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Yoga | How to Use Yoga for Anxiety and Stress Relief

How to Use Yoga for Anxiety and Stress Relief

Reading Time: 4 minutes 45 seconds

BY: ISSA

DATE: 2024-02-22


Did you know that more than 19% of American adults are affected by an anxiety disorder every year? (1) Many more people struggle with anxiety and stress daily without a diagnosis of a mental health condition. 

Modern life is wired to make us stressed and anxious, but the ancient practice of yoga is an excellent way to cope. Learn more about how yoga is proven to reduce stress and anxiety and how to use it to benefit your mental health. 

The Mental Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is an old practice used now by millions of people around the world. Thousands of years of anecdotal prove that it is good for your mental and physical health. Modern science has caught up to the ancient wisdom and has found several benefits of yoga for mental health

  • People who practice yoga report feeling more resilient and having generally improved mental wellness. 

  • A study with a large sample size of various types of people experiencing anxiety symptoms found that yoga has a beneficial effect. 

  • Regular yoga practice reduces an individual’s perceived stress, the amount of stress they believe they have.

  • Yoga has also been shown to reduce clinical measurements of both physical and psychological stress. 

  • People report sleeping better when practicing yoga. Improved sleep helps people better manage stress and anxiety. 

  • Studies also indicate that yoga can reduce symptoms of depression, which often co-occurs with anxiety. (2)

Many Western practitioners take a purely physical approach to yoga and are uninterested in the spiritual aspects. Learn more here about how to reap all the benefits of yoga even if you’re not very spiritual. 

The Best Yoga Poses for Managing Stress and Anxiety

Any amount or type of yoga practice benefits your mental health and overall wellness. If you want to be strategic about reducing anxiety and working on stress relief, or your response to them, focus on these poses: 

  • Cat/Cow. This combination of poses is especially useful for releasing the physical tension of sitting at a desk all day or hunched over a phone. Start on all fours on a mat. To do cat pose, round and press your spine up while trying to keep your hips and shoulders in the same position. Let your neck round with the spine. Reverse this into cow pose by letting your belly sink down and lifting your head and neck. 

  • Extended Puppy. This yoga pose also opens the chest and relieves spinal tension. Start on all fours with toes pointed back. Walk your hands forward while lifting your glutes. Straighten your arms without letting them rest on the floor. You should feel a nice stretch and curve in the spine. 

  • Seated Forward Bend. A good stretch of the legs and spine can be so relaxing and helps calm the mind when thoughts are racing. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Extend your arms up as you inhale and stretch the spine toward the ceiling. Exhale and bend forward, keeping your back straight and strong as you reach for your feet. If you can’t reach your feet, rest your hands on your legs or the floor. 

  • Legs up the Wall. This is a simple inversion pose that anyone can do. Inversion poses induce relaxation and relieve stress. (3) Lie on your back with the backs of your legs pressed against a wall. Move your butt as close to the wall as possible, aiming for a 45-degree angle. Scoot back from the wall if you don’t have enough flexibility. Rest in this position. 

  • Camel. This is a great chest opener that boosts circulation and counteracts the effects of slumping forward throughout the day. Knee with your knees shoulder-width apart. With your hands on your hips, bend backward as you raise your chest, roll your shoulders back, and let your head fall backward with the spine. As you get more flexible, do the complete pose by grasping your heels with your hands. 

  • Corpse. This is a good way to end any yoga session. Simply lie flat on your back with arms and legs straight but relaxed. Focus on your breathing and picture your body getting heavier and more relaxed. This is both a relaxing and rejuvenating pose.  

Try these restorative yoga poses if long-term stress and anxiety have been taking a toll on your body and mind. 

Incorporate Breathing into Yoga for Anxiety and Stress

Many Western practitioners of yoga focus on poses, also known as asanas. There is much more to yoga than this physical aspect, which many people use as a form of exercise. Another essential component of the ancient philosophy of yoga is breathing. 

If you have ever taken a yoga class, you probably learned that you are supposed to focus on the breath when doing poses. Pranayama, the breathing exercises of yoga, connects the breath to the body to help it heal, rest, and energize. 

Breathing exercises, either with or without asanas, can help manage anxiety and stress. Focused breathing is particularly useful in the moment, as you experience intense feelings of anxiety or stress. Choose a pranayama breathing exercise designed for rest and relaxation as opposed to the more invigorating exercises. 

Alternate nostril breathing is a great option. Place your right thumb against your right nostril and your right ring finger against your left nostril. Press your thumb against the nostril to close it and inhale through the left nostril. Release the thumb while pressing the ring finger against the left nostril and exhale through the right. 

Try humming bee’s breath to stimulate the vagus nerve, which calms the stress response. Inhale deeply and fully. Keep the mouth closed and make a soft, steady humming sound as you slowly exhale through the nose. Exhale until you have no breath left, and then repeat. 

Try Meditation

Meditation is another aspect of a complete yoga practice and one of the best ways to beat anxiety and stress. Meditation is a mindful practice, which helps relieve anxiety and stress by helping you focus on the present moment. Instead of letting your mind worry over the past or future, you stay grounded in the sensations and awareness of the present. 

Another way meditation benefits your mental health is by helping you regulate your thoughts. It can train you to recognize negative, unhelpful thoughts as they occur. This allows you to stop the thoughts and replace them with more realistic or helpful ones. 

Meditating can be as simple as sitting comfortably and focusing on your breathing. You can also find many variations, exercises, and guided meditations if you aren’t sure where to start. Find them online, with meditation apps, or in a yoga class. 

Yoga can do so much for the body and the mind. It has been proven over and over again to be beneficial in so many ways, including for managing stress and anxiety. If you’re new to yoga, consider taking a beginner class or explore on your own. 

Help Others With Stress and Anxiety by Becoming a Yoga Teacher

Share what you know and love about yoga by becoming an instructor through the ISSA Yoga & Wellness Academy’s Yoga Alliance-approved 200-hour teacher training program. The program is also great for deepening your personal practice.  

References

  1. Anxiety Disorders - Facts & Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2022, October 28). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics 

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, August). Yoga: What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know 

Cleveland Clinic. (2023, December 11). The yoga pose you need: The health benefits of legs up the wall. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/benefits-of-legs-up-the-wall

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