Posted on February 22 2021
It has been estimated that over 40 million adults in the United States alone suffer from anxiety. With the heaviness of the pandemic, people are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than ever before. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, and usually appears as a feeling of fear or uneasiness about what is going to happen. Certain events such as public speaking, work demands, or dealing with finances may cause a feeling of anxiousness, but sometimes it can be more than just that.
While yoga is known for its many physical benefits, it is also an amazing tool to help reduce stress and anxiety! When we’re stressed, we often feel the physical effects in our bodies including tightness in the neck and shoulders, as well as more sneaky places such as the hips and low back. Yoga has been scientifically proven to help lower blood pressure, increase body awareness, reduce heart rate, release muscle tension, and ease chronic pain, just to name a few.
Whether you suffer from panic attacks, or just have the occasional anxious response to stress, yoga can be helpful for lowering anxiety and promoting relaxation. Here are several ways yoga can help with anxiety:
Yoga helps you stay present in the now
Once you step on your mat, you no longer need to worry about anything in the outside world. Yoga is an opportunity “shut off” your brain and truly be in the present moment without judgement or distraction. We often are so focused on our to-do lists, or what’s coming later in the day that we often don’t focus on what’s happening right now. Yoga gives us the space to truly let go of all worries and just enjoy breathing and being in your body.
Yoga helps you focus on your breath
Anxiety has been shown to strongly impact breathing patterns which can lead to shortness of breath, feeling of suffocation, chest tightness, and even heart palpitations. Yoga reminds us to concentrate on our breath and to be more aware of how our breathing impacts our minds and bodies. Mindful breathing can give you the strength to move through even the most challenging postures. Most importantly, yoga reminds us that we can always come back to our breath off our mats to help calm the mind during times of high anxiety.
Yoga is a great form of self-care
When feeling anxious or stressed, it’s easy to stop practicing self-care. Things such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising often fall to the back burner and can cause even more stress. That’s why yoga is such a great form of self-care! Yoga is an opportunity to truly focus on yourself and your well-being, even if just for an hour. Sometimes we can get stuck in our heads in a cycle of worrying, and yoga can help clear that space by changing your focus to your mind and body connection.
Yoga relaxes muscles and physical tension
When the body become anxious or stressed, it tends to become tense & tight. This is especially true in the shoulders, hips, jaw, and other areas of the body. Continuous tension on the body can lead to increased stress and feelings of anxiousness. Yoga helps relax the physical body by stretching the muscles and creating space for mindful movement. Yoga can help you get better at understanding how and where tension affects you most and gives you the tools to let go.
Yoga helps you find comfort in the discomfort
When anxiety hits, it’s common to want to retreat away from things that make you feel anxious or stressed. But sometimes, retreating is just not possible. Whether it’s a task you must do in everyday life, or something that you have to do in order to keep your job, we can’t always avoid things that make us anxious. Yoga reminds us that discomfort is okay and can even be expected during certain postures. If you can handle difficult things on your mat, you can handle difficult things in real life as well!
Ready to give it a try? Here are 3 easy & beginner friendly poses you can do to help reduce stress and anxiety:
- Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is a great beginner friendly pose that helps to relieve stress & anxiety by stretching the low back and relieving tension in the hips. We often hold a lot of emotion in our hips, and this pose is a great way to gently release that tension, creating a feeling of calm & ease.
To get into the pose, begin in a tabletop position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, and your hips stacked over your knees. Gaze to the mat to elongate your spine and protect your neck. Bring your big toes together to touch behind you and widen your knees to the width of the mat. Slowly push your hips back and begin to walk your hands out in front of you until your forehead rests comfortably on the mat. To intensify the posture, push your hands into the ground and lift your elbows off the mat to activate the muscles in your shoulders and upper arms.
If this is uncomfortable at all, you always have the option to bend your elbows or place a pillow under your forehead for extra support. Once comfortable, begin to increase the length of your inhales and exhales. Stay here for 10 rounds of breath, or until you start to feel the tension in your hips subside.
- Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Reclined Bound Angle Pose is a gentle, restorative posture which helps to calm the nervous system and lower blood pressure. It’s easy to do and has a wide range of benefits including stretching the inner hips, improving circulation, stimulating the kidneys and helping relieve mild symptoms of depression and anxiety.
To get into the pose, start by finding a tall seat with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your knees and bring your heels inwards towards your body. Press the soles of your feet together and relax your knees out to either side of the mat. To intensify the posture, bring your heels as close to your pelvis as you possibly can (without any pain, of course). Slowly begin to recline to the floor, lowering vertebrae by vertebrae until your spine and head are resting on the mat. Relax your hands out by your sides, gently close your eyes and breathe.
If this is uncomfortable at all, you are welcome to place a block or a pillow under your knees/outer thighs for extra support if you have tight hips. Once comfortable, begin to breathe into the posture. Stay here for up to 5 minutes. To get out of the pose, close your knees together like a book and roll to one side.
- Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
Happy Baby is a wonderful posture for stress relief. Not only does it release the low back and stretch out the hamstrings, but it gives us permission to be playful and unleash our inner child!
To get into the pose, start by lying flat on your back with your low spine glued to the mat. Bend your knees and bring your shins towards your belly. Grab the outside edges of your feet with your hands and send your feet towards the ceiling so that your ankles are stacked over your knees, and your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Your low back should be flat on the mat. To intensify the posture, push your feet into your hands and your hands into your feet to create a resistance. You also have the option to try playfully rocking from side to side like an infant, or to straighten one leg at a time for an extra stretch.
If this is uncomfortable at all or your low back is peeling off the mat, you have the option to grab for your inner thighs rather than your feet. You can also use a strap around your feet in each hand to provide more length in your arms if the stretch is too intense. Breathe into this posture and hold for up to one minute.
Stephanie Morgyn is a certified holistic health & mindfulness coach, wellness blogger, RYT 200-hour yoga instructor, freelance writer, speaker and entrepreneur from Chicago. Her goal is to help women find calm and positivity in their hectic lives, cultivate mindfulness, and live with passion, authenticity & purpose. Visit her website at www.StephanieMorgyn.com for more information on her upcoming mindfulness courses, blogs and more!
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