Yoga Therapy and Counselling- coping with stress and anxiety in times of uncertainty.

Lisa McGarvaAnxiety, Counselling, Covid, Mental Health, stress, yoga, Yoga Equipment, Yoga Therapy

This blog serves as a means to show you practical measures that you can do to help you with stress and anxiety in uncertain times.  I will answer questions about ‘how’ yoga and counselling can literally make your body and mind feel healthier and give you tools be able to cope with the difficult things that you might be experiencing.  I’m here to help.

Looking after your physical and mental health during the Covid-19 Pandemic and other times of uncertainty.

What are signs of anxiety and stress, and what can it do to your body?

What is Yoga Therapy?

What is the best yoga for anxiety and dealing with uncertain times.

How can counselling treat anxiety? (Mindfulness-based techniques).

Proprioception in reducing the stress response in the body.

Lisa’s gift of deep rest and relaxation.


Looking after your physical and mental health during the Covid-19 Pandemic and other times of uncertainty.

To be in balance with your mental and physical health feels great.  When we throw into the mix a sprinkle of mental health issues, a handful of injury, a dollop of illness, a dab of unexpected life change, folded into the trauma a global health pandemic, suddenly being ‘in balance’ becomes all the more difficult and yet absolutely necessary.  Globally people’s lives have been upended.  We have all had a unique experience of what it has meant to get through what has unfolded so far, much of which for many has been full of trauma and grief.  There is still a long way to go.  So how are you doing?  Are you ok?  My sincere wish is that you are ok.

“We all have different methods and capacities for coping with stress, and some people can function normally under greater stress levels than others.  To reduce stress we can either reduce the number of stressful situations by changing our lifestyle, or increase our ability to cope through techniques.”

– Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Coping with stress and anxiety during times of uncertainty like the 2020 pandemic.

How do you cope with stress? Is it working?

What are signs of anxiety and what can it do to your body?

The NHS says that the symptoms of generalised anxiety can be experienced as 1 or 2 symptoms, while others may have many.

Psychological symptoms: restlessness/a sense of dread/feeling constantly “on edge”/difficulty concentrating/irritability

Physical symptoms: dizziness/tiredness/a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)/muscle aches and tension/trembling or shaking/dry mouth/excessive sweating/shortness of breath/stomach ache/feeling sick/headache/pins and needles/difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia).

I would like you to consider your own ability to handle stress, and have a think about how stress is manifesting in YOUR body presently.  Are your present methods of managing stress working for you?  Evidence of dis- ease in your body left unchecked or dealt with over time leads to disease.

Anxiety is a normal experience for humans.  We can feel anxiety build in anticipation of an event in the future which may or may not actually happen.  When the apprehension begins to interfere with our normal life, detracts from our work, relationships and sense of wholeness, we know that it is time to remedy the situation. What we can do in relation to healing ourselves collectively can go a long way in contributing to the healing our planet which is definitely needed.

The good news is that you have the ability to change your physiological responses to the stress in your life.  Let’s look at how it can be done through both the lenses of Yoga Therapy and Counselling.

What is Yoga Therapy, how can it help with stress and anxiety?

Yoga therapy is the professional application of the principles and practices of yoga to promote health and well-being within a therapeutic relationship that includes personalized assessment, goal setting, lifestyle management, and yoga practices for individuals or small groups.”

-International Association of Yoga Therapists, 2020.

The crux of Yoga Therapy for anxiety and stress has foundations in self- acceptance whilst having to deal with the uncertainty and at times challenging times in life.  Yogic practices of asana (postures) help bring us into the present moment in an embodied way which reduces the tendency to dwell on earlier life events or to obsess about something that (might) happen in the future.  It is in this practice  the neural pathways in the brain begin to change with a daily practice.  The brain learns how the body feels when it is being present, moving mindfully and less being less anxious.  This teaches the body and mind to be more equanimous in our day to day life off the mat, a life where the body and mind feels less reactive to the things which previously were triggers.  In an asana we learn that what challenges us is something we are aware of and come to learn that it will pass and we will be ok.

These days many people are typically treated for anxiety with forms of combinations of psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressant medication and often in combination with each other.  Modern alternative therapy which has its roots in Mindfulness- based meditation as a tool in cognitive therapy has gained significant traction as an effective method for reducing depression and anxiety across a wide spectrum of settings.   Jon Kabat- Zinn’s pioneering work has given significant evidence of its efficacy.   There is also growing evidence for the success of other Buddhist- based meditation practices in healing anxiety. More and more there are growing links in ancient techniques of yoga and modern medicine.  Medicine is catching up to yogic practices and validating them in studies.

What is the best yoga for anxiety and dealing with uncertain times?

Yoga in small space

Maintaining mental and physical health during 2020 lockdown and isolation through the practice of yoga.

As a certified Yoga Therapist I know that one way of practicing yoga simply doesn’t suit all.  It would be highly inappropriate for one person to do a practice that is recommended for another person who has different unique needs.  Everything that is done in yoga is done for a particular effect from how we move, breathe and meditate.  This is why an individual assessment is crucial in having your individual needs met.  There are a high level of possibilities of different asana, pranayama and ways to meditate which should be chosen for your needs by your Teacher.  This is how yoga was traditionally taught,  a student would be guided into a practice for their needs by their teacher who knew them.  Unfortunately these days we often see a Teacher leading a yoga class for a room full of students or even online, unknowing of what the issues of the student are.  Unique practices in their many combinations chosen by the Yoga Teacher would likely be as follows as recommended by Mark Stephens.

Yoga Asana (postures) in reducing the stress response in the body:

People who are stressed and anxious typically have a type of restless energy which in yoga is described as rajasic.  Beneficial asana would be a slower practice that includes long holds particularly in forward bends. It is beneficial to practice with tapas (effort) in a discipline of a daily practice. Perseverance amidst challenges opens the student to a space of deeper contentment (known as santosha).  The student learns that ‘everything will pass’, including the life challenges which they are facing.   A long savasana (corpse pose)  would also be beneficial at the end of the practice.

 Yoga Pranayama (breathing practice) in reducing the stress response in the body:

In Pranayama we can learn that different ways of breathing can have an impact on how we feel physically, emotionally and mentally.  Through experience, we begin to sense an expansive awareness, and feel an internal lightness which creates insightfulness.  We can also learn the tools using breath to settle, calm and feel quiet internally.  This can go a long way in our mental health where we can learn to let go of self- limiting and self-destructive patterns of mental and emotional reactions to life events, even when we are in the midst of things that trigger us into an anxious state.

Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep Meditation) in reducing the stress response in the body:

Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah” (Yoga Sutras)

Sage Patanjali’s classic response to the question ‘What is yoga?’ states that yoga is a process of blocking the patterns of consciousness,  (the ability to ‘let go’ of mind chatter and the things which bind us). This is precisely what happens in the practice of yoga Nidra.  When a person can deeply relax when practicing meditation and then emerge from the period of  meditation  maintaining the relaxed state when faced with stressful situations,  is a person who is in balance. They can truly cope with all life’s situations with awareness, control the nervous system and its responses living a balanced life.  This is the aim and experience of yoga.

The level of relaxation attained in yoga Nidra serves to lessen the harmful effect of the ‘fight or flight’ response.  Studies have shown that regular practise of yoga Nidra induces a significant decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures in hypertensive patients, and also alters the circulating level of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which are secreted by the adrenal glands.

Yoga Nidra appears to work by changing nerve reactivity to stress, creating somatic conditions essentially opposite to those prompted by a sympathetic over activity.  During yoga Nidra the organs and systems of the body attain deep, physiological rest and the body’s powerful, inherent regenerative mechanisms are set in motion.  As a result, body tissues are physiologically braced against stress, becoming less susceptible to its harmful influences.  (Bihar School of Yoga)

 * Keep reading for Lisa’s gift to you of Yoga Nidra Meditations which you can download to your devices.*

Use of Mantra as meditation in in reducing the stress response in the body:

 “Mantras are energetic sound formulas, developed in the Eastern meditation traditions as a way to enhance awareness in daily life, and move us into spaces of deep inner peace and silence.” -Deva Premal

Use of mantra as a type of meditation gives focus for the distracted mind opening it to experience peace and calmness.  Each mantra has it’s own sound vibration that has an effect upon the body. Mantras are also a form of intention to focus upon as a wish for the future that is a way of seeing a future with possibilities.  Deva Premal’s Mantras for Precarious Times  is  a great place to start.

Deva Premal

Deva Premal’s album is a masterwork of beautiful mantras to help soothe the mind.

This selection of mantras is both powerful and beautiful to listen to whether it be throughout your day and let the sounds wash over you, or to learn the mantras and practice them in a Japa Mala meditation (using mala beads to count each time the mantra is chanted 108 times).  Deva Premal states that:

 “According to the Vedic Scriptures, our bodies- physical and subtle- contain 72,000 energy channels, which are called Nadis’.  There are 108 major nadis that meet in the ‘sacred heart’ (hrit padma).  By chanting a mantra 108 times the energy permeates the entire body and energy body.”

You may be interested in a downloadable songbook of the album:

Deva Premal in the above makes reference to the ‘subtle energy body’. In moving from a rajasic (restless) energetic state to one that is sattvic (of light energy), you ideally surround yourself with things in your life which are conducive to this higher frequency of energy such as the food you eat, the place you work, where you live, your habits, the people whom you surround yourself with, and much more.  Deva Premal is a part of a global project called The Unity Mala Project with Ami Ben Hur.   Ami is a master goldsmith who creates unique mala beads made from organic 24 carat gold.  The beads are infused with the sound of Deva Premal’s chanting when the gold melts and the sanskrit of the chanted mantra is etched into the gold bead before it is rolled.  The product is a mantra bead that has resonance and can be a focal point in meditation, and can also be attached to mala beads as the meru bead (the larger 108th bead)  for japa mala meditation.

Japa Mala Meditation Anxiety Stress Focus

Mala meditation- chanting mantra 108 times helps with focus, reducing stress, and reducing anxiety. Japa Mala created by Ami Ben Hur and infused with the sound Mantra of Deva Premal.

All of these yogic tools can enhance the sense of being more fully awake , in balance and at ease in life.

How can counselling treat anxiety? (Mindfulness-based techniques).

Clients come to counselling with a wide range of issues and goals, but some of the most common issues that clients wish to address in counselling are feelings of stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction. The use of mindfulness-based techniques can be useful for each of these issues which, generally speaking, relate to feelings and responses to perceptions and thoughts. The use of mindfulness can alter viewpoints, relationships to thoughts, and understanding of feelings and responses. The practice of mindfulness may provide clients with a space to slow down, step away from stress and stressors, take a moment to simply ‘be’, and develop the capacity to see or relate to things differently.

Within mindfulness research, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the practice of mindfulness can actually effect brain structure and function. Some research has indicated that individuals who are experiencing anxiety, mood disorders (commonly referred to as ‘depression’), and PTSD tend to have more activity in their right prefrontal cortex (Siegel, 2010). However, after mindfulness treatment, some study participants showed greater activity in their left prefrontal cortex, as well as reporting that they felt calmer and more content, and experienced fewer negative moods. Research into the effects of mindfulness and meditation have also suggested changes to the structure of parts of the brain. One study focussed on the amygdala – the ‘fight or flight’ centre of the brain – to see whether mindfulness training was associated with changes in size (Taren, Creswell, & Gianaros, 2013). After completing an eight-week mindfulness course, participants’ amygdala appeared to have shrunk. Studies have also shown that the functional connectivity between these two brain regions and the rest of the brain changes as a result of meditation and mindfulness training.  Meditation changes the structure of the brain by creating new neural pathways.

ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) involves learning to allow thoughts to come and go, accepting them for what they are, while committing to effect behaviour change that is consistent with one’s own values and goals (Siegel, 2010). Because of its broad focus and wide range of techniques, ACT appears to be useful in response to a range of clients and issues: it has been successfully applied in counselling for anxiety, stress, mood disorders, anger issues, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders, and interpersonal problems (Hayes & Lillis, 2012).


Proprioception in reducing the stress response in the body.

Supported Savasana during Yoga Nidra

Use of props such as bolsters and eye pillows during Yoga Nidra.

In practicing yoga asana (postures) the body is required to maintain balance and move which engages the proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems.  The nerve pathways from the body to the part of the brain which is responsible for the sensory systems are the same parts of the brain that are responsible for modulating the autonomic nervous system (your stress response).  Movement with balance reduces your feelings of anxiety.  When your body has a sense of where it is in relation to its surrounding space reduces anxiety.  This is why a good long hug can feel so relaxing. We can also use props in Yoga to place gentle pressure against the body when relaxing in savasana (when the body is reclined) to relax.  Use of weighted blankets, eye pillows and bolsters can help with the body finding the sensory feedback to relax.

When in isolation and lockdown for month after month in 2020,  I found that using my yoga hammock was quite useful in providing the sensory feedback needed to calm my body and mind.  I liked to imagine it was like I was being simultaneously rocked and hugged.

Here are some props that can help with sensory feedback to use in Yoga:

Eye Pillow– I recommend eye pillows with lavender as they are relaxing, however shouldn’t be used if there are allergies.

Yoga hammock  Dual purpose for relaxing in as well as engaging in aerial yoga.

Yoga Bolster- I recommend yoga bolsters that are filled with buckwheat as they mould to your body and don’t lose their shape as the cotton ones do over time.  Make sure that your bolster has a washable outer cover.

Weighted blanket– Gentle pressure application when in savasana helping the body to feel secure.


Lisa’s gift of deep rest and relaxation.

Yoga Nidra

Including Yoga Nidra into your daily self care routine.

A simple practice or tool that you can access straight away is to take 30 mins out of your day and listen to one of my recorded Yoga Nidra’s which are available both on my Instagram TV: or on my Thinking Feeling Moving YouTube channel

The recordings on the YouTube channel can be downloaded to your devices to listen to at any time.  Clients globally find them to be invaluable in helping them to cope with life a little easier. The Yoga Nidra recordings are free, and is one way that I can help people with their mental and physical health, which in turn helps our planet in precarious times.

I also offer free 30 minute consultations online in my Counselling Private Practice for people globally.  You can book through my website  . We can start to have a conversation about your experiences and it can be left at that, or you might like to book in for Counselling sessions with me. I am here to help you to find solutions that you are comfortable with.

I hope that you now have an insight in to how both Yoga Therapy and Counselling can be valid approaches in helping people deal with their anxiety and stress during uncertain times.  You also have a few tools that you can use straight away to improve how you feel.  I am here to help.  Thank you for reading.