Anxiety and stress seem to be everywhere in our society these days.
Lucky for us, we can find relief from anxiety on our yoga mats!
More than 18 percent of all adults in the United States are affected by some sort of anxiety disorder. Anxiety can manifest in many different forms. It can be as straightforward as “butterflies” in the stomach before speaking in a big meeting or going to a new yoga class, but it can also be so severe that it feels dangerous to leave home.
According to the Mayo Clinic, yoga helps relieve anxiety. The asanas, controlled breathing, and mindfulness in yoga combine to help us find contentment in our bodies and minds. This helps us relax and therefore manage stress and anxiety.
Yoga teaches us to manage our reactions by paying attention to our mind and body during class. Awareness of the present moment helps us learn to pause throughout the day. These mindful pauses give us perspective and help us chose how to respond in times of stress.
In general, yoga is calming and helps reduce anxiety, but some poses are renowned for their ability to help. Here are some of my favorites:
Child’s Pose (Balasana):
Sometimes anxiety comes from feeling unsafe. When the world feels chaotic or overwhelming coming into Child’s Pose can help. Stretching the back and shoulders in this pose can give a sense of shelter and protection. Child’s Pose puts gentle pressure on the abdominal region which can feel comforting and safe. It also calms our energy by gently grounding the forehead to the mat and physically connecting our head to something bigger than ourselves.
Standing Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana):
In forward folding poses, we turn our gaze back upon ourselves. When our eyes are open, we literally look at our legs or feet. When our eyes are closed, we look inward as a way to check in with our own bodies and minds. Anxiety might make us want to get out of our own heads but forward folds, especially my favorite, Standing Forward Fold, soothes the nervous system and gets us out of fight, flight, or freeze mode. It calms the mind by filling the head with fresh oxygenated blood. This rejuvenates the mind.
Chest Opening Poses:
Sometimes, anxiety comes from feelings of sadness or grief. This might make us want to curl up to protect ourselves or hide from the world. Opening up into chest openers can help us release these feelings. Start gently with poses like Standing Back Bend (Anuvittasana), Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), or Fish Pose (Matsyasana). Allow the space around the heart to open to let those deep emotions gently bubble up and release. You may work your way into deeper poses such as Camel Pose (Ustrasana) or Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) if it feels good.
Cat-Cow Vinyasa (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana):
Connecting the body and the mind through vinyasa can help ease anxiety. Vinyasa simply means moving with the breath. When we tune into the breath and then match the movement of the body to the breath, we must really focus our attention. This focus takes away some of the space of our anxiety.
When Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) and Cow Pose (Bitilasana)are joined into a vinyasa, the simple movements can have a big impact. Cat Pose turns our internal and physical visual gaze inward. The rounded back and shoulders literally create a protective barrier between our heart and the world just like Child’s Pose and Forward Fold poses do. Cow Pose, on the other hand, is a heart opener. When we feel safe through this vinyasa, it allows us to let go of fear and anxiety.
Twisting poses release stored tension in the body. They open up the chest. Twists help us slow down and alleviate stress and anxiety by relaxing the sympathetic nervous system. They signal our minds and nervous systems that it is safe to relax and quiet down.
Reclining twists are usually the easiest to hold longer. After about a minute, the muscles can release and lengthen deeper. This lets us relax and our feelings of stress and anxiousness decrease.
Leg’s-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani):
Leg’s-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) also calms the nervous system. Because the feet are above the heart, it promotes the flow of blood back to the heart and tells the body and nervous system to rest and destress. Even the diaphragm is able to rest more here as the breath slows down. This calms the mind. This restorative pose is especially beneficial because you can do it any time of the day, almost anywhere, and without a warmup.
A regular yoga practice helps integrate these poses (and their benefits) into our lives.
Since yoga gives us space to pay attention to our mind and body during class, it teaches us to handle our reactions. Practicing just a few times a week will help calm the mind and relieve anxiety. Awareness of the present moment helps us learn to pause throughout the day. These mindful pauses give us perspective and practicing these mindful pauses when we’re not stressed or anxious helps us remember those pauses (and gives us a chance to choose how to respond) in times of stress and anxiety.
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