Simple yoga exercises to soothe anxiety symptoms
Anxiety can affect anyone. And it can strike at any time.
These days, we’re all much more open about our mental health, but many of us still need help finding strategies to help when the symptoms hit hard.
Anxiety can leave you feeling fearful, upset and overwhelmed. It can also manifest physically with headaches, stomach problems, muscle shakes and panic attacks. Not pleasant.
If you’re struggling with anxiety on a regular basis you should talk to your GP about treatment options, because therapy and medication can be extremely effective. But there’s no harm in trying some simple methods out at home too. Yoga can be a huge help.
We asked Canada-based yoga expert Kelsey Ravlich, for her top tips on using yoga to combat anxiety symptoms.
‘We’re all well-acquainted with the word anxiety, and the feeling. It’s an unfortunate and increasingly prevalent part of our modern lives,’ explains Kelsey.
‘Like many conditions, anxiety exists on a spectrum. It can manifest as a tiny stomach knot when your boss says, “come in and close the door behind you,” or it can rear its ugly head in the form of more chronic, debilitating issues that require medical intervention.
‘Fortunately, there are an incredible number of resources available to help us bring ourselves back down to earth when we feel stressed, returning to a more relaxed physical, emotional, and mental space.
‘One tool which has gained much traction in the last decade or so for alleviating anxiety symptoms is yoga.’
Yoga for anxiety symptoms
‘I’ve put together my go-to list of four yoga poses and one breathing exercise to combat anxiety.
‘Each of these poses can be held for as long as 10 minutes, but ultimately should be maintained for at least five deep inhales and exhales.
‘The goal of this practice is for you to start feeling better: calmer, more comfortable, more optimistic, more zen. If you have access to yoga props or blankets, feel free to incorporate those as well – this is all about what makes you feel good.’
Child’s pose (Balasana)
As this pose is a forward bend and mild inversion, it is wonderful for releasing tension and letting go.
Feeling your forehead against the mat and allowing for your weight to press into the floor really allows you to give away some weight.
It also gives you a great opportunity to breathe into the back body, since it’s being stretched – particularly your adrenal glands, which become very overworked in the case of anxiety.
Start from a hands and knees position with knees directly under the hips and wrists directly under the shoulders.
Open your knees wider than hip distance apart, and bring the big toes to touch.
Send your hips back to sit on your open feet (or as close to your feet as possible) and walk hands forward until the forehead comes to rest on the floor.
In-bed child’s pose bonus: If your hips are feeling tight and it’s challenging to bring them all the way back to meet your heels, slide a blanket in between your hips and heels.
A pillow underneath your forehead is also a great, cozy way to help shorten the distance to the mattress or the floor.
Bridge and supported bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge pose is by nature a heart-opener, and by opening up space around the heart, you take focus away from a stressed mind. Bridge allows you the combination of an uplifting backbend with the calming, quieting effect of a heart-opener.
Begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
Ensure that your knees are hip-width distance apart and pointed directly up at the ceiling. Arms should be directly by your side, palms pressing gently into the floor.
Gently engage the glutes, press your feet into the floor, and begin to lift your hips into the air. This part is not necessary, but to further open your heart, you can walk your hands towards each other underneath your hips and clasp them together.
Either hold the pose here, or make it dynamic by continuing to return your hips to the floor and then back into the air. You can make this pose feel a bit more supported by placing a block underneath your sacrum.
In-bed Bridge Pose bonus: Slide a pile of pillows or a stack of books underneath your sacrum and make this endorphin-releasing backbend even more delicious.
Reclined bound angle pose (Baddha Konasana)
Fair warning: this pose is good for pretty much anything and everything, and only gets better with more pillows, blankets or any other props you have around.
When we’re anxious, we often take quick, shallow breaths from our chests instead of from our diaphragms. This can further increase anxiety symptoms.
Sometimes, simply sitting down and shifting our attention to breath can make all the difference. Plus, since this is a great hip-opener, you’ll be more focused on the level of relative discomfort of your hips after sitting all day long.
Be gentle with yourself as you encourage each inhale and exhale to be slightly fuller, deepening this stretch.
Begin by setting up your base tower of pillows, meaning one or two stacked on top of each other and one perpendicular across to create a T shape.
Take a seat in front of the pillows and bring the soles of your feet together, creating a basic bound angle pose.
From here, keeping your feet together, lean your torso backwards onto your pillow palace and allow your arms to rest at your sides or on your hips. Enjoy that epic feeling of hips opening.
Legs up the wall pose (Viparita Kirani)
When you don’t feel like bending forward or backward, this is the pose for you. In Sanskrit, this pose is called Viparita (which means “inverted”) Karani (which means “in action”). Therefore, this pose self-proclaims its ability to invert our daily actions of sitting and standing.
There are many benefits to inversions: when you put your legs up the wall with your pelvis elevated, lymphatic fluids and others that can lead to things like swollen ankles and aching knees actually flow into your lower belly.
This refreshes your body from the hips down, ultimately releasing quite a bit of stress as well.
There is no non-awkward way to get into this one.
Place your feet against a wall and use that leverage as well as your hips to wiggle towards the wall until your hips are resting against it.
Straighten out your legs so that as much of your heels, calves, hamstrings, and glutes are against the wall as possible.
If you aren’t happy with where you end up on the wall, you can always shift your hips closer or further away it.
Life happens out of our control, and sometimes you’re going to need something to relieve your anxiety in a place where you can’t exactly throw your feet up against a wall.
That’s where yogic breathing exercises come in. Four-part breathing, sometimes called square Breathing, is easy to remember and can be done anywhere.
Start by bringing your attention to your breath and take one mindful inhale and exhale. From that exhale, your four-part breathing begins.
Inhale a large belly breath in through your nose to the count of 1-2-3-4. When you get to the top, lock in that breath and hold it for a count of 4. Then slowly release that breath through your nose, now exhaling on a count of 4. Finally, hold at the bottom of that exhale, when you have no air left, for a count of 4.
Repeat this three times at minimum to begin to notice a calming effect.
‘There are an incredible number of yoga poses for almost anybody and any body.
‘These are a few favorites that can add a moment of stillness and help to ground you before starting your day, before bed to help bring on a good night’s sleep, or even in the bathroom at work.
‘Most importantly, know that you are not alone in your anxiety. Reach out, ask for help when you need it, try these poses, and begin your path towards feeling better.’
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