Yoga to Ease Anxiety
With everything going on in the world, it is no surprise that anxiety levels are higher than normal. Even people who have never experienced it before are finding moments of feeling overwhelmed, disorientated and in a relentless state of fight or flight. So, can yoga ease anxiety?
For a vast percentage of the population, anxiety is a daily battle. Although for many medications is the route that works best for them, others choose a different way. Talk therapy and support, exercise, hypnotherapy and of course yoga and meditation. Whatever works best for you, is the best one for you to use. So, lets look at the ways we can use yoga to ease anxiety.
The Power of Pranayama
One of the side effects of anxiety is the sensation of not being able to catch your breath. It can feel scary, increasing your heart rate and create a feeling of being out of control. Luckily, there are a number of Pranayama techniques that can work wonders at helping bring back a sense of control and a gentler pace of breath. They tend to work on a few levels. Firstly, actively slowing down or trying to reign in some form of control over your breath creates a sense of calm for the brain and the nervous system. Secondly, focusing on your pranayama technique works as a great distraction for your mind and often that is enough to help ease some symptoms. It doesn’t matter on what level it works for you, sensory calming or simply distraction, breathwork is often the fastest way to use yoga to ease anxiety.
The art of distraction. We all know the method of counting sheep to drift us off to sleep? Well, yogis and monks have been using counting as a form of meditation for… well forever. There are a lot of ways you can use counting to create a meditative breath pattern to help ease anxiety but this is a gentler, anxiety friendly version of a favourite.
To start try just simply counting your breath as it is. Chances are, it is shallow and little all over the place! Then try to count your breath in through the nostrils for 4 seconds, and then out through the mouth for 4 seconds. After a minute or so this should start to feel comfortable so then try and allow the exhale last for 6 seconds. This longer breath out will start to create a subtle feeling of calm through your body. Again, after a few minutes, this way of breathing will start to feel more natural too. Keeping this count, now try inhaling for 4 seconds then holding that breath for a count of 2. Softly, exhale for 6 seconds and then hold the base of the breath out for the count of 2 before breathing back in for 4.
Once everything starts to feel a little calmer and your breath feels like it can now flow freely, try inhaling for 6, holding for 4, exhaling for 6, holding for 4 and then starting again. The trick is to not rush there. Start gently and allow your body, breath and mind to work its way when it’s ready. No stress. No pressure. Just breathing.
There are so many yoga postures that can help create a sense of calm through body and mind. Essentially, this is about finding what works for you. Go on a little asana adventure and see what has the best effect! Just remember, you want to create a feeling of safety in your physical and mental body, calm the nervous system and settle the breath. Here our are 3 favourite postures to use yoga to ease anxiety.
Beautiful childs pose. There is so much magic in this posture that is not given enough credit! It can create a feeling of safety and security like no other. By hiding away the most vulnerable parts of our bodies, like the heart space and the belly, this is a moment to almost feel like the world around you can be shut away. It also helps ease the tension out of the neck and shoulders where we hold onto stress, as well as that blissful release through the glutes and the hips. Next time it all feels a bit too much – stop, drop and childs pose.
Keep it soft and gentle. Right now, this isn’t about the stretch! Bend at your knees, allow for space and hang forwards. Standing forward fold when done in a more restorative way can feel deeply nurturing and calming, creating a sensation of relaxation that works through your mind as well as your body. This inversion aids in the calming of the sympathetic nervous system controlling your ‘fight or flight’ stress response. That calming triggers your parasympathetic nervous system – the ‘rest and digest ‘ response allowing you to feel calmer in a short space of time. Find your fold, close your eyes and allow for a few deep breaths before rolling back.
Legs Up the Wall
You may be aware already but we really love this restorative yoga posture. The combination of its semi-supine nature, feeling the back fully supported by the floor and ability to breathe deeply here ticks all the boxes! It also helps with venous drainage and gives the circulation a little boost with very little effort on your part at all. That means not only does this help you feel relaxed and calm but afterwards, you may feel a little lighter with a bit of an energy boost! Stay here for a few minutes with the eyes closed and allow for some slow, soft breaths. Keep as much of a bend in the knees as you need to to be comfortable.
O, how we love yoga Nidra! Honestly, if you have not had the pleasure of experiencing the magic of this meditation, we suggest you indulge and treat yourself. It is a real gift and, one of our favourite ways to use yoga for anxiety! This is not just a normal meditation, this is a journey through the senses and the mind creating a feeling of ultimate calm in welcoming ourselves and the world as it is in the moment. Often with anxiety, our instinct draws us into looking for something to change. Yoga Nidra asks us to step back slightly and observe, welcoming what is present and not fighting against it or ourselves. In becoming less attached to an outcome or a goal, practising being present and mindful we create a sense of calm. You have nothing to do than just be here. There is nowhere to be than exactly where you are.
The internet is FULL of beautiful yoga Nidra that you can access at any time. This Yoga Nidra Network is also a great platform for free meditations.
As we mentioned at the start. Please, always remember that the correct way to manage your anxiety is the way that works best for you! If yoga works then great but if it doesn’t then that is fine too! Always seek the help of a professional doctor or a therapist when you need too, talk to friend or family member and share the burden of the weight you feel like you are carrying. Know that there are people, personal and professional, who are there to help you.