Anxious much? It happens to all of us but how you deal with it will determine the toll it takes on your health. A great tool to use for physical and mental calming is Yoga – a series of poses that serves as a natural anxiolytic (to break down anxiety). Anxiety is part of the sympathetic nervous pathway. Chronic states of anxiety can lead to negative health outcomes since your parasympathetic pathways (ex. digestion and immune system) halt to a stop once the sympathetic system is in overdrive. Yoga was designed to redistribute blood flow and oxygen in the body to ease the mind and musculature in a way that favours the parasympathetic system.
I talked to my friend Carly Lansens, a yoga instructor and Reiki therapist, to learn about easy yoga poses that can be used to relax.
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana):
“When I’m feeling anxious or stressed I usually have a million thoughts running through my mind. And in these moments these thoughts are almost never positive or serving me in a positive way. Not being able to quiet these thoughts can add on like a snowball effect. I find this breathing exercise (pranayama) to be extremely effective in bringing your full attention to your breath and silencing the mind. It helps to lower the heart rate and allows energy (prana) to flow to both hemispheres of your brain and through your body more easily. I recommend this anytime you feel anxiety or stress levels rising.”
How to do it?
- Start with breathing in a comfortable seated position with your hands just resting on your legs.
- Place your index and middle finger in the middle of your forehead and block your right nostril with your thumb.
- Inhale through the left nostril for 4 counts.
- Block the left nostril with your ring finger then exhale out the right nostril for 4 counts.
- Inhale through the right nostril for 4 counts.
- Block the right with your thumb exhale out the left for 4 counts.
- Repeat 3-5x.
2. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Stress from life can build in your physical body, often times in the neck, shoulders and back. This pose relieves tension in those places while calming the mind.
How to do it?
- Kneel with your big toes together.
- Sit back onto your heels.
- Inhale, plant your hands in front of you. Exhale, Press your knees outward as far as feels comfortable while simultaneously pressing your hips back towards the ankles.
- Breathe deeply in and out through the nose deeply for 10-20 breaths.
3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
When I find myself feeling anxious or in a stressful situation, I may not be able to change what’s happening but I can change my perspective on it. When I do this pose I imagine negative thoughts falling out the top of my head and when I come back up I leave behind those thoughts and I can view my situation a little differently. This pose calms the brain by bringing blood flow and oxygen, relieves stress and will stretch your hamstrings and calves.
How to do it?
- Start in mountain pose (tadasana): feet hip distance apart and your arms by your sides.
- Inhale bring your arms overhead reaching and lengthening your body.
- As you exhale, come forward hinging from the hips (not your waist) and maintaining that length through your spine. If your legs are tight feel free to bend your knees.
- Hold onto your elbows, big toes, back of the legs or use a strap around the bottom of your feet if you find your back is rounding.
- With each inhale, imagine your spine lengthening and with each exhale bending deeper.
- Continue for 8-12 breathes.
- To come up: place your hands on your lower back for support, inhale, bend your knees slightly draw your navel in, and come up without rounding your back.
4. Surrender Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
We use a lot of precious energy (prana) trying to control life because a sense of control makes a person feel safe. When we start to feel like we’ve lost that control… anxiety sets in. In reality, there is very little in life that we have complete control over other than how we personally choose to respond. Rather than trying to control every little thing, try to surrender to the flow of life. Once we surrender and give up this need for control, a weight lifts. All of that energy can now go towards more positive things. This pose will help you physically and mentally move into a place of surrender.
How to do it?
- Start seated with the soles of your feet together.
- As you exhale, use your hands behind you to lower yourself all the way down either onto the floor, a bolster, blocks, or rolled up blanket under your lower back.
- If your groin is tight, it may feel better to place blocks or pillows under your knees for support as well.
- Let your groin settle and relax and gravity will gently brings the knees down.
- Try not to let your mind wander. Stay focused on the breath and feel your body soften into the pose with each exhale.
- Breathe here, in and out, through the nose for as long as you need.
5. Legs Up On The Wall (Viparita Karani)
This posture has a long list of benefits that include its ability to aid with anxiety, mild depression, varicose veins, menstrual cramps and much more. When suffering from anxiety or stress the physical body will also suffer and start to feel sore or sluggish. This gentle inversion will leave you feeling rejuvenated and calm.
How to do it?
- Start seated facing sideways to the wall and swing both your legs up so they rest against the wall.
- Once your legs are up feel free to modify until you are comfortable. You can move closer or further from the wall. If you are taller or more tight in the back of the legs you may need to be a little further from the wall. If you are shorter or very flexible you can bring your bum right to the wall. You can also place a bolster, rolled up blanket, pillow or block under the low back.
- Let your arms lay open by your sides.
- Close your eyes and start to breathe consciously in and out through the nose. If your mind starts to wander, that’s okay just bring it back to your breath.
- Stay here for 5-10min.
Connect with Carly on Instagram at @yoginishanti or firstname.lastname@example.org