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Yoga Poses to Reduce Anxiety

In my years of practice I have found that, depending on my mind state and current mood, yoga has the ability to shift my emotional state.

For my anxiety and moments of panic, I have found that grounding poses are the most helpful. Connecting the body to the earth can be very centering and beneficial to the nervous system. Experts believe yoga helps with anxiety by reducing levels of stress hormones in the body. The body releases stress hormones as part of the fight, flight, or freeze response. This response can lead to symptoms of anxiety.

In any yoga practice or position, it is important to focus on the breath. Anchoring our minds to the breath is what makes yoga more than just stretching. Slowing and concentrating on the breath can reduce the fast heartbeat and rapid breathing that we often experience with anxiety. Restorative yoga also encourages lots of supported postures, passive stretching, stillness and silence, which is conducive to meditation. Even in these passive stretches where we invite stillness into the body, we release endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters, a type of hormone that boosts a person’s mood and reduces stress.

In yoga we provide a unique set of tools to help recognise the thoughts, feelings and actions that lead to heightened anxiety, and practice effective self-soothing methods. In moments of unease or uncomfortable sensations, yoga invites you to become the observer of your thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them, trying to change them, or labeling them as “bad”. When we separate ourselves from these symptoms of anxiety we realize that we do not have to be “anxious” but rather acknowledge that we are experiencing sensations of anxiety. Whether they are physical, mental or emotional, they do not make us who we are, and in these difficult moments we have the ability to observe them without reacting in fear.

“Yoga leads to a cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”


This in no way means to take away from what you may be experiencing. I too have suffered with debilitating anxiety and panic disorder, and I know that this may be easier said than done. You will more than likely not accomplish this state of acceptance and observation on your first attempt, but that does not mean it is impossible. Like all things in life, in order to cultivate a new skill and master our own minds, we must first experience setbacks, challenges, and above all else, we must be persistent in our practice. As we continue to practice yoga, not only in heightened states of anxiety, but also while we are in the window of tolerance, we develop a strong sense of self-awareness and deepen our mind-body connection. By doing this, we become aware of the link between our minds and bodies in a way that can help us become less anxious.

Below I will highlight some of my favorite yoga poses that not only help me center and calm my mind, but have been clinically proven to reduce anxiety.

1. Happy Baby Pose

Happy Baby Pose benefits include:

* Opens the inner thighs, hips, and groin

* Reduces lower back pain

* Realigns and stretches the spine

* Eases stress and anxiety

* Improves tiredness and fatigue

* Stretches the hamstring

* Lowers heart rate

In this pose we are taken back to the days of infancy, awakening our inner child. Our brains are reminded of a time when we knew little to no fear. This pose is considered an instant mood booster! It melts away nervous energy, relieves stress, and transforms your busy mind to that of a young, carefree infant. It zaps away tension and reinvigorates your mind, body, and soul. By connecting with and freeing your inner child, you open yourself to receive the creative, imaginative, and child-like energy that flows through your being. You leave your busy, discerning, and knowing adult perspective aside for a few moments of innocent, pure, and unknowing fascination with the world around you.

This pose is a hip-opener and hip-opening poses are known for their therapeutic benefits and their ability to release stored up trauma in the body. Internally, it can also massage the stomach organs and stimulate the digestive system. This is great for people suffering from IBS and stomach issues, which is often a coexisting symptom of anxiety.

2. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Legs-Up-the-Wall benefits are:

* Deep relaxation

* Stress relief

* Knee pain reduction

* Tension relief in the neck

* Alleviates tired legs

* Calms your mind

* Relieves leg and feet cramps

* Helps with backaches

* Softly opens the backs of your legs

Legs-Up-the-Wall pose inverts the body without straining the head or neck. This pose is excellent for reducing stress and anxiety, and it is easy for beginners. It helps our nervous system by being a “non-doing” pose that’s all about relaxing your body and letting go of the tension we’ve been carrying. In this pose we are able to relax deeply, release anxiety and tension, and get back into balance. It brings the body back to its own innate capacity for rest, relaxation, and self-healing. In this semi-supine position, while putting our legs up, we combine controlled breath, causing us to slow down within our body, which in turn promotes a lowered heart rate, which promotes a relaxation response, therefore lowering anxiety, stress and insomnia. This pose is ideal as a preparation before bedtime if you struggle with your sleep. In this pose we also quiet the mind. By fully relaxing your body and by focusing on deep breathing we cultivate a meditative state. As we breathe, surrender and let go, we calm our racing thoughts. This pose also increases circulation in the body, bringing feeling back into parts of the body that often tingle or go numb as a symptom of anxiety or stress.

3. Bridge Pose

Benefits of Bridge Pose:

* Strengthens back, glutes, legs and ankles

* Opens chest, heart and hip flexors

* Stretches the chest, neck, shoulders and spine

* Calms the body, alleviates stress and mild depression

* Stimulates organs of the abdomen, lungs and thyroid

* Rejuvenates tired legs

* Improves digestion

Bridge pose is helpful for calming the brain and alleviating stress and tension. It reduces anxiety while stimulating the thyroid, lungs, and abdominal organs. This pose improves blood circulation in the body. It opens up the front of spine and heart, which further helps in calming the mind and reducing stress. This pose is a heart opener. Heart openers offer space for the breath in the ribs, chest, throat, and neck, and this added space calms anxieties. It also has a slight back bend. This is beneficial because backbends are opening up the heart cavity, encouraging an emotional release. Often anxiety is just pent up emotions that are looking for a way to release from our bodies. Bridge pose is also a mild “inversion,” meaning there is a switch of our blood flow, creating cooling and calming feelings and stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

4. Cat-Cow Pose

Benefits of Cat-Cow:

* Improves posture and balance

* Strengthens and stretches the spine and neck

* Stretches the hips, abdomen and back

* Increases coordination

* Massages and stimulates organs in the belly, like the kidneys and adrenal glands

* Creates emotional balance

* Relieves stress and calms the mind

Cat-Cow is a gentle flow between two poses that warms the body and brings flexibility to the spine. This pose incorporates both a backbend and a chest opener, which we have learned facilitates a release of emotions and trauma from the body, as well as encouraging the breath to become slow and deep. The spinal movement of the two poses stimulates the adrenal glands. Coordinating this movement with your breathing relieves stress and calms the mind. This pose is also a great way to activate your Vagus Nerve, which is the body’s most effective pathway to health and happiness. The Vagus Nerve is a major regulator of the peripheral nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response because of its ability to slow our pulse and lower our blood pressure. It regulates breathing, heart rate, muscles, digestion, circulation, and even the vocal cords. Cat-Cow is a powerful pose for the mind. The breath synchronized movement increases coordination, cultivates intentional focus, and invigorates prana. In yoga we refer to breath as prana, and it is defined by being a vital life force in the body. This pose is associated with increased emotional balance and stability of the mind.

In this pose it is the lengthening of the spine that improves circulation to the discs between the vertebrae, which in turn relieves stress from the back and calms the mind.

5. Child’s Pose

Benefits Of Child's Pose:

* Relieves Tension in the Lower Back

* Lengthens the Spine

* Aids in Digestion

* Stretches the ankles and shoulders

* Strengthens the knees

* Massages internal organs

* Releases fatigue and energizes the body

* Calms the mind

Child’s Pose is a deeply restorative pose that can be very relaxing for the neck and back. It can also help reduce stress, anxiety, and mental tension. This pose can help slow the mind and create a feeling of comfort and self-soothing. In my yoga classes, much the same as most others’ classes, you're advised to take Child's Pose whenever you need it, and the same should be applied to your everyday life. Feel empowered to take a moment to focus on your breath, be comforted, and feel held in moments of overwhelm. This pose releases tension in your back, neck, and shoulders, and allows you to ground yourself and steady your breathing. In Child's Pose, you place your third eye (the space between your brows) on the mat, a block, or a bolster. This space is associated with intuition. When we place our third eye on the mat in this pose, we connect and ground into this space, and we are connected to our highest self. Much like Happy Baby, this pose mimics a position in our body we embodied in our mother’s womb. While all yoga poses encourage deep diaphragmatic breathing, in Child’s Pose the spine is relaxed in the forward fold, and the gentle compression of the abdomen on the thighs combined with the gentle stretch in the back body (especially in the back of the diaphragm area) naturally encourages deep breathing, which slows the heart rate, and in turn calms the body and the mind. The compression of the diaphragm also forces a longer exhalation, which has been proven to be exponentially calming.

If you are interested in experiencing these poses firsthand, we will be incorporating all five of them in tonight’s Restorative practice. All props will be provided if you do not have your own. I invite you to come out and join me in a calming hour of relaxation, and deep mind-body connection cultivated by breath, and supported passive stretching.

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