As you may be aware it is World Mental Health Week starting on Monday the 8th to the 14th of October. I think it is a great initiative to encourage us all to not only mind our own mental health but to also take a moment to consider the needs of those around us who may benefit from a listening ear or an offer of support. Globally more than three million people experience depression and two hundred and sixty million people live with anxiety disorders which is just the tip of the iceberg along with those diagnosed with schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bio Polar Disorder and Personality Disorder.
Recently, at the end of a yoga class I taught one of the lovely participants spoke to me afterwards to confide that she is experiencing anxiety. This lady specifically asked if there are certain yoga poses which are beneficial for anxiety. Having a keen interest in this area myself I agreed to design the next class specifically around anxiety. My research into the benefits of yoga for anxiety while preparing for the class uncovered valuable information which is worth sharing. Before I go any further, by no means am I trying to belittle the extent of pain caused by mental health issues and I am fully aware that a few yoga poses aren’t going to solve the depths of hurt you may nor may not be feeling. However, my hope is to offer something that might help even for just a few moments.
Yoga practice has many benefits in helping to calm an overactive brain. As we know anxiety is worrying about a future event that hasn’t happened yet. On the other hand, depression is often caused by focusing on past events which are upsetting. However, if we can attempt to remain in the present through grounding exercises such as the ones below and learn how to become one with our breath we can insure that we are present in a place of stillness. When this happens we are reminded that the ‘here and now’ is all that any of us have. Being more present in our daily life takes practice before it starts to feel more natural, give it the time it deserves to reap the benefits.
The practice of yoga reduces anxiety in six very clear ways:
- It lowers tension and promotes relaxation.
- It regulates the breath and calms the nervous system.
- The practice of yoga increases body awareness and enables a sense of grounding.
- Yoga Interrupts the worry cycle.
- It teaches the skills of demonstrating self-compassion and acceptance.
- Yoga also eases discomfort in the body.
To complement the six ways in which yoga reduces anxiety, I have compiled a list of six yoga asanas which are known to reduce anxiety in the body and dispel tension which I would like to share with you. If you find that you are experiencing anxiety or increased feelings of stress lately simply practicing these six poses for ten to fifteen minutes a day will really help.
Cat cow – Marjaiasana Bitilasana
The relaxing and releasing nature of this pose relieves tension that accompanies anxiety. As anxiety creates rigidity in the body people find the fluid flow of this motion to be liberating. Sequencing your breath with the movement adds the added benefit of calming the nervous system. Do ten to fifteen rounds of this to really feel its calming abilities.
Tree pose – Vrksasana
This standing balance pose promotes concentration, focus and awareness. It brings you out of your head and into your physical body. I find this to be a lovely pose to do as I go through my day while standing doing the dishes or waiting in a queue. The anchoring impact of this pose is immediately very beneficial in calming an overactive mind.
Plank Pose – Phalakasana
Not only are planks excellent for your core and full body strengthening, they also teach us how to respond to a mildly challenging situation in a calm way through the use of our breath. It teaches us to keep our breath calm even when things are difficult. If we can learn to carry this practice into our daily life it is a tool which is attainable to neutralize symptoms of anxiety in the body and can also prevent the onset of a panic attack. Unfortunately, it is one of the exercises that is most commonly done wrong which can have a negative impact on your lower back health. To fully benefit from the effects of this pose it is important to set up right. To do this, draw your shoulder blades down, slightly tuck the pelvis and brace the core throughout specifically the tummy, bum and upper thigh area. A plank is straight so too should your body be. Be careful not to hang the head down as it is very heavy and can easily take you out of alignment.
Bridge Pose – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
This pose creates space in the heart area and takes energy away from an active mind. The gentle back bend incorporated into this pose brings a sense of calm to the body. It can also be really nice to place a block under your sacrum to deepen into the relaxation of this pose.
Child’s Pose – Balasana
This is one of my all time favourite poses. I come back to this pose so regularly throughout my day and genuinely use it as a reward if I have completed an intense workout or have had a tiring day. It is commonly known as resting pose and once you are in it you will know why. It creates such a lovely calming experience to the whole of your body and you can almost feel your mind expressing gratitude for allowing it to unwind. The pose in itself releases tension in the back, neck and shoulders. It also encourages steady conscious breathing which positively impacts the central nervous system.
Savasana with feet up against the wall – Viparita Karani
This is probably the most beneficial pose for anxiety. Viparita Karani means ‘inverted inaction’ which we can interrupt to mean that the pose inverts the typical actions that naturally occur in our body when we sit and stand. It can be really nice to elevate your pelvis with a blanket also to make this pose more comfortable. When you do this pose, you encourage lymph and other fluids which cause swollen ankles, tired knees and congested reproductive organs flow into the lower belly. This refreshes the legs and the reproductive areas. It also gives blood circulation a gentle boost towards the upper body which helps re-balance after you have been sitting or standing for long periods of time. Along with the above this pose has many more positive impacts as it also:
- Eases anxiety by calming the central nervous system.
- Reduces insomnia.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Helps arthritis.
- Helps menstrual cycle pain.
As I always say to those who attend my yoga class it is your practice and while I might guide you into poses, I encourage you to get to know what feels good in your physical body and mind. If there are poses that you know have a positive impact on your mental health please share them below to spread the healing.
For the week ahead please pay a little more attention than usual to your mental health and those of you around you. Have a lovely Sunday everyone!