by Janet Ashforth
Anxiety and You
Anxiety is a debilitating condition that can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. It can be difficult for you to leave the house, socialize, get chores done or function at work. You might also feel embarrassed by your anxiety since it’s a mental condition, making it difficult for you to talk about. So you suffer silently alone. There’s medication for anxiety of course, but research shows you may find relief in the form of yoga. Yoga has been revered as a natural health remedy for numerous ailments and you may just find it works for you too.
The Science Behind the Practice
In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found that women who participated in 2 months of 90-minute yoga classes two times per week showed a significant reduction in perceived levels of anxiety. And according to Harvard Health, yoga has been scientifically shown to be helpful for both anxiety and depression. Meditation, relaxation, and exercise were also found to be extremely helpful.
One way that yoga works on anxiety is by shifting from the activation of your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode) to activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode). Rest and digest mode is a calmer state of being which allows your mind and body to relax.
Your sympathetic nervous system has a very important job. It perceives threats and decides whether you should respond by fight or flight. Unfortunately, modern life constantly bombards you with situations that your primal brain perceives as a threat. Every time you drive, have an argument, face a work deadline or are simply pulled in too many directions, it triggers your fight or flight mode and raises your cortisol levels. Constantly being in fight or flight mode can trigger anxiety and cause a host of other health issues. Yoga can help you break out of the cycle of flight or fight and allow your body to enter a calm, relaxed state.
Yoga also helps reduce anxiety by calming down your brain. Yoga can be challenging, causing you to focus on the postures. When you focus, your brain enters a tranquil, more meditative state which soothes your anxiety. This harmonious feeling can persist even after your class is over, allowing you to feel serene and more relaxed throughout your day.
The physical exercise of yoga also helps to alleviate anxiety. Like all exercise, the exertion increases your endorphins, leaving you with an increased feeling of wellbeing.
Yoga Poses for Anxiety
Certain yoga poses are known to be particularly helpful in reducing anxiety. Yoga Journal lists 21 of them in a single article. Some of the more well-known poses include:
- Cat/cow pose.
- Legs up the wall pose
- Camel pose
- Bow pose
- Bridge pose
- Fish pose
- Head to knee forward bend
- Extended puppy pose
- Half-moon pose
In addition to these and other poses, Yoga Journal recommends pranayama deep breathing. If you’re going to give yoga a try, find a well-rounded class that includes deep breathing techniques and meditation along with the physical postures. A class that offers all these elements is most likely to alleviate your anxiety and leave you feeling calm and relaxed.
And remember, yoga can be very challenging for beginners, especially if you are not physically active. Check with your doctor if you have any health issues before starting a yoga practice. Performed safely and with proper technique, yoga can be the anti-anxiety tool you’ve been searching for.
Janet Ashforth has been a personal fitness trainer for over 20 years and currently owns her own fitness company. She uses fitness training, yoga, meditation, nutritional guidance and massage to guide her clients in health and wellness. Ashforth has held certifications from the American Council on Exercise and American College of Sports Medicine, and is also a licensed massage therapist.
- Javanbakht, M. 2009, January, 3. Effects of yoga on depression and anxiety of women. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744388109000048#!
- Harvard Health. 2018, May 9. Yoga for Anxiety and Depression. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression
- ND. Difference Between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Retrieved from http://www.differencebetween.net/science/difference-between-sympathetic-and-parasympathetic/
- ND. Yoga for Anxiety and Panic Attacks. Retrieved from https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/yoga-by-benefit/anxiety