Anxiety is something we all experience. It can alert us to danger or to situations in our environment that make us feel uncomfortable. When it does this anxiety can be a useful tool. Occasionally, however, anxiety is experienced with an intensity that undermines our sense of wellbeing, causes us to think obsessively or negatively impacts the health of our bodies. When this is the case anxiety can be far more of a challenge. In addition to this, excessive worry impedes our body’s ability to heal itself effectively.
One of the ways yoga can help is by shining the light of awareness on the thought patterns or experiences that precede our experience of anxiety.
With practice and awareness, for example, it may become possible to detect those first glimmers of anxiety and intervene using a relaxed breathing technique. In fact there are many breathing techniques that are good for calming mind and body and it can be something as simple as making the out-breath twice as long as the in-breath (a 1:2 ratio). The emphasis on exhaling activates the parasympathetic nervous system; the body’s rest and repair system. When activated it lowers our heart rate and blood pressure and causes our muscles to relax.
Yoga Poses to Relieve Anxiety
- Forward folds,
- grounding poses (like trikonasana and prasarita padottonasana),
- side stretches
These can all be effective in managing symptoms associated with anxiety. Side stretches free up the intercostal muscles (between the ribs), which can become tight in people who experience regular anxiety. Freeing up these muscles paves the way for a fuller breath.
Twists are, perhaps, an unusual inclusion in this list because they actually compress the abdomen and so restrict the movement of the breath. Ordinarily our abdominal organs are moved from their usual place by the diaphragm drawing down as we inhale. When the abdomen is compressed the movement of the abdominal organs is limited. This can momentarily increase feelings of anxiety as we have an experience of the breath as constricted, but learning to ‘breath into a tight spot’ with poise and composure is a valuable tool both on and off the mat.
Long-term anxiety can lead to vital exhaustion so when approaching your yoga practice it is important to keep things simple at first. Make sure you recharge the batteries before you dive head first into an intense physical practice.
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