Anxiety is a huge problem in modern society. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it affects nearly twenty percent of US adults. This makes it the nation’s most common mental health concern.
While many people require a comprehensive approach to address the physical and emotional manifestations of anxiety, yoga can play a valuable role in relieving some of the most problematic symptoms. Keep in mind, however, that certain postures are more conducive to addressing anxiety than others. If you’re not sure where to start, feel free to add these anxiety-reducing yoga poses to your daily routine.
1. Cat-Cow Pose
This short series of poses provides a gentle flow to prepare the body for further activity. It’s often used as a warmup at the beginning of a longer session, but it can also be performed on its own for stretching and relieving stress at the beginning of a busy day.
Begin on hands and knees, with your hands and wrists placed directly below the shoulders and your knees directly below the hips. Move into the cow pose by dropping your stomach towards the floor. Gaze at the ceiling as you lift both your chin and chest.
Exhale and switch to cat pose by rounding the spine in the opposite direction, much like a cat does when stretching. You can release your head and let it hang towards the floor, but don’t try to force your chin to your chest.
Inhale again and return to the cow pose. Feel free to continue this sequence for as long as it feels comfortable. Many yoga enthusiasts dedicate a full minute or longer to this series.
2. Camel Pose
This small backbend instantly opens your chest and shoulders while also providing a much-needed boost for your energy and general mood. Yoga experts often refer to this posture as a heart opener, which is tied to your sense of compassion and forgiveness.
Begin by standing on your knees, with your legs hip-distance apart. Your hips should be directly above your knees, and, to start, your hands will be placed on your hips.
Inhale and allow your ribcage to expand as your elbows draw toward one another. Begin to drop your hands towards your knees as you keep your chest lifted. If possible, place the palms of your hands on the soles of your feet. Finally, release your chin.
When you’re ready to stop holding the camel pose, bring your chin towards your chest. Your hands can either return to your hips or provide support for your lower back as you slowly rise from the backbend.
3. Tree Pose
Ideal for improving balance, the tree pose can be challenging for novices and experts alike. It requires a great deal of concentration, thereby making it an excellent option when you desperately need to get rid of mental chatter and focus on the task at hand.
The tree pose draws on the principle of satay (truthfulness), which encourages yogis to behave in alignment with their authentic selves. If you make the most of this opportunity, you may find it easier to discover the truth that lies within your own body.
This pose is easy to adapt based on both your current physical and mental condition. Depending on your preferences, you can place your foot adjacent to the other leg’s ankle, calf, or above the knee.
Like many standing poses, the tree begins in the mountain position, with your feet slightly apart and your chest opened. Shift your weight to the supporting leg and bend the knee of the other leg. If preferred, you can use your hand to help guide your foot to its intended position. Multiple variations are available for your arms, but many yoga enthusiasts prefer to complete this pose with their palms pressed together in a prayer position.
4. Legs Up the Wall
Yoga inversions are useful in that they allow fluids to depart inflamed or sore areas of the body in which they typically collect throughout the day. Meanwhile, blood circulation receives a mild but helpful boost. Inversions also provide an instant shift in perspective, which may be needed when dealing with intense anxiety.
As one of the least complicated inversions, legs up the wall is an excellent option for anyone who is new to yoga or simply too tired to hold more physically intensive positions.
The setup for legs up the wall can often be as influential as the actual execution of the pose. Access to a wall is crucial, of course, but so are comforting features such as blankets, pillows, or other any accessories needed to produce a relaxing space.
Once the area near the wall is prepared, bring the hips as close to the wall as possible before relaxing your back towards the floor. The body should create an L-shape, with, as the pose’s name accurately conveys, the legs resting up against the wall.
This pose can be held for several minutes or even longer if desired. During this time, it’s important to focus on the breath. Each inhale and exhale should be deep and slow, with both occurring through the nose.
5. Seated Forward Bend
This seated stretch is often highlighted as a solution for tight hamstrings. It can also be a great option for dealing with negative mental chatter. Hence, its inclusion in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine as a top solution for “minimize[ing] inflammatory responses to stressful encounters.”
The entirety of this pose is completed while sitting on the floor. Begin by sitting straight up with legs together and stretched to the front. Flex your feet, inhale, and lengthen your spine. Use your index and middle fingers to grab your big toes. Lengthen the spine on each inhale before relaxing into the stretch while exhaling.
6. Standing Forward Bend
The standing forward bend provides yet another wonderful stretch for the hamstrings, while also allowing you to let go of the negative thoughts that interrupt your daily life.
Begin standing up straight in mountain pose, followed by a slow bend forward from the hips. Continue to lengthen the torso while dropping towards the floor.
Keeping the knees straight, bring your fingertips or palms to the floor. If preferred, you can also place your hands backs of your ankles. For a further relaxation boost, hold your elbows in opposite hands and cradle your head.
For optimal benefits, this pose should be held for at least thirty seconds. It can also be used as a resting position between standing movements.
7. Triangle Pose
Strength, stretching, balance — the triangle pose is a jack-of-all-trades from a physical perspective. Its mental and emotional benefits are also worth noting. It forces focus inwards where racing thoughts can quickly be quieted.
The triangle pose begins standing straight up in the mountain pose, which serves as a starting point for many yoga positions. Step out so that the feet are at least a yard apart. Raise your arms to the sides until they are parallel to the floor. When beginning the pose on the right side, the right foot should be turned out at least 90 degrees, while the left foot is turned slightly in.
Extend your torso to the right, ensuring that it remains directly above the right leg. It’s important to bend directly at the hip joint, rather than curving at the waist. Depending on personal flexibility or comfort, your right hand can rest on your shin, ankle, or floor. The left arm should stretch towards the ceiling, maintaining alignment with the shoulders. If desired, you can turn your head gently to the left to gaze at your outstretched hand.
The triangle is an extended pose, so you can remain in the position for up to a minute. Press the back heel into the floor as you return to an upright position. Reverse your feet and repeat the sequence on the other side.
8. Happy Baby Pose
Nothing says contentment quite like babies giggling as they reach for their feet. A similar effect can be found with the happy baby pose, which is easy to describe based on its evocative name. All you need to do is lie on your back and bend your knees towards your stomach. Use your hands to grip the outside of each foot. Meanwhile, bring your knees towards your armpits.
Form a sense of resistance by simultaneously pushing your feet into your hands and pulling your hands down. This pose is often held for longer periods of time, with five or even ten minutes allowing you to get a deeper stretch as you let your stress melt away.
9. Corpse Pose
To the uninitiated, the corpse pose looks a lot like taking a nap instead of practicing yoga. In reality, however, this pose requires as much effort as any other — the work just happens to be tough for outsiders to detect.
As you rest on your back, allow your body to feel so heavy it seems to sink into the floor. Breathe naturally, drawing your attention to your breath whenever you observe your mind wandering.
10. Child’s Pose
Few postures can calm the mind quite like child’s pose. Simple, yet effective, this beloved pose can be completed on its own or at the end of a successful yoga session. It’s perfect for self-soothing.
Child’s pose begins on hands and knees. The big toes should touch as the knees spread far apart. Exhale and bow forward, allowing the torso to drape between the legs. Rest your forehead on the floor as you extend your arms forward. Breathe softly as you hold this pose for at least one minute, and ideally, quite a bit longer.
While the poses highlighted above are among the most effective for addressing anxiety, any addition of yoga or meditation to your routine will produce significant mental and emotional benefits. Take this opportunity to show yourself the love and respect you deserve.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a yoga teacher, earn your yoga teacher associate degree from Pacific College. For more information, visit admissions or contact us today.