Does it matter which yoga you do for your anxiety? Yes, but the answer may not be what you are expecting! There are many styles of yoga, and yes, sometimes it helps to do a little “yoga dating” and see if there’s a match! But if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or depression, (and really, who doesn’t experience these feelings?!) these are the most important things to consider when choosing a style of yoga:
- Do you feel safe?
- Do you feel comfortable?
- Do you trust the instructor?
- Are you able to access the practice easily?
After considering these qualities, start to notice how a particular style can create awareness between breath and body movement. Some practices are vigorous, like Power Vinyasa, where the breath and body are moving through a quicker paced, stronger flow. Some don’t require much physical movement at all or go at a very slow pace, such as Restorative Yoga or Yin Yoga. The body is fully supported in Restorative Yoga with props, so the body can release into poses naturally. This can be relaxing for some people, but also the opposite for those who find it hard to be still when they are experiencing anxiety or stress. Yin Yoga is the holding of mostly seated poses for 5-8 mins, creating a slow release of fascia and muscle tension. Yoga styles that are in between vigorous and restorative are Hatha Flow (great for beginners), Gentle Vinyasa, and Iyengar (alignment-based). If a sense of predictability eases anxiety, try classes that work through the same sequences every time, like an Ashtanga Mysore class, where the instructor will assist you through your own practice of a set series of poses. Whatever style of yoga resonates with you, while allowing for comfort and confidence, that’s the one that will ease anxiety and stress!
Adjusting a Yoga Practice for Anxiety and Stress
As we discussed in our yoga style dating guide, comfort, and safety are the main things to consider in a yoga practice focused on alleviating anxiety and stress. Have you ever had the thought “I’m too depressed to get to yoga” or “My anxiety is too high to be in a class right now”? An act of love we can give ourselves is to ACCEPT that we feel resistance to practicing. Don’t beat yourself up, don't put yourself down, and most of all, don't compare yourself! That is a slippery slope. Instead, look into modifying your situation so you can practice more comfortably. These adjustments can be changing the style of yoga you are doing or perhaps where you are practicing. Maybe a slower yoga practice creates too much space for your mind to spin? Does the slowness highlight your anxiety, rather than soothe it? Or is that high-intensity class adding too much stress to your body? Is it working you up, rather than helping you release excess gunk? Nowadays, cultivating a home practice through videos and online classes is widely available, and for many, feels safer and more accessible than going to a studio. Realize the freedom you have in choosing the appropriate practice for you at this very moment.
Yoga Poses for Anxiety and Stress
Sometimes, a quick reset can make a giant difference in how we are managing anxiety. You don't need an hour or two, just five minutes, or ten minutes, whatever is available to you. Rather than scrolling, spend some time rolling on your mat. A little breathing and body movement can go a long way! Here is a short yoga sequence for anxiety. You're welcome to do one pose, two of them, or all of them. Get yourself back in the driver's seat.
Palms to Belly and Heart
In a stable and comfortable seated position, bring the left palm onto the heart and the right palm over the belly. Breath long, steady breaths into the places where the hands meet the body. Repeat to yourself “I’m experiencing anxiety. I have felt this before. It will go away. I am okay. I will continue to be okay.” Hold the position until the arms feel tired or uncomfortable. Release the hands and then sit with the breath for a few cycles. See what thoughts arise but see if you can keep them at arm's length. Not needing to attach to the thoughts - just observing without judgment.
In a seated position, bring the arms alongside the ears and stretch both arms straight overhead. If that feels like too big of a reach, try grasping the elbows with the hands and use that to reach up. With the head framed by the arms, exhale as you bend to the right, keeping the chest upright and heart open. Don't worry if you're not moving much - focus on the breath. Hold for a few breaths. Inhale the torso back to center and exhale while side-bending to the left. Repeat the breath cycles. Return to center on the inhale and release the arms down to your lap.
Sitting on your mat, extend legs out in front of you. Reach your arms up above your head, and then, on the inhale lengthen the spine and pull the ribs away from the hip crease. Send your chest forward, exhaling as you extend the torso over the legs. Let the hands rest on the floor next to the legs. Stay folded over for 5 - 7 slow breaths through the nose. Take your time to go inside, reminding yourself "I am okay just as I am."
Knees into Chest
Move onto your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet on the ground. Pull the knees toward the chest and wrap arms around outside of the shins. Hug yourself in tight. Roll forward and backward over the lower back and then rock side to side. Try doing this slowly and moving along with your breath. Use the inhale to move to one side, then the exhale to move back. Release the legs on an exhale and rest on your back for a few breaths. Repeat as many times as you like.
From the back lying position, pull the legs into the chest again. Keep the knees together and let them fall over to the right on an exhale. Open the arms wide, dropping the opposite shoulder closer to the floor. Breathe into the side body and look away from the knees. Hold for as long as the body feels comfortable. Pull knees into the chest, drop to the other side, and repeat. When complete, bring legs back to the center and release straight legs to the ground.
On your back, bend the knees and step the feet to the outside edges of the mat. Drop the knees toward each other, making contact so the legs feel supported. Wrap the arms around the front of the chest, find the opposite shoulders with the hands. Squeeze your upper body in a hug while letting slow, deep breaths enter and exit through the nose. When the body and mind feel relaxed, stay for as long as it feels comfortable, then release the arms, walk the feet back to the center of the mat, extend the legs and spend a few minutes in savasana.
This happens for us all
Knowing that anxiety and stress are feelings that come up in all of us, be generous in your acceptance of the experience. Yoga helps with anxiety and stress from many angles. The main effectiveness is coming from connecting the movements of the mind, body, and breath. This integration has a profound impact on our ability to release tension as well as accept ourselves where we are.