Yoga for Anxiety – Does it really work?

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A Quick-Fix to Overcome Anxiety -By Jalaja Ramanunni

Here’s the truth about anxiety – it is physical. Your muscles tighten, the heart beats abnormally fast, your blood pressure goes up and each breath takes effort. Your body’s fight-or-flight stress response in on.

Anxiety is a normal human reaction but it needs to be tamed. Everyone gets anxious occasionally but a high intensity and repetition of anxiety can affect our body and mind in the long run. It is considered a problem when it seeps into your daily life, work and relationships. 

The root of anxiety is often the same – money, job, school, relationships and family. It comes down to survival and insecurity. We are also affected by changes in our energy or chakras when we get depressed, stressed or anxious. When our chakras are out of sync, we tend to feel hopeless, lonely or ungrounded. While counselling does wonders, doctors are increasingly recommending yoga as a complementary therapy. 

I chose to heal my anxiety with yoga, and yes, it works! Yoga didn’t take my problems or the stress away but it certainly helped me to manage it well. Every time I do my asanas, it creates a sense of space in my mind where I can take a step back and figure it all out. 

Why yoga works for anxiety

Some of the best tools to relieve tension are breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness. Yoga combines all three. You can calm your anxiety holistically if you take a traditional approach towards yoga – that means moving with your breath and staying in a posture for a longer time. Under the guidance of a good teacher, the practice can help to silence the mental chatter and focus inwards. 

People who regularly practice yoga had lower levels of stress and anxiety, according to a recent study by IIT Delhi titled ‘Yoga an effective strategy for self-management of stress-related problems and wellbeing during COVID19 lockdown’. Source: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0245214#sec001 

Shh. Silence your mind with this gentle practice

Practicing for just a few minutes a day can create a huge impact. To get the most out of your session, stay open to the yoga practice and allow yourself to experience all the emotions that arise while you’re on the mat.

Here, we explore five techniques which don’t require a warm up (because anxiety doesn’t announce itself!) Before we start, take twenty seconds to do this:

Take a deep breath – inhale for a count of four seconds. 

Gently exhale for 8 seconds. 

Release the tension in your forehead. 

Relax your jaws.

Relax your shoulders.

There! Don’t you already feel better? Now let’s get started.

Full Yogic Breath: This is your best weapon against anxiety as it soothes the nerves. A full yogic breath involves a complete inhale and exhale through the nostrils. It utilises three parts of your lungs without any strain. It is the correct way of breathing as it increases oxygen in your body, helps to fuel the brain and contributes to mindfulness.

How to do it:

– With one deep and slow breath, inhale into the lower abdomen, continue to breathe into the ribs, and then into the upper chest and shoulders. 

– Now gently exhale with control in the reverse order. Releasing the upper chest, ribs and abdomen. This is one full round of yogic breath. It should feel fluid and continuous.

– Keep your eyes closed and do ten rounds of this. 

Cat and cow stretch: (I told you it would be simple!) This is a breath synchronised movement and has great benefits for the mind and body. The cat and cow stretch opens up your spine and removes blockages. The cat and cow (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana) stretch helps to relieve built up stress and also works well in a warm up or wind down routine. 

How to do it:

  • Start with a tabletop position – on all fours with the toes pointing back. Place your palms on the mat in line with your shoulders. Press the mat down with your palms, pushing your shoulders away from the mat. Keep your knees apart and in line with the hips.
  • As you inhale, press the abdomen down. Point your chin and tailbone up. Push your shoulders back bringing the shoulder blades closer together.
  • As you exhale, look down, round your back, separate the shoulder blades, draw your navel in towards the spine and bring your chin closer to the chest.
  • Feel the length of your spine and focus on your navel as you do the cat and cow stretch. Repeat this six times.

Tree pose: Vrkshasana or tree pose is packed with benefits. Balancing poses are known to snap you back into the present moment. This one in particular helps you to focus inward, ease stress and feel grounded. While it is a restful pose, the tree pose also works on your hips, gluteus, legs, ankles and tendons of your feet. 

How to do it:

– While standing on the mat, place your feet parallel to each other. Press the right foot firmly on the mat and lift your left foot. 

– Place the sole of your left foot either a few inches above the right ankle, or a few inches above the knee.

– Bring your palms together in front of your chest.

– Keep the hips squared and the spine long. Once you find your balance, lift your arms over your head, lift the shoulders up to the ears and keep your chin parallel to the mat. 

– Hold for ten deep breaths. While you’re in the pose, relax your eyes and focus on your navel. 

Child Pose: When I practice my asanas, the child pose always makes me feel safe like I’m in a cocoon. This posture helps us activate the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, it takes us out of our fight-or-flight mode. The child pose (Balasana) also lengthens the spine and releases stress in the back and shoulders – and that’s where most of us store our stress. Releasing this tension immediately calms the mind. 

How to do it:

  • Start with a tabletop position on all fours. Place the feet together. Keep your knees together if you can and point the toes back.
  • Sit on your heels. Place your chest and forehead down on the mat. Use a bolster to support your chest and forehead if you need to.
  • Keep your arms beside you with the palms facing up. Close your eyes and hold the posture for ten deep breaths.

Shavasana: The corpse pose is notoriously known for being the easiest, yet the hardest one. What’s easy? There’s no physical effort involved. What’s hard? Pausing the mind and letting go of your thoughts. If it’s done the right way, the entire body gets relaxed and no energy is used up.

How to do it:

  • Lie down on the mat. Place your feet comfortably apart.
  • Keep your arms away from the body with your palms facing up.
  • Relax the spine and make sure you’re not lifting up the lower back.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Listen to the sound of your breath and let everything go. Surrender.

Goodbye anxiety, stress and depression!

You’re probably reading this because you deal with anxiety and stress in your daily life. Give these yoga postures a shot and let us know if it worked for you in the comments below. If you’re interested in online or private yoga sessions to take away your stress, reach out to the writer at rjalaja@gmail.com.

This content is not a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or a doctor for more information.

About the writer

Jalaja Ramanunni is a certified yoga instructor and business journalist who lives in Dubai and loves it! For tips on holistic living and mommy hacks, head to her Instagram account Crawl.Walk.Yoga  (https://www.instagram.com/crawl.walk.yoga/) or Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/yogaclassesindubai/).

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