We’ve all been there. Anxiety comes in all forms – planning a wedding, having a baby, taking care of aging parents, changing jobs – life throws us curve balls more often than we’d like, but it’s how we deal with those curve balls is what sets us apart from others.
For some, finding a hobby may be enough, or just going for a walk. But, did you know that yoga can actually help manage anxiety too?
How does this work? In my files I knew I had a series of poses that directly help with anxiety. I looked at that first. Then I started to think about some of the things I learned in my most recent training with regard to Yin Yoga. Long story short, not all yoga poses are suitable for all bodies, minds or situations!
Generally speaking, the breath work of yoga can definitely be calming. An equal inhalation/equal exhalation pattern of breath definitely calms the body and mind, taking one from a fight of flight reaction in the central nervous system to a rest and restore reaction. So this is a great place to start. It is a great practice to continue while doing yoga poses.
Emotions, anxiety and joy tend to be held by the body – usually in our chest and in our hips. We get that sinking feeling in our chest or heart when something goes wrong. Conversely, we can experience great joy, physically, in our chests or hearts. Emotions in the hips seems a little less obvious to me. Maybe we clench or hold in. We all know that the body reacts to situations. Being aware of these physical reactions is our first step at alleviating some of that pain. It is a life-long practice and yoga can help.
If you are experiencing any type of anxiety, we are often told to do chest openers as they tend to calm the body. In Yin it is often suggested to do the chest openers at the beginning of class and save the forward folds for later in the practice mostly because we spend so much of our time looking down at screens! But it really depends on YOU. How do you feel on your back with a bolster running along your spine to open that chest? Personally, I LOVE it. But for many people it makes them feel vulnerable. Maybe this is due to our historic nature wherein we feel we have exposed all our organs while in this position; our fear of predators coming to get us!
Forward folds can be extremely calming…think child’s pose or sitting in a forward bend. The rest of the world can seem so far away when we fold in. Stretching along the spine and backs of legs can bring great peace.
Again, find what works best for you. Keep in mind that all our nerves run along the spine so for most of us the combination of chest openers and forward folds with attention to our inhalations and exhalations will provide an ideal balance.
So here is the series of poses for anxiety. Do them all or do the ones that make YOU feel best. Remember, this may change from day to day.
Yoga Poses for Anxiety
Easy Pose (sitting crossed legged, perhaps on a bolster). If you’re used to sitting in chairs, Easy Pose or Sukhasana can be quite challenging. Modify if you need to.
Pranayama or breath work while in Easy Pose. Equal inhalations followed by equal exhalations. (Inhale 7 seconds/pause/exhale 7 seconds/pause/repeat – or however many seconds work for your lung capacity.)
Cat/Cow provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs. It is a great way to warm up the spine. From all fours, gently round the spin, tucking the hips and broadening across the shoulder blades (cat) and then upward arch the spine (cow), dropping the belly, lifting the hips and opening the chest.
Extended Puppy Pose is sort of a cross between Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog. Extended Puppy Pose lengthens the spine and calms the mind. Start on all fours, keep hips up and walk the arms forward, bringing chest toward the floor.
Bridge Pose is done from your back, knees bent, feet on floor with heels close to your bottom. Deep breath in and as you exhale, slowly lift the hips, engaging inner thighs and bottom. This pose can be whatever you need—energizing, rejuvenating, or luxuriously restorative.
Camel Pose can be an intense back bending/chest opening pose. Starting from on your knees, lengthen through the spine and then slowly open the chest, bending back and reaching for your heels.
Standing Forward Fold, bending over reaching for toes – even taking hands to toes or backs of calves, lengthening backs of legs and spine. Knees can be bent if that is better for you.
Upward salute – standing tall and raising hands over head.
Another Standing Forward Fold.
Wide legged Forward Fold – take legs as wide as comfortable for you, toes pointed to front. Press feet to ground, softening knees and slowly fold forward bringing hands to floor or a block.
Bound Angle Pose or cobbler. This is a seated pose with knees bent and open, soles of the feet coming together. Lengthen through the spine, press feet together and allow thighs to open. This is one of the best hip openers. Let it go!
Fish Pose – done lying on back, arms along your sides, palms facing down. Begin to press into palms and elbows as you lift your ribcage, chest and head. Keeping chest and ribs up, carefully let head fall back. This can be modified if need be to protect neck by using a block or bolster under head, or even a bolster beneath shoulder blades.
Seated Forward Fold – extend legs long, knees and toes facing up as you fold trunk over legs, reaching for toes.
Easy Pose with hands to heart in prayer pose – an excellent way to focus on the breath and meditate.
Legs up the wall (or calves on a chair) – one of my favorite poses. It is also known as the Great Rejuvenator. It is helpful for those who stand a lot or have restless leg syndrome. Lying on back with bottom close to wall, stretch your legs out long on the wall, or place legs on a chair. Support head with a small (1-2″ block) so head is higher than shoulders. Optional support would be a bolster under bottom of pelvis and maybe a sand bag across low belly or on feet.
Yoga for Anxiety? Yes.