Anxiety in America
As many as 40 million Americans are living with an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is a chronic condition that improves with counseling and/or medication. Many more people experience temporary anxiety in the form of worrying. What is there to be anxious about? Maybe today you can identify some anxiety about the planet, your kids, or inflation. Perhaps you are preparing for something important like a test, job interview, or social event. Anxiety is uncomfortable. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of yoga for temporary and chronic anxiety. Don’t be shy about bringing your anxiety to the yoga mat.
Yoga and anxiety
One visit to the Yoga studio may give you some brief relief of symptoms. As an ongoing practice, yoga is an effective supplement to counseling and medical intervention of clinical anxiety. But what is it about yoga that reduces anxiety? The breath, the poses, and the community all have healing properties. Yoga is an exercise that works from the inside out.
The practice of yoga begins with awareness of the in-breath and the out-breath, which grounds you into your body. We either hold our breath, or breathe shallowly when we are anxious, without necessarily being conscious of a change in breath. When you bring anxious feelings to the mat you are intentionally still, which prompts you to be more intentional about your breathing. Slower breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest mode. The body signals the brain that all is well. Focusing on the breath stills your busy, worried thoughts. There are several techniques to yogic breathing, you may want to experiment to find one you like from this video by Carin Baginski (and Willow her dog!). According to Harvard Medical School, breath-work is as important if not more important than the yoga poses to induce a calm state.
There are many poses (asanas) that engage the parasympathetic nervous system. In any yoga class you will find them dispersed throughout the sequence as you involve your whole body. Some of my favorite poses are among the most basic and can easily be done in a home practice. Like any form of exercise, listen to your body. If something feels painful, stop the posture and find a neutral position. Some poses may not be appropriate for you, based on your history of injuries or overuse, as well as your unique anatomy. My top 5 poses for anxiety relief are:
- Child’s Pose
- Legs up the Wall
Check this website for descriptions of these and other poses that are believed to reduce anxiety. For expert cueing and companionship from the comfort of your home, you can’t beat Yoga with Adriene (and her dog Benji).
A good instructor will set the space to be a soothing experience through music, quiet, and good cueing. But the biggest pay off to bringing anxiety to the yoga mat at a studio is by far the community of yogis that you will meet once you get there. The sense of belonging within a safe space is powerful to reset your emotional balance. Consider developing a regular practice by attending the same class time. This routine will help you to develop a peer support of like minded, health conscious people who will be happy to see you. Even at 6 am. I know this from experience, but the research backs me up!
Yoga and anxiety wrap up
A meta-analysis is conducted by combining many research studies on a topic to determine the most salient findings. The research is in! Results conclude that yoga does help with ordinary day-to-day anxiety that everyone experiences. It is considered a supportive intervention for people living with anxiety disorders in addition to counseling and/or medication. Yoga can be beneficial for short term relief of temporary anxiety through breath-work, poses, and community. When yoga is used for an extended time, there is more benefit. I am a big fan of yoga, but realize that it may not be your thing. I hope this post encourages you to try yoga as a new form of anxiety relief, or to deepen your practice for ongoing peacefulness in your life.
Health & Happiness,
Dr. Lisa Marotta