We all feel a little stressed out sometimes. Our breath is shaky, our heart rate fast and we can’t slow the racing thoughts in our heads. The connection between our physical and mental feelings is strong and undeniable. It’s why yoga and conscious breathing can work so well to reduce and help with anxiety.
Why Yoga? History and Stress Reduction
Yoga is an ancient and incredibly introspective practice, praised by many for its ability to calm, relax and comfort us. When we feel anxious and out of control, yoga can help us get back in touch with our bodies. Even if only for a couple of minutes, focusing on our breath can pull us from those worries.
The teachings of Patanjali’s eight-fold system of yoga, developed by the seventh-century BCE sage who wrote the original Yoga Sutras, uses many of the teachings that modern anxiety techniques utilize. Among them are cognitive reframing, behavioral changes, relaxation techniques (focusing on the breath), mindfulness, cognitive flexibility, concentration and deregulation of stress.
A 2017 study found that after just one session of yoga, stress was reduced in participating individuals. Another smaller study with 35 participants practiced yoga as a method to reduce their anxiety. Of the 35, 25 participants felt there was a significant decrease in their psychological stress because of their practice.
“Meditation, visualization, and focusing on breathing can help with letting go of worry and fear. The overall practice of yoga can elicit the relaxation response, allowing both the body and mind to gain a sense of calm and ease,” said Katharina Star, PhD, a counselor specializing in anxiety.
Practicing yoga frequently also helps to regulate stress. When we practice mindfulness, it becomes easier in the future to calm ourselves down and pull ourselves out of harmful thought patterns.
Anxiety often manifests in physical symptoms before we understand why we’re worrying. Stomach pains, chest pain and difficulty breathing are all common symptoms. By being more in touch with our bodies, it becomes easier to identify physical symptoms as symptoms of anxiety.
Free Yoga and Popular YouTube Channels
What’s also great about yoga, is that it can be completely free! YouTube boasts an incredible selection of teachers, the most popular being Yoga with Adriene with over 9 million subscribers. Other outstanding teachers include Yoga with Briohny, Faith Hunter, and Yoga with Kassandra.
Yoga teachers suggest that the best time of day to practice is in the morning. Starting with mindfulness and breathing sets us up successfully for the remainder of the day.
Some poses for anxiety are simple, allowing more focus on breathing techniques. Poses that are challenging can also help work on anxiety through practicing them. Challenging poses provide opportunities for mindful practice in guiding how we learn new poses.
Here are some poses to try when you’re feeling upset or stressed.
The kneeling posture of Hero Pose allows us to focus on our breath, while still massaging the leg muscles slightly.
Stress and anxiety can build up in physical pain our backs and necks. In the triangle pose that tension can be released through a gentle stretching motion.
Although this pose requires more concentration on our balance, it’s perfect for allowing anxious thoughts to be cast aside.
This pose asks us to lie on our backs, with our arms propping us up. This positioning can relieve tension in the chest and back, alleviating the stress on our breath.
One of the classic yoga postures, this is also one of the best postures to just slow ourselves down. In Child’s Pose we can concentrate on our breath, and envelope ourselves in a peaceful, quiet space.
Doing these poses routinely will make it easier to utilize them when they’re needed. When anxiety or panic sets in, you will have the skills and tools to ground yourself. Being in touch with our bodies and breath is incredibly important, and the skills you learn from yoga will appear in other areas of your life.
Learning to handle our stress and anxiety takes practice. We create new thought patterns and reactions to our feelings the more we learn to notice them, and as we work on them. There are many ways to navigate those negative feelings and yoga is an accessible, easy way to start that journey.