When stress and anxiety creep in, don't turn toward food, alcohol, or TV. Try these five yoga poses, instead.
The never-ending flow of information from news sites and social media feeds can cause even calm people to feel anxious or stressed. It’s no wonder that some 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Many alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda can help improve mental health; yoga for anxiety is a great way to start, so follow these five poses to combat your symptoms.
Nadi Shodhana in Padmasana (Seated Lotus Pose)
An anxiety disorder typically affects your breathing first. When you feel threatened or have received information that causes anxiety, you start to breathe shallowly, faster, or you might hold your breath altogether. Focusing on deep breathing can decrease your stress response and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing) is a way to control your breathing and ensure that oxygen-rich blood gets to your brain.
Sit in Padmasana, lotus, or any seated cross-legged position and make sure your spine is tall. If you’re already enduring feelings of anxiety, you may want to ground yourself by sitting against a wall with pillows under your knees. Start with your left hand facing up on your lap. Take your right hand and bring the index and middle fingers in between your eyebrows to rest there as a shelf. You will alternately close your right nostril with your thumb and your left nostril with the inside of your ring finger. At times you will hold both nostrils.
Begin the exercise with a deep breath by inhaling deeply through both nostrils and exhaling deeply through both. Then, hold the right nostril and inhale through the left only and count to two. Hold both nostrils closed and count to six. Let go of the right nostril only and count to four. Then inhale through the right for two, hold both for six and exhale through the left for four. Repeat the whole process for about two minutes.
To prepare for your anti-anxiety yoga and meditation poses, have the following yoga props: a mat, two yoga blocks or small pillows, a bolster or rolled up towel, an eye pillow or rolled up hand towel, and a blanket.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up on the Wall Pose)
For this pose, make sure you have an open wall space and a rolled up towel or yoga bolster. Start seated sideways to the wall with your knees; one hip should be touching the wall. Swing your legs vertically up onto the wall as you lie down on the floor. Place your rolled up towel or bolster underneath your hips at the area of the sacrum. Allow your legs to extend completely upward with your toes facing the ceiling. Bring your arms out to the sides resting slightly below your shoulders. If you have feelings of anxiety, face your palms downward toward the floor. If you’re feeling vulnerable or nervous, place a blanket over you. You can remain in this pose between 5 and 15 minutes.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Make sure your feet are parallel and your arms are alongside you with the palms facing the floor. Press down on your palms, raise the pelvis upward, and squeeze your bottom. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths. You can support your bridge pose with a yoga block. Place the block underneath the sacrum just above the tailbone. Allow your lower back to rest on the block.
This inverted posture will bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain, which has a calming effect, reducing stress and combating panic attacks.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
If you feel symptoms of anxiety, start by sitting on your heels. Bend forward with your arms outstretched and bring your torso to the mat. If your knees are bothersome, open them wide like a letter “V.” You can also wrap your arms alongside of you with the palms facing up. If this pose still isn’t comfortable, place a pillow underneath your torso to bring the floor closer to you. Child’s pose is a gentle inversion.
Alternatively, to reduce anxiety, you can do a puppy pose where your bottom stays aligned with the knees to create a 90-degree angle with your lower legs. Again, drape the blanket around your lower back to keep warm and to keep you grounded.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Begin this pose in a seated position. Place a bolster or rolled up blanket behind your tailbone. Gently lie down on the blanket or bolster, and place your feet together with your knees open in a butterfly pose. If you need knee support, place your yoga blocks or pillows under each knee. Your arms can either be placed on your stomach or outstretched to the sides, allowing the heart and chest to be open. To benefit from full relaxation in this pose, you can place a blanket over you and an eye pillow or rolled up hand towel over your eyes.
Makarasana (Crocodile Pose)
Crocodile pose is deeply relaxing and it facilitates full, diaphragmatic breathing. Begin by lying facedown on your mat. Open your legs a little wider than hip-distance apart with your toes going outward and heels pointing inward. Bring your arms in front of you and fold them with your hands wrapping around opposite elbows. Now draw the elbows in toward you so your shoulder and upper back are slightly off the floor. Rest your forehead on your forearms. Your belly will rest on the floor easily. Begin practicing deep breathing exercises. This pose relaxes your abdomen, enabling you to expand into the lower back. To release tension in the shoulders and neck, you can alternatively place a rolled up towel under the upper chest and underneath the armpits. You can hold crocodile pose between 5 and 10 minutes.
Try practicing a couple of these poses each day as a preventive method against anxiety and to increase relaxation. Having a regular yoga practice when anxiety and stress hit is useful. Keeping your body and mind healthy with consistent practice can prevent stress and anxiety altogether and keep you in a more peaceful state of being.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.