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There’s always something to worry about. Whether it’s our career, relationships, dating or trauma, we go through moments that bombard us with negative thoughts that can make us feel anxious and stressed. Our worries may often define our choices, our view of the world, or ourselves. This doesn’t mean they are faults, flaws or downfalls—we just need to practice managing them in a healthy way, placing deserved value on self-care. Yoga is only one connection.
My yoga practice hasn’t cured anything, but it has strengthened my ability to overcome challenging life events, body confidence issues, and has vastly improved my physical and emotional health. There is no perfection in yoga; there is no pressure to be anything or anyone other than who you are in the moment of a pose.
Here are seven yoga poses that help my mind and body when I am experiencing anxiety, depression or overall stress:
This is a pose of rest and comfort, bringing your heart close to the Earth. I often prefer to engage this pose with *palms up* as an offering of surrender. When doing so, I feel that I can give my fear, hurt, pain, sorrow, negativity, etc. to the universe.
This pose is a simple way to relax both easily and quickly. We walk around each day carrying our weight with our legs and feet. To lie back with our legs up the wall, we can rest and release tension.
My go-to pose anywhere I am, at any time (especially work), is a forward fold. When I find myself tense from sitting in a chair or staring at a computer screen for too long, I like to walk away, fold forward and for just a few moments, let my whole body be loose.
One of my favorite poses for as long as I’ve been practicing yoga is Pigeon Pose. When I first started practicing Vinyasa, a fantastic instructor taught me about how we carry our emotions in our hips. Considering my hips tend to become stiff when I’m feeling emotional or heartbroken, this made total sense.
This pose makes me feel beautiful and strong, not just physically but mentally. Next time you want to release some frustration by challenging yourself a bit, flip your downward dog pose and raise an arm to the sky in praise for your body and your battles.
In addition to my hips, I also find my lower back gathers stress. Supporting yourself in bridge with a block is an easy way to instantly feel supported while also applying a bit of pressure to a sore lower back for relief.
Because sometimes you just need to lie flat on the ground, arms and legs wide, and let it all go.
While yoga alone isn’t a cure-all for anxiety, these poses are an important part of nurturing your body and mind. Whether you’re at home, outside or in the studio, be mindful of these moves and cultivate your sense of calm.
Have you been feeling it? The big emotion floating around the last few weeks is the Big Anxiety. Coupled with the stress of what the COVID-19 pandemic has bought for millions of people, disturbed wellness routines, and worry, we have a recipe to create massive damage to ourselves.
Adjusting to the new normal, with social distancing practices in place and adapting to precautions and routines, may be the root of even more anxiousness for many as we’re navigating uncharted territories.
During times of high stress, our bodies experience a physiological strain, where essentially everything from our heart, muscles, blood, and energy have to work harder than needed in order to keep functioning at a minimum. Our body’s natural processes, like breathing, can get compromised, lessening the healing functions of the nervous system, and overworking our adrenal system. Stress management is almost non-existent. This overtaxing of the body disrupts the natural flow of energy and resources, and puts us in something known as the “fight or flight” mode. In this mode, we are constantly deciding if there is some kind of real danger and how to survive it. We feel these signals when our heart rate and blood pressure rise, our stress responses like sweating and either constricted or super fast breathing occur, and our feel-good hormones become compromised.
As we process anxiety, not only do we mentally and emotionally feel the repercussions, we also physically confuse our systems that are doing their best to naturally heal us. Staying in a state of continued anxiety with an overactive sympathetic nervous system can be incredibly damaging to your health, even if it is a small amount of stress that collects over time. Stress suppresses our immunity, digestion, deep breathing, disrupts sleep, and eating patterns, impacts mood, energy levels, and much more.
Studies show that over 50% of adults are essentially holding their breaths. They do a shallow type of breathing known as thoracic breathing, where you breathe lightly into your chest instead of into your diaphragm. For example, notice how you’re breathing right now. You’re likely holding your breath to some extent and you’re probably not breathing much at all. If you’re asked to partake in a deep breathing exercise now, you’ll puff up your chest and shoulders, and empty out your stomach. Guilty?
If you’ve ever seen a baby breathe or the breathing technique of someone in deep sleep, you’ll notice that their bellies rise and fall; the oxygen goes directly into a natural deep belly breath. Adults, however, have become acclimated to holding our breaths without meaning to. When we can slow down and practice deep breathing, we send physical and neurological signals through our entire body that asks us to rest.
The great news is that there are easy breathing exercises we can do at home that do not take a lot of time or effort. An incredible tool that anyone can use in times of high stress is remembering to inhale and exhale. Yes, breathing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended breathwork not simply as an immunity building tool, but as a way to balance emotional and mental wellbeing. Deep breathing and other breathwork improves the body’s overall functions; improves the respiratory system, builds protective mucus in the nose, oxygenates and blood and brain, improves digestion, alkalizes the full body, and much more. Each style of breathwork sends special physiological signals—some ask us our bodies to slow down and chill, to get out of fight mode, and bring us back to equilibrium where our body’s natural healing systems can be activated; some styles of breathwork ask to pump up and energize.
It’s common to find yourself rushing through breathing practices or feel like you need to set aside special time for it. But that’s the point. We get to slow down, and we get to implement these practices even if there are distractions, business, and no perfect zen meditation corners in our homes. We can do these anytime, anywhere.
If you’ve been feeling any small symptoms of anxiousness or stress, now is the perfect time to incorporate some incredibly easy and effective breathwork techniques into your day-to-day.
This breathing technique can be done at any time of the day, for as long as you want. It’s recommended to practice this for at least 30 seconds to start and several times throughout the day. It’s a breath technique to practice before going to sleep as well. As you’re doing this breath, imagine your stomach like a big pump. As you breathe in, you’re expanding; as you breathe out, you’re emptying out.
1. Put your hands on your belly/abdomen area.
2. Take a big breath through the nose and PUSH your hands away from the belly as you breathe in. Expand your stomach as much as possible and try not to puff up your chest.
3. Slowly exhale through the mouth and constrict your belly inwards. Feel free to make a sound with the mouth when you do this.
4. Repeat for a minimum of 30 seconds.
The 6-7-8 breath can be done at any time of the day to calm anxiousness and stress, especially before doing to sleep. It’s a self-soothing technique that helps relax and calm the nervous system. You can do this practice sitting up or laying down.
1. Close down your eyes.
2. Relax your mouth.
3. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 6 full seconds. Count in your head and maintain an even pace.
4. Hold this breath for 7 seconds.
5. Pucker your mouth and exhale out through the mouth with a “whoooooossh” sound for 8 seconds.
6. Repeat this 6-7-8 breath for at least 5 rounds, or as long as you wish.
You can adjust the 6-7-8 counts to accommodate your pace. You can try a 4-5-6 sequence, or an 8-9-10 sequence. Play around with the length of time that feels good for your body. Some people love to sit by an analog clock for the ticking sound to help keep pace; some love to incorporate music.
This is another easy technique that can be done at any time of the day.
1. Breathe in for 4 seconds through the nose.
2. Hold for 4 seconds.
3. Exhale for 4 seconds through the nose.
4. Hold for 4 seconds.
5. Repeat at least 5 times.
You can play around with the timing for 6 seconds, 8 seconds, and so on to see what works best for your body.
These are the top three breathwork techniques to manage anxiety and stress. Plenty of other techniques work on sleep, inner healing, subconscious programming, altered states of consciousness, and more. Play with the three techniques above and see what feels great for you. It’s common to find a sense of calm almost immediately, some gentle tingling, and relaxation! As we’re adjusting to the new normal, let’s all contribute to creating peace both inside and out.