How Yoga Helps Anxiety, Especially When You Focus Your Practice On These 5 Poses
I've struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and it's been a long journey of figuring out effective ways to cope and live with this mental health condition. In college, I started going to yoga classes, and I fell in love with the calming, grounding effects of the practice on both my body and mind. At that point, I had no idea just how much yoga can help with anxiety, but over the years (and after eventually earning my teaching certification), I realized my daily time spent on my yoga mat was changing my life and becoming a huge asset in dealing with this oftentimes debilitating mental health issue.
Though it can often feel like something you're enduring by yourself, "anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.," according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). And while treatments for anxiety, per the ADAA, can include various forms of therapy and medication, Dr. Bryan Bruno, medical director at Mid City TMS, a New York-based medical center focused on treating anxiety and depression, says yoga can be an incredible form of self-care to help your anxiety become more manageable. "Yoga can help benefit those with anxiety by quieting anxious thoughts," he tells Elite Daily. "Anxiety causes patients to hyper-focus on distressing thoughts. These negative thinking patterns generally go away when a person spends time practicing a meditative exercise like yoga."
Dr. Bruno also notes that a consistent yoga practice plays a big role in releasing bodily tension when anxiety causes your muscles to become tight or tense. "The tenser your muscles are, the more uncomfortable your body will be," he tells Elite Daily. "Bodily discomfort might lead to even more stress [in people with anxiety], but yoga postures are designed to help anxiety patients stretch these muscles."
If you struggle with anxiety and want to try calming your mind with some time on the mat, try these five poses to relax both your body and your mind.
1. Deep Breathing Practice (Pranayama)
Deep, belly-based breathing is an incredibly effective tool when it comes to easing anxiety and finding tranquility in both your body and mind. "Conscious breathing activates the nervous system's relaxation response via the vagus nerve," Jamison Monroe Jr., a certified yoga teacher and founder and CEO of Newport Academy, tells Elite Daily. "This nerve helps control the parasympathetic nervous system, also called the 'rest and digest' system." In other words, yogic breathing exercises can calm your body down from the inside out, and learning these techniques, Monroe says, can be extremely beneficial for helping you get through future, anxiety-triggering situations.
There are a ton of pranayama techniques out there, but personally, when I'm having an anxiety-ridden day, I like to keep it simple with one of the straightforward techniques in the above video.
2. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Simply sitting on your mat, being in the present moment, and scanning your body from head to toe can be a game-changer when it comes to soothing the anxious thoughts that are trying to take over your mind. According to New York-based therapist, Julia Colangelo, LCSW, noticing and engaging in one activity, with your full presence and being, is an incredible way to manage anxiety. "Yoga helps you develop the ability to sit with anxiety," she tells Elite Daily, "which can be the first step in changing your relationship to panic and anxiety."
While you're in sukhasana, try focusing on a part of your body that doesn't feel so tense to help you relax. I personally like zoning in on the soles of my feet, because they never seem to hold any tension, no matter how anxious the rest of my body feels.
3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Hanging over your body like a rag doll in a luxurious, relaxing forward fold is extremely therapeutic, especially when you can't seem to get those anxious thoughts out of your head. According to Yoga Journal, this pose helps release tension in your lower back, neck, and shoulders, and when you combine it with some deep, mindful breathing, forward fold can help calm some of your anxiety symptoms.
While you're dangling your arms, nod your head yes, and then shake it no, releasing any additional tension you might be holding onto.
4. Child's Pose (Balasana)
Child's pose is typically a place of rest in a yoga class — an asana to relax, regroup, and restore. Resting in balasana can provide a sense of connection to the body, "which is not as common if someone is experiencing severe anxiety and panic," Colangelo tells Elite Daily.
When you're experiencing anxiety, she says, it's easy to feel disconnected from your body. But by taking a few moments to yourself to simply rest and breathe, you can ground yourself and feel more in touch with who you really are, outside of your anxious thoughts.
5. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lying down in a restorative pose such as savasana is amazing for any person, but especially for those who deal with anxiety, because the pose encourages peace, quiet, and most importantly, meditation.
Try putting on a guided meditation while you're resting here. Meditating and immersing yourself in the present moment is scientifically proven to change your brain, as long as you stick with the practice over time. Remember: Breathe in the good, and exhale the bad.