Stress and anxiety are common emotions that plague some people more than others, and circumstances, health, our environment and personal mental state can accelerate it. There are a number of ways to deal with anxiety, from exercise and meditation to eating habits and counselling. One of the best ways to deal with and stay on top of stress is through yoga, an ancient exercise that connects the body and mind. The physical asanas (postures) of yoga, mixed with breathing techniques and meditation, can calm the mind, bring perspective and help you deal with anxietal issues for mental clarity and inner peace.
Yoga For Anxiety
Yoga has many benefits beyond lowering stress levels and grounding you. It can be a great exercise for weight loss, as well as improving circulation, increasing flexibility and boosting respiratory function. When it comes to stress reduction, not all yoga poses are created equal. Some asanas and sequences are better for weight loss, others work well for strength and some focus on calming the mind, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. By following a yoga sequence specifically designed for tension relief and restfulness, people can significantly reduce stress levels and, over time, control their stress response in a more permanent way.
Worry, stress and anxiety don’t just affect our mental state – there is a physical response within our bodies that can cause physical health problems. Our response to a stressful situation or state-of-mind comes from an automatic “fight or flight” instinctual trigger, which releases a surge of adrenaline. This protected our ancestors from life-threatening danger, and remains a common reaction of chronic worriers. When the body issues this response, stress hormones such as cortisol are released by the sympathetic nervous system, which would be used as fuel in an actual fight or flight scenario. The hormones boost blood sugar levels and blood fats.
Short-term physical effects of stress can include difficulty swallowing, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, fatigue, an increased heart rate, headaches, muscle aches and tension, lack of concentration, shortness of breath, sweating and hot flushes, trembling, nervous energy and insomnia. However, when these hormones and reactions continue to occur on a repeat basis, more long-term health problems can arise. These include a weakening of the immune system, digestive problems, short-term memory loss, premature coronary artery disease, and potentially even heart attacks. If ongoing anxiety is left untreated, it can lead to depression and suicidal feelings.
Yoga can be used as an effective tool to reduce and control stress through physical movement, breathing and meditation. Introducing a daily practice into your routine can help regulate your breath, relax your body, release muscle tension and circulate blood, oxygen and nutrients around the body, creating an overall sense of wellbeing.
Breathing is one of the foundations of yoga, and along with Ujjayi, the technique that is used during a sequence of asanas in a yoga practice, there are a number of specific breathing (pranayama) exercises that can help calm the mind and minimize anxiety. By slowing the breath, you can slow down your heart rate and draw focus away from racing thoughts in the mind.
Learn these three yogic breathing exercises so that you can come back to them when you are feeling stressed or anxious.
Morning Practice (Surya Namaskar)
If anxiety or stress plagues your life on a regular basis, a short morning yoga practice can be a great way to start the day. All you need is 15 to 20 minutes, beginning with some meditative breathing for a couple of minutes followed by the joint release series and some sun salutations. The number of sun salutations you choose to do will depend on the amount of time you have and how much energy you have. You could do two, or you could do 10. A morning practice will revive and energize your body, clear your mind and start your day with positive energy.
Try This Sequence Of Yoga Poses To Calm Anxiety
Certain yoga poses can induce different calming reactions in stressful situations. For example, seated poses, such as child’s pose and extended puppy pose, can help the mind reach a meditative state, while strong, heart opening poses like bow, triangle and pigeon can energize the body and make you feel more empowered about a situation. You can continue on with these poses after your sun salutations in the morning, or following a stressful day.
Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana)
This pose can be performed in three different ways – each of which will slightly change its benefits. For anxiety, one of the best options is reclined bound angle, where you are lying on your back with a block or blanket underneath your spine to open your chest. It is a restorative pose that rebalances the body and mind from the heart, which can help relieve feelings of anxiety.
Start sitting up straight with your legs out in front of you, in staff pose. Fold your knees out to open your hips and place the soles of your feet together, bringing them as close to your groin as you can. Your legs should make a diamond shape. Take note of your back again and make sure it is nice and straight, not rounded. You can close your eyes and take long, slow yogic breaths in through the nose and out through the nose. From here, you can lean forward, and if you’re able to reach the ground beyond your feet, you can rest in that position, stretching out your back and hips.
For reclined bound angle pose, or goddess pose, start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Slowly release your knees apart to the ground without straining the insides of your thighs or groin. Place the soles of your feet together, like you did in seated bound angle, and rest your hands either behind your head or out to the sides of your body, palms facing up. You can add a bolster or blanket underneath your spine to open your chest here. Relax in the pose and concentrate on long Ujjayi breaths.
You may also like: