He offers knowledge about the Infinite, knowledge of consciousness, and why a person’s awareness needs to expand to realize these concepts.
Bhakti Yoga Ultimately, in the Gita, the Divine or Universal Consciousness is LOVE. The expansive absolute is beyond name or form and it inherently contains love. To know this love is every human’s birthright, but it is not easy. It takes focused, dedicated practice. And bravery and courage. To face one’s shadow is no small task, but it is one of great reward as far as peace of mind is concerned.
Perhaps reversing the order of these three types of yoga may be helpful to address anxiety. First, be kind to yourself. Take a deep breath and remember that you have choices. And that you are not alone. Give yourself a break and do something you enjoy to help cultivate love in your life. Take a walk in nature, go for a swim, play with the dog, or enjoy some good music or a movie.
Then, a little knowledge can help go a long way. There are studies now that say how even the gut biome has something to do with mood. Personal habits affect how you feel. The foods we eat and the activities we do have consequences. Yoga offers daily habits that may be beneficial to our overall health. Yoga postures affect the hormonal balance in the body. Hormones affect mood. For example, cortisol produced by the adrenal glands plays a role in anxiety. Certain yoga postures and breathing practices can help bring balance to the functioning of the adrenal glands to reduce the fight, flight, or freeze response and help the body return to a state of greater balance and less stress. The benefits of a regular yoga practice cannot be overstated.
Finally, knowledge is not enough. There must be action. The most advanced yoga practice is simply getting on your mat and doing it. If you can face yourself, your Self, you can face the world. Sometimes it can be difficult to be motivated, but again, you are not alone. If you would like assistance in dealing with anxiety, let’s chat.