Anxiety can be a bit of a hassle. Whether you suffer from a generalized or acute anxiety disorder, it can create feelings of limited control, low self esteem, persistent fear, panic, anger and defeat.
When anxiety is present, most people attempt to evade it. Others struggle with it, often leading to medication as a treatment option with hopes that the powerful grip it has on their lives will be released. I was one of them.
I was diagnosed with an anxiety and panic disorder a few years ago and was immediately placed on medication. The next two and half years of my life were plagued by pills, alcohol and addiction. I developed a severe dependence to the medication, leading to the accidental overdose that ultimately forced me to find an alternative.
After years of trial and error, I found solace in what has now become my trinity of wellness — yoga, meditation and juicing. I found a release from the painful grip that anxiety had over me. Nonetheless, I still have anxious moments and my diagnosis still stands. However, my anxiety is managed and controlled to a point where it is no longer a prevalent issue for me.
As a certified yoga guide and lifelong student of the practice, there are a few of my favorite poses that I attribute to helping quell my anxiety and bring me back to the mental fortitude that pride myself on.
Anxiety does not have to control you, it is simply a part of what makes us human.
You don't need a class, special yoga clothes or athletic wear to perform these poses. All you need is space, dedication and the fearlessness to implement them. You can do these five asanas whenever you're feeling anxious, to help ground you back to the present moment. Be inspired, be free and be well.
Photos courtesy of Taylor Images and the author
Child's Pose (Balasana)
Child's Pose is commonly known as a place of rest in yoga. Most people use it to relax and regroup in between more challenging asanas during class. I've found a lot of comfort in utilizing it to help ease my anxiety symptoms.
Child's Pose helps to release tension in the back, neck and shoulders, which are areas where most people hold a lot of their stress. This pose also helps to promote relaxation by encouraging steady conscious breathing, which is particularly great for anxiety sufferers due to a calming of the nervous system.
Begin on your hands and knees with your big toes touching. Your hands should be directly under your arms and your legs hips distance apart. Exhale as you bow forward allowing your torso to rest on or between your thighs with your forehead on the mat. Keeping your arms long and extended, press into your hands keeping your sit bones on your heels.
Hold this pose for as long as you need to. When finished, slowly use your hands to walk your torso upright and sit back on your heels.
Tree Pose (Vrikasana)
Tree Pose is fundamental in easing anxiety. By implementing basic standing balances, you promote concentration, focus and awareness, with the intention of taking your mind away from anxiety and placing your attention on your physical self.
When not in a yoga class, I often practice Tree Pose whenever I find myself standing for an extended period of time, like while waiting for the train or standing in line at the grocery store. It's a great distraction from some of my most common anxiety triggers.
Standing tall with your feet hips-width distance apart, shift your weight to your right leg. Bend your left knee, and place the sole of your left foot into your inner right thigh or just below the knee, with your toes pointing toward the floor. Center your pelvis so that it is directly over your right foot. Press the sole of the left foot into your inner right thigh, while resisting with your outer right thigh. Place your hands into prayer with your thumbs at your heart center. Your gaze can be facing the ceiling or facing forward. Hold for 2-3 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)
If you are sufficient with standing leg balances and would like a pose that strengthens, lengthens and challenges you, Warrior III is the way to go. This pose enhances core strength, improves coordination, balance and posture. It also stimulates your abdominal region, which helps to improve digestion. Proper digestion and overall gut health is imperative in the fight against anxiety, as recent studies have discovered a link between the two.
Warrior III will also help to calm the mind by shifting your attention away from intrinsic thoughts and redirects your thinking back to yourself.
With your feet hips distance apart, turn to the left and widen your stance about four feet apart. Turn your right foot about 90 degrees so your toes point toward the front of the mat. Shift your left foot about 45 degrees so that its at an angle toward to upper left side of the mat. Align your pelvis and torso with your right foot and bend your right knee, keeping both feet planted on the mat.
Raise your arms overhead and press your weight onto your right foot, lifting your left leg as you lower your torso forward, making your body parallel to the ground. Reach out through the heel of your left foot, keeping both legs actively engaged. Your arms will now be reaching forward. Straighten your right leg and shift your gaze toward the ground a few feet in front of you and hold for 2-3 breaths. Slowly lower your leg back to the floor and repeat on the other side.
Headstand is one of my favorite poses to practice, especially during my most anxious times. It reverses the blood flow in your body, causing you to focus more attention on your breath, rather than your anxiety or discomfort. By focusing your awareness on your body's place in space, you begin to evoke calmness and contentment.
When we increase and stimulate blood flow to our head, one main benefit is the detoxification of our adrenals, which is known to contribute to a decrease in depression as well.
Start on your hands and knees, with your forearms shoulder-width apart. Keeping your elbows there, interlace your fingers so that your pinkies touch the ground. Place the crown of your head onto the ground and cradle it in your hands. Tuck your toes and lift your hips high, walking your feet in as closer to your elbows. Engage your abdominal muscles, press your forearms onto the mat lifting out of your shoulders and slowly lifting one leg off the ground. You can practice lifting one leg and then the other until you feel steady.
To enter full headstand, lift your feet straight up over your shoulders and hips until your legs are completely straight overhead. You can practice near a wall to support you if you're new to headstand. Keep your gaze fixed and old for 5-6 breaths (or longer if you desire).
When you're ready, lower your feet down one at a time and bring your knees to the mat. Rest in Child's Pose for 3 breaths.
Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
If you've ever taken a restorative yoga class, I'm sure you're very familiar with this pose. Legs Up The Wall is great for relieving lower back pain and easing anxiety symptoms, in addition to relieving arthritis discomfort, menstrual cramping, reducing insomnia and lowering high blood pressure.
This pose can be performed anywhere a wall is present, however I strongly recommend finding a place of comfort, silence and serenity to really enjoy the full benefits. You can place a pillow or blanket under your lumbar spine to relieve any lower back pressure as well.
Roll up your yoga mat about halfway and rest it directly at the wall. Sit with your left or right side resting as close to the wall as possible, just outside your mat. In one steady movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and rest your shoulders and head onto your mat. Slowly ease yourself forward until your buttocks and hamstring area touch the wall. Allow yourself to close your eyes and relax. Stay in this pose for 10 minutes or longer if needed. When you're ready to come out, swing your legs to the left or right of your body.