With all the hectic elements in today's world, stress and anxiety are frequently showing their nasty faces in our lives. While most of us try to do our best to curb these crippling monsters and keep them at bay, there is a wonderful defense against battling stress and anxiety within the practice of yoga.
Sometimes anxiety can disguise itself, making it hard to detect if we are unfamiliar with its symptoms. An anxiety attack is defined as "an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort" (DSM5-Anxiety Disorders).Typically, we can identify anxiety's traits by noticing if we are becoming strangely nervous, panicky, worried, or uneasy; having heart palpitations or an accelerated heartbeat; sweaty palms; the "butterflies" feeling in the stomach; trouble sleeping; shaking; hot or cold flashes; shortness of breath/trouble breathing; nausea or abdominal distress; a racing mind.
Stress and anxiety have the ability to overpower our daily lives--but only if we allow it to. Of course, yoga is not the sole treatment or cure; we all know the use of counselling, and sometimes the aid of medication, is needed, yet allowing ourselves ten minutes of yoga in the day, or even finding a moment to center ourselves with some yoga during the onset of an anxiety attack, can be empowering, allowing us to gain control over our body and mind once again.
Yoga is the package of "asanas," which are body postures, "pranayamas,"which is breathing, and meditation. While doing yoga, breathing should be practiced as a deep inhalation through the nose and a deep exhalation through the mouth. It may seem a little silly, but when you exhale, it should sound like waves from the ocean. Paying attention to your breathing helps free the mind of troubling and stressful thoughts, allowing you to focus on your body and grow calmer. Be sure to find a comfortable and quiet space to do yoga. Environment is very important to the mind and body while engaging in yoga poses.
Here are some helpful poses that aid in reducing stress and anxiety. These poses can be done in the comfort of your home:
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog): This is the easiest of all yoga poses, and really the best all around. This pose helps aid the body and mental state of mind. For more information see: Downward Dog
Balasana (Child's pose): This pose calms the brain, massages the third eye (that's the area between the eyebrows), and grounds you. You may also intensify this pose by bringing your knees to outer edges of the mat and your toes to touch, opening the inner groin area a bit more. For more information see: Child's Pose
Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose): A great pose to do at night before bed for about 10 minutes. This pose drops the head below the heart, which calms the nervous system and brain. This pose also drains lactic acid from legs. For more information see: Legs Up Wall
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose): This is one of my absolute favorite poses. Once you get into the pose, place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your heart. It allows you to come back to your breath and be mindful of the present moment, allowing you to connect back to reality and safety within yourself. This pose releases the strain on the back of the neck and gently opens the inner groin (where, believe it or not, a lot of emotional baggage is carried). For more information see: Reclining Bound Angle Pose
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose): Using a throw pillow or rolled bath towel at the base of the neck, hold this pose for 5 minutes. To intensify the stretch, extend legs while lifting your hips, keeping your feet planted firmly to the floor. Once again, placing the head below the heart aids in depression and brings fresh, oxygenated blood to the brain. This one is really good for your organs as well. For more information see: Bridge Pose
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold): This pose calms the brain and releases the lower spine as you fold your body forward, arms hanging long towards or touching the floor. You can also use the "Ragdoll" variation by standing hip-width distance apart and grabbing opposite elbows during your forward fold. Nodding head yes-and-no to relieve tension in neck and swaying body gently back and forth helps to open the sides of the body. For more information see: Standing Forward Fold
Baddha Virabhadrasana (Humble Warrior or Bound Warrior): The Humble Warrior is a more advanced pose challenge. This one takes some practice, breath, and balance to get through it. Good part is, you can do this pose gradually in phases. The more comfort and balance you have, the easier it will be to lower your body forward. The goal is to drop the head below the heart, opening the heart by binding hands behind you, releasing the neck, bowing forward, opening the inner groin. For more information see: Humble Warrior
Once you are finished with your yoga, it is very important to lie down on your mat, blanket, or towel with hands on the floor, palms turned upward, facing the ceiling. Keep practicing your breathing while lying in this pose. Giving your body a moment of relaxation after completing yoga poses allows the body to naturally flush out toxins, which create stress and anxiety.
There are many, many more yoga poses, and these poses discussed are only a select few. We encourage anyone to research more poses that help alleviate stress and anxiety. For those who enjoy reading, we also recommend the book Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice. This book talks about finding balance in life. See more information here.