It used to be that spies were masters of disguise. By donning a suitable disguise, spies could pass as legitimately belonging within a given office or lab, along the way extracting what they wanted or implanting their ideas. I imagine most spying is now freed from physical disguises, instead relying on cyber-aliases - though there may still be the occasional spy roaming the planet who rely on wigs and fake noses to avoid detection.
While the era of spies-in-disguise may be shifting, the disguise is still very much alive and well. Anxiety is a master of disguise, and seems to be more and more prevalent.
Sometimes anxiety is immediately recognizable, though often it slyly disguises as a justified worry or fear. For example, many people will worry about money at points in their lives. Often there is at least a shred of validity to the concern, though frequently the extent of the worry exceeds the intensity of the stressor.
The anxiety is very sly – it sees a stressor that can legitimately cause concern and puts on a wig, nose, glasses and a fake mustache that looks just like the legitimate concerns. Like a master spy, the anxiety eludes detection. Instead of seeing anxiety as anxiety (a transient mind-state), we get whipped into a frenzy by the anxiety’s seemingly legitimate appearances. And anxiety often puts on a money disguise.
Maybe your car breaks down and needs an expensive repair. The unexpected expense may require examining your budget, and perhaps making some difficult decisions. The reality of the unplanned car expense merits thought and consideration but does it merit fretting, worrying, and sleepless nights? Perhaps it does, but more likely anxiety has put on a money worries disguise, and the anxiety is able to escape detection in your mind.
The regular practice of yoga and meditation allows us to look at our own mind. Rather than reflexively following the parade of thoughts streaming through our minds, we can watch our own minds at work. We can ask ourselves, is this worry commensurate with the stressor? Or has anxiety put on another disguise to evade detection? Quite often simply seeing the anxiety beneath the disguise invites the anxiety-spy to ship out.
When you practice yoga poses, here’s a simple technique to practice watching your own mind.
Many of us have heard a lot of cues or instructions within each yoga pose. Shift your hips here, place your leg there, breathe like this, don’t do that, etc. And quite often when we practice yoga, we respond to the parade of instructions in real-time. In this real-time following-of-orders in the pose, there may be a glimmer of awareness of our own mind but more often it's anxiety wearing another disguise.
A more reliable way to cultivate awareness is to pause for a couple breaths each time a cue or instruction flashes through your mind. After a couple breaths, maybe you choose to apply the cue, or perhaps you watch it melt back into wherever it arose from.
In practicing yoga in this way, we become more familiar with our own minds. In becoming familiar with our own mind, we’re more likely to pause and reflect when appropriate, and less likely to believe the ministrations of the anxiety.