Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness diagnosed in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18. That is a whopping 18% of the total population! Much work is being done to understand how we’ve gotten here as a society, but while the cause of this increase is unknown, treatments and practices for countering the often debilitating effects of these disorders are rolling in like rapid fire. One thing we’ve learned, is that there are many alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Ways in which we can, as individuals, begin to heal and cope.
We’ve touched on a number of these tactics in previous blog posts. From mindfulness techniques to disconnecting to your diet. A common thread you might notice among all of these practices is a focus on introspection – a physical manifestation of tapping into your body and mind in a focused and deliberate manner.
One more thing you can add to your now growing arsenal of tools is the practice of yoga – a meditative activity that focuses on inhabiting your body and being present with bodily sensations as they fluctuate from one moment to the next. The benefits are two-fold. On the one hand, rigorous practices like Kundalini, Hatha or Bikram, much like other forms of intense physical exercise, help the body to release natural endorphins that can elevate mood and low energy levels. Then there is a more mindful approach – restorative/meditative classes that move slowly and focus on increasing awareness inside the body.
One key element of yoga that can help those suffering from various forms of anxiety and depression, is the increased levels of the amino acid GABA (aka “nature’s Valium) that are sparked by the practice. A benefit that we previously explored in a recent blog post about diet and nutrition. In addition, Psychology Today also explored the benefits of “holding (sometimes) uncomfortable positions and breathing through the stress – a direct physical practice teaching you to get through a psychological stress.” This can be traced back to an Eastern interpretation of stress, viewing it as a wave you allow to crash over you and pass by, rather than as something you must fight off or entirely prevent.
Though yoga may seem daunting to many, we’re here to introduce you to some simple and easy positions and movements that even the most novice beginner can master in no time. Positions that change the flow of blood through the body, stimulate the nervous system, and can temporarily alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression almost instantaneously.
Standing Forward Bend
A simple exercise, this pose improves upper body circulation and calms (while energizing) the body.
- Stand with feet parallel and hip-width apart, toes pointing straight forward.
- Breathe in and stretch upwards, with arms straight above your head and palms facing in.
- As you breathe out, extend body and hips forward, bending or hinging from the hips.
- Bring hands to the floor. If your hands can’t reach, don’t worry – simply lightly touch your legs, keep them outstretched or wrap your hands around your elbows to extend the stretch. (Note that your torso should be as close as possible to the front of your thighs.
- Remain in this position and breathe deeply, taking 5 to 10 long inhalations and exhalations.
Perhaps one of the simplest poses in the yoga vocabulary, Child’s pose can help relieve stress and fatigue as it stretches the lower back and hips.
- Sit on your heels with your big toes touching and hands resting on your thighs.
- Lower your belly and chest to rest between your knees, bringing your forehead to the floor.
- Relax your arms either beside your shins, palms facing up, or bring them forward, outstretched in front of you, palms facing down.
- Soften your breath by taking 5 to 10 long inhalations and exhalations.
With a name like that, it’s no wonder this pose has such calming benefits! This feel-good pose opens and stretches the hips, realigns the spine, and well, it’s just fun!
- Lie on your back and bring your knees into your belly.
- Grip the outsides of your feet with your hands, opening your knees as wide as you can and bringing them closer towards your armpits.
- Gently push your feet up against your hands to extend the stretch, and rock back and forth to massage the spine.
- Continue to do so while taking 5 to 10 long inhalations and exhalations.
Legs up the Wall
This simple pose can be done against any surface, and is known to be especially helpful in alleviating insomnia. And hey, you don’t even need to get out of bed to do it!
- Sit sideways, as close you can to a wall and swing your legs up the wall so that your body is lying on the floor at 90 degrees to your legs. Feel free to place a cushion underneath your bum for support.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply, taking 5 to 10 long inhalations and exhalations.
A pose normally done at the end of a class to recenter the mind, this simple position forces you to take a minute to simply reflect and relax.
- Lie flat on your back, allowing your feet to relax and roll out, arms a little out to the side, palms facing up. If necessary, you can place a cushion under your knees to support your lower back.
- Close your eyes, and relax your breath, allowing it to flow naturally.
Continue in this pose for approximately 2-3 minutes.
- Come out of the pose by slowly wakening your fingers and toes, wiggling them and making circles with your ankle
- Turn to your side, arm outstretched above you to support your head, and slowly roll up to a seated position.
- Don’t rush it. Take your time opening your eyes, bringing your palms together and bowing your head.
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