The benefits of yoga for anxiety and how to practice it
Many people use yoga to help with their anxiety. There is some evidence to suggest that it is useful, particularly in people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Anxiety is the body’s response to stress and is part of the natural fight, flight, or freeze reflex.
Anxiety might resemble a feeling of distress, unease, or dread. Its intention is to keep a person alert or aware during times of threat.
Sometimes, anxiety can get in the way of everyday life. This is particularly true for people who live with health conditions that can cause excessive anxiety, such as OCD or GAD. Doctors believe that exercise, including yoga, can help people to manage the symptoms of anxiety.
This article looks at why yoga is beneficial for anxiety, which yoga poses may help with anxiety, how to perform them, and the research to support these ideas.
Why yoga is beneficial for anxiety
Yoga is a form of exercise that includes stretching, breathing, relaxation, and meditation.
According to Mental Health America, it is good for almost everyone. The advocacy group also said it could have a positive effect on people with mental health conditions, including:
- attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
Researchers have carried out some studies on the benefits of yoga for anxiety. While the evidence base is small, it is promising.
An older systematic review from 2005 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that yoga could help with the symptoms of OCD, examination anxiety, neurosis, and GAD.
Yoga poses for anxiety
There are many types of yoga. Some popular forms include:
- Satyananda: This style includes gentle poses, deep relaxation, and meditation. It is suitable for beginners and can help reduce stress.
- Hatha yoga: One of the most popular forms of yoga, Hatha is also quite gentle. It involves holding poses and concentrating on breathing. Hatha yoga is suitable for beginners and can help to reduce stress.
- Power yoga: As the name suggests, this tends to be more intense and involves more movement through poses. It focuses on fitness as well as relaxation.
Scientists do not know which poses are best for anxiety. The beneficial effects of various poses will differ for everyone, but common calming poses include:
To perform Sukhasana:
- Sit on the floor with legs crossed.
- Make sure the torso aligns with the hips, and the spine is straight.
- Lengthen the tailbone.
- Move the shoulders down and back.
- Close the eyes and focus on the breath.
- Remain in the position, focusing on the breath, until feeling calmer.
To perform Upward-Facing Dog:
- Lie flat on the front.
- Point the toes out and down, away from the body.
- Place the hands flat on the floor or mat near the shoulders.
- Push up through the hands and the feet until the whole body is off the floor.
- Lift the chest and head until the back curves while keeping the shoulders back.
- Take several deep breaths, then gently release down.
To perform Downward-Facing Dog:
- Get down on all fours on the floor, with the back flat, not arched or dipped.
- Push against the floor with the toes to lift the hips into the air.
- Straighten the arms.
- Straighten the legs as much as is comfortable.
- Keep pushing against the floor with the hands to raise the hips higher.
- Take a few deep breaths before releasing down gently.
To perform the Forward Bend:
- Stand up straight with the hands at the sides.
- Slightly bend the knees.
- Bending from the hips, and bending the knees as much as necessary, gently fold the torso down until the stomach rests on the thighs.
- Either hold the ankles or let the arms hang down.
- Take some deep breaths before slowly standing up.
To perform Child’s Pose:
- Kneel with the big toes touching each other, and the knees open slightly wider than the hips.
- Bend forward, with the arms and chest stretching toward the top of the yoga mat.
- Rest the forehead on the mat, with the arms stretched out in front.
- Take as many deep breaths as desired before gently sitting back up.
To perform Savasana:
- Lie flat on the back with the arms on the floor a few inches from the body.
- Turn the palms so that they are facing upward.
- Keep the knees slightly open and the toes pointing outward.
- Relax every part of the body.
- Close the eyes and focus on breathing.
- Breathe slowly and deeply for as long as it takes to feel calmer.
- Roll onto the right side for a few breaths, then sit up.
What the research says
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.
Slowing and concentrating on the breath can reduce the fast heartbeat and rapid breathing that people with anxiety often experience. The meditation part of yoga can also help people to clear their minds and become calm.
It is worth noting that all types of exercise trigger the body to release endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters, a type of hormone that boosts a person’s mood and reduces stress.
Yoga is a form of exercise that focuses on breathing, stretching, and relaxing. Many doctors believe it can help with the symptoms of anxiety. It does this by reducing the level of stress hormone in the body and helping people feel calm.
There are many types of yoga and different poses that people can try. These include Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Dog, Child’s Pose, and Savasana. People can experiment with different poses to find those that work best for them.