Yoga for Anxiety

Yoga is so much more than holding a headstand or chanting “om” as the sun rises. In fact, yoga philosophy contains eight tools for leading a life of purpose and peace, as outlined by the sage Patañjali in The Eight-Fold Path. The Eight Limbs derived from his ancient texts are utilized even today. Although many overlap and are intertwined, let’s highlight how a few of these limbs can help calm general anxiety or an acute anxiety attack.

Asana – Postures

Try a few of the following poses to calm an anxious mind and body. If you aren’t familiar with these, the Yoga Journal website is a fantastic resource for learning postures.

  • Easy Pose: Rest your hands over your heart-center, feel your heart beat, feel your chest rise and fall with your breath. Slow your breathing. (See Pranayama for more on breathing.)
  • Cat-Cow Flow: Link your inhales and exhales to your movement, solidifying the mind-body connection. As you inhale, bring your crown and tail toward the sky in cow. Exhale to round your back into cat.
  • Child’s Pose: Hug into yourself in this gentle resting pose.
  • Legs Up The Wall Pose: A classic restorative pose, allow yourself to rest here for up to ten minutes.

Pranayama – Breath Control

There are many types of pranayama, or controlled breathing, and we’ll highlight just two for anxiety.

When we have short, shallow breathing, we trigger our body’s flight-or-fight response. Deep, full breathing brings oxygen to the lower lobes of the lungs and stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system. Hello, calm.

If you can, find a comfortable seat and close your eyes. If you can’t, this practice can be done just about anywhere.

  • Box Breathing: Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds. Repeat for several minutes.
  • 4:8 Breathing: Inhale for four seconds and then exhale slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat for several minutes.
  • Breathe in and out of your nose for both of these techniques. If it helps you focus, you may choose to place your hands on your chest or belly to feel it rise and fall.

Dharana – Concentration

Here, we’re not fully in a meditative state, or releasing all awareness. We’re actually holding our focus on just one thing.

As someone with anxiety, you might already do this when you follow one negative thought down the rabbit hole. We know that’s not helpful. And sometimes, the mind is full of thoughts. Try this to bring positivity and calm:

  • Choose an affirmation to repeat silently or out loud. For instance, try “I am calm” or “I am capable” or whatever you need reminded of.
  • Repeat this mantra again and again until you do feel calm or capable.

If you do this on a regular basis, you’ll begin to recognize the truth of your affirmation without even realizing it. Above all, this concentration on your phrase will keep your focus on these words and not the dozens of other thoughts racing in your head. If your thoughts do drift, bring your awareness back to the affirmation without judging yourself for momentarily losing concentration. You’ll find that this is a helpful way to relax your mind and remind yourself you are calm, capable, strong, worthy, loved.