To put it mildly: Dealing with anxiety can be 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.
As a certified yoga instructor and lifelong student of the practice, there are a few yoga poses that I attribute to helping quell my anxiety and bring back my mental fortitude.
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.
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 sympathetic nervous system and stimulating of the parasympathetics.
- Begin on your hands and knees with your big toes touching. Your hands should be directly under your arms, and your legs should be 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 sitz 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 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 to 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 and 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 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 redirect your thinking back to yourself.
- With your feet hips-distance apart, turn to the left and widen your stance about 4 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 it's 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 to 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 close to your elbows. Engage your abdominal muscles, press your forearms onto the mat lifting out of your shoulders, and slowly lift 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 hold for 5 to 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.
- Note: Remember not to beat yourself up if you can't do this one—yoga is about learning to be present and to practice moving through resistance with the breath, not getting to the end or searching for perfection.
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.
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.
Stress and anxiety trigger cortisol release, which stimulates "trigger" points, often along our spine, in our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. By focusing on releasing these points (i.e., through these five yoga poses) and learning to be present, our stress response, cortisol, and adrenaline levels can become more balanced and, in turn, shift our brain chemistry. That said, grab a mat and begin those deep belly breaths!
Quentin Vennie, E-RYT 200 is a writer, speaker, wellness expert, and author of the memoir Strong in the Broken Places. He serves as the Vice President of the Yoga Alliance Foundation, and has been has been featured on some of the world's largest online platforms, including Huffington Post, Thrive Global,Entrepreneur, Fox News, and the Observer. In his role at Yoga Alliance, he is responsible for the development, implementation and tracking of Foundation programs designed to make yoga accessible to marginalized and underserved communities.