Yoga is super beneficial for people with anxiety, but sometimes it can be hard to walk through that door. I know from experience. I practiced at home with videos and streaming for three years before finally getting up the nerve to go to a class.
Below are ten tips for a person with anxiety who is thinking of going to a yoga class for the first or forty-seventh time. I pulled this together from my experiences as an anxious yoga student, from teaching anxious students, and from teaching new teachers how to teach anxious students.
1. Don’t let fear keep you from this incredible source of healing.
If you have anxiety, it may make you uncomfortable to think about walking into a new place, being around strangers, or not knowing exactly what to expect. Gird your loins, and do it anyway. It's worth it. And the second time you go, 75 percent of that anxiety will be gone. And the next time, even more.
2. If possible, set up near a door, a corner, or a wall.
Fewer people around means less sensory input. Less input means you're better able to focus on keeping your breath calm and your attention turned inward.
3. Speaking of which, since yoga requires our attention to be turned inward, this means none of your classmates are interested in your abilities or lack thereof.
As long as you don’t disrupt their practice, they most likely won’t even know you are there.
4. If you have an aversion to being touched, tell the teacher and the beginning of class, “No adjustments, please.”
5. You don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
You can always modify poses that cause discomfort, even to the extent of remaining seated if lying on your back or belly triggers your breath to quicken.
The basic movement of any pose or stretch done lying down can be done seated. The final pose, savasana, can also be done seated. If the teacher looks questioningly at you, smile. If the teacher asks if something is wrong, say “anxiety.” A good teacher will understand.
6. If closing your eyes causes any kind of tension, you can keep your eyes open.
Just try to keep the muscles around your eyes and forehead relaxed.
7. Keep backbends gentle.
Bending back deeply squeezes your adrenal glands (on top of the kidneys), basically juicing them. The last thing we need when we’re anxious is more adrenaline.
8. Yoga classes are meant to be places of self-acceptance and nurturing.
If you don’t get that vibe from a class or a teacher, don’t go back to it. Try a different one.
9. If you become very uncomfortable and/or begin to panic in class, it’s OK to take a break, either on your mat or in the lobby.
It’s even OK to leave. Learning to take care of yourself is foundational to yoga. However, if you do leave a class because of anxiety, try to go back as soon as you can.
10. Yoga is often relaxing and soothing but a sustained practice can also provoke deep insights.
Do what you can to accept any insights with compassion. Try not to ignore or bury them, but sit with them and learn from them. Dealing with these insights is the real work of yoga.