How to Calm Anxiety With Yoga

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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it affects 80 million adults in the U.S. annually. That's about 18 percent of the population.

Among other debilitating side effects, it keeps individuals from being in the present moment and fearful about the future. Other common symptoms of anxiety include:

Excessive worry

  • Restlessness

  • Being easily fatigued

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Muscle tension

But the good news is that yoga helps keep people grounded in the now. If you're feeling tense, worried, down, restless or have trouble concentrating, then you can benefit from starting and maintaining a yoga practice.

Yoga is the 6,000-year-old science of body mind health. Yoga poses (asanas) help release tension and stress from the body by regulating hormones and increasing endorphins.

While a general yoga practice can help easy anxiety symptoms, you can also pick specific poses that address the challenge. But first remember to consult a doctor or mental health professional.

5 Yoga Poses for Anxiety

People with anxiety tend to be more keyed up, as they struggle to manage their racing thoughts. After 20 minutes of warm-up poses (like sun salutation variations), anxiety is eased with cooling, meditative poses like forward folds and the other poses below.

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1. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)

HOW TO DO IT: From a seated position, extend your legs. Pull your toes back toward your body. Reach forward, placing your hands on your legs, ankles or feet. Using your abs, draw forward through the top of your head.

Firm your quads, relax your shoulders back and down, and enjoy the stretch. If you have tight hamstrings, you can sit on a folded blanket or a rolled-up yoga mat, use a strap or towel around your feet or bend your knees.

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2. Cat/Cow (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana)

These two poses are excellent energy builders, as they move energy stuck in the lower back and midsection. Flow this pose with the breath to warm up the torso and spine. Benefits include strengthening of abdominal, upper back, lower back and chest muscles.

HOW TO DO IT: From hands and knees, assume the Cat pose — create a C shape with your spine, bringing the heart center toward the tailbone and rounding your middle back toward the sky.

Moving into Cow, create a C shape with your spine, but in the other direction. Pull the heart center away from the tailbone, lifting the crown of your head to the sky. Stack shoulders over wrists, hips over knees. Continue moving through the poses for five deep breaths in each direction.

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3. Knees to Chest Pose (Apanasana)

HOW TO DO IT: Lie back on your mat and gently draw both knees into your chest, pressing hands under the knees lightly to deepen your stretch. Rock slowly from one side of back to the other, massaging the organs and spine for 10 long, deep breaths.

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4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

HOW TO DO IT: Lie down on your back, palms down. Slide your shoulders away from your ears. Bring the soles of your feet to the floor, hip-width apart. Press through your feet to lift your hips. Keep your head still to protect your neck. Breathe deeply into your open chest and navel center.

To modify, turn the palms up for more chest opening and core focus. You can take it to the next level by interlacing your fingers under your body. Walk the shoulders toward each other so that your body is resting on the outside edges of your shoulders. Look toward your chest or the sky, focusing on your breath.

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5. Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)

HOW TO DO IT: From knees to chest position above, support your low back with both hands, then engage the belly to draw legs up and overhead. Keep your abs, back and hips engaged as you fully extend both legs toward the sky, keeping feet flexed and leg muscles firm.

Keep your neck stationary at all times and hold for 10 breaths. Release slowly by bringing your legs overhead and rolling down one vertebra at a time. Return to knees to chest position to stabilize the back muscles, regulate your breath and realign the spine.

About the Author

Beth Shaw is an author, entrepreneur and the founder and president of YogaFit, the largest yoga fitness educational school in the world that gives back through an extensive karma yoga program. Her first book, YogaFit, has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide. Her latest book, YogaLean, has sold more than 10,000 copies and counting. Shaw’s third book, The YogaFit Athlete, was released in spring 2016.


Beth Shaw