It is absolutely impossible to avoid stress. It comes at us from all angles... stressful jobs, obligations at home, difficult relationships, financial hardships, illness, our current political climate... the list goes on and on. Prolonged stress can lead to many health issues, including anxiety.
But we don't have to linger in a stressful, anxious state! It's common knowledge that a healthy diet, exercise and good sleep can help calm stress and anxiety. Yoga can also be an incredibly helpful tool.
A big component of the practice of yoga includes focusing on the breath. Simply deepening our breath and directing our attention to it can take us out of a stress response and help our nervous system calm down. When our nervous system is in parasympathetic mode (also known as "rest and digest" mode) it can calm our anxiety, slow our heart rate, and help us digest our food.
Here are a few of my favorite poses that can help reduce anxiety (no special props or fancy yoga studio necessary!)
1) Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) - forward folds can be very soothing for the nervous system. When you fold your spine forward, you increase the space between the vertebrae which allows for better circulation. Forward folds calm the mind by sending fresh oxygenated blood down to the head (having the head below the heart helps with this).
How to: Stand up straight with your feet about hips width apart (measure using your two fists side-by-side, that's about the distance you should have between your feet). Fold forward, bending at the hips with a flat back. When your pelvis won't fold forward any further, reach your hands down to the ground (you can also hold opposite elbows instead). If your lower back is tight it might feel better to bend your knees a bit. Release the head and neck and just hang!
2) Child's Pose (Balasana) - child's pose is commonly used as a resting pose in yoga sequences. It promotes a feeling of safety and calm, stretches the spine, and releases tension in the neck and shoulders. Sometimes it just feels good to curl up into a ball!
How to: Kneel on the floor with your shins and tops of the feet flat on the ground (you can put a blanket under your shins/knees for comfort). Lower your bum to your feet, keep your big toes touching, knees can be together or apart (knees together will be more of a back stretch, while knees apart will stretch the hips). Fold your torso forward over your legs and rest your forehead on the ground or a blanket. Stretch your arms overhead, palms facing down (or you can bring them behind you and rest them to the sides of your legs).
3) Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) - legs up the wall is a fantastic restorative pose! It's a grounding pose, which can be incredibly calming for the nervous system. This can quiet a busy mind and put us into a deep state of relaxation (especially when practiced consistently over time). Similar to other "inversion" poses, it's known for helping to turn off the "fight or flight" response in our nervous system. As an added bonus, this pose can also relieve tension in tired, achey legs and feet!
How to: Start by sitting parallel to the wall with one hip touching the wall. Carefully turn your body to bring your legs up against the wall and then bring your back, shoulders and head down to the floor. You may have to scoot your bum closer to the wall (the goal is to bring your body into an L shape). Rest your arms at your sides, palms facing up. Slow the breath, close the eyes and relax into the pose (ideally for at least 10-15 minutes). This is a great one to do before bed for deeper sleep!
4) Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) - bridge pose is a backbend which helps open the chest and space around the heart. Heart opening poses can calm anxiety and also provide an opportunity for emotional release. Bridge pose is also an inversion which can help calm the nervous system.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Your feet and legs should be about hips width apart. Bring your arms to your sides, palms towards the floor. Bring your heels towards your bum, until your fingertips can almost touch your heels. Press into your feet and palms and lift your hips up. Make sure your knees don't splay out to the sides, and keep the action in the legs by pressing into your heels. You can roll your shoulders underneath you for more chest opening, but be sure to keep your neck flat on the floor and chin relaxed. Take 3-5 deep breaths and then bring the hips back down to the floor.
Feeling anxious before a big day at work? Can't turn your mind off in the evening before bed? Take a few minutes, pick one of these poses and focus on your breath. You may find you feel more calm and less anxious afterwards. Imagine what this could do if you build it into your daily routine!
If you want to learn more about yoga and how it can impact your health and your mood, contact me, I'd love to help!
Photo sources: POPSUGAR Photography / Louisa Larson