Have you ever had your mind take you to an unfamiliar, scary place? I'm not referring to what happens when you think about the Blair Witch sequel; I'm talking about anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 18 percent of American adults have an anxiety disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that anxiety disorders cost the country more than $42 billion a year. About half of this cost is from people seeking treatment for symptoms that mirror physical medical conditions.
Anxiety can range from mild to severe, and it can come on at any time in your life. It can prevent you from connecting with friends or feeling comfortable with your children. Medication can help, but many users say that it blunts their emotions. It can be hard to find the ideal medication and dose that alleviates symptoms with few side effects.
More practitioners are prescribing yoga as a treatment for anxiety. Yoga can help you get in tune with your emotions, and it doesn't numb them the way some medications can. It has no detrimental side effects other than the slight possibility of injury if you don't do a pose properly. Yoga can help you to calm anxiety.
Yoga as therapy
What if you could relieve current anxiety—and prevent it from rearing its ugly head in the future—by putting on comfortable clothing, breathing deeply, and moving your body with purpose? Yoga as therapy is an official thing. There is even a website for it!
The International Association of Yoga Therapists was created to establish yoga as a recognized and respected therapy for medical and mental conditions. Yoga therapy is a method of giving individuals the power to improve their health and well-being through yoga practice and philosophy.
The goals of yoga therapy involve alleviating, decreasing, or balancing symptoms that cause distress. This can help improve function and prevent further health deterioration. Through yoga therapy, people with anxiety can change the way they relate to and identify with their condition.
How yoga is similar to anxiety medication
You might have heard that exercise is good for your mood.
Diminished activity in the brain's GABA systems has been found in people with anxiety disorders. Medications that increase activity in the GABA systems are often prescribed for these individuals. Yoga also increases GABA levels in the brain.
One study found that people who practiced yoga for an hour experienced a 27 percent rise in GABA levels compared with no growth in a control group of people who simply read for an hour. Another study found that individuals who did three one-hour yoga sessions per week experienced a greater improvement in mood and reduction in anxiety than people who walked for exercise for the same amount of time.
This is encouraging for people who want to limit their use of medications for anxiety. The abuse of GABAergic drugs is a problem in clinical practice. These medications and even dietary supplements that increase GABA levels have side effects and can lead to dependence. Research shows that yoga can serve as a nonchemical treatment with similar effects.
Yoga and your stress response
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night, your breath rapid, your heart racing, and sweat soaking the sheets? Do you find it impossible to go about your daily routine without having a stressful response to just about everything your kids do?
A Harvard Health Publications article explains how yoga helps you manage the systems in your body that respond to stress. This allows your body to relax in stressful situations. Your heart rate decreases, your breathing returns to normal, and your blood pressure comes down. Yoga can also increase heart rate variability, which is important for optimal health, adaptability, and self-regulation.
The science behind breathing, mindfulness, and meditation
When you do yoga, you often perform controlled breathing, mindfulness, and meditation. Research shows that all of these practices can lower anxiety.
During a yoga session, you must be mindful of your body and mind throughout the process. Research shows that mindfulness training can help improve anxiety and depression. People who continue to practice mindfulness are more likely to maintain a positive mood. What's even more interesting is that people who are introduced to mindfulness training, such as yoga or meditation, tend to continue to incorporate the practice into their lifestyle.
Yoga poses for anxiety
All yoga poses encourage awareness and concentration. The breathing, meditation, and mindfulness that you practice send out calming chemicals from your brain. Five yoga poses to help alleviate anxiety include:
Poses that free blocked energy in the hips can help you let go of deep-seated emotions that may be triggering your anxiety. In yoga, there is a strong body and mind connection. The mind, body, and spirit are unified. Therefore, everything that you experience mentally can have physical results. In the yogic philosophy, the hips can hold on to emotions and trauma for years. Hip openers can bring about a surge of emotional release that can help you move forward if you're dealing with anxiety.
Will yoga completely wipe out anxiety from your life forever? It probably won't. You are human, after all. Experiencing a full range of emotions is part of really living. However, being able to tap into your anxiety instead of letting it control you can change your mental well-being, your physical health, and your whole life.