Mild anxiety can be a pain in the butt. Those persistent worries, fretting over what’s going to happen in the future and always fearing the worst case scenario can be tiring.
Anxiety disorders, however, take it to another level and these debilitating conditions can significantly impact the quality of life for those that suffer. Constant anxiety can leave a person feeling fearful, frustrated and downright exhausted. I was one of these people and for a few years, I honestly wondered if I’d ever feel light or joyful again (thankfully I found yoga).
Anxiety can make you feel like you’re completely alone, which is ironic because it’s so much more common than people realise! In Australia, 14% of the population is affected by anxiety, in America it’s 18%. While it’s a condition of the mind, it affects every part of us—our bodies, our emotions and our energy levels.
Given the holistic impact it has, it makes sense that a well-being modality like yoga can be so beneficial.
Yoga Poses to Help Alleviate Feelings of Anxiety
In addition to the relaxation, breath awareness and mindfulness in yoga, there are certain poses that can really help ease anxiety and alleviate anxious feelings. I’ve listed ten of my personal favourites here, though a gentle reminder: it’s not just what we practice, it’s how we practice.
In other words, move slowly and try to become as conscious as you can of your breath.
1. Easy Pose (With Breath Awareness)
When we’re anxious, we often breathe in a shallow, rapid way, which can further increase anxiety symptoms. So simply sitting in a comfortable cross leg position (if that’s not comfortable, sit on your knees or in a chair) and taking time to slow down and even out the breath can itself be a huge relief.
Be gentle with yourself as you start to encourage each inhale and exhale to be slightly fuller. I like to place one hand one my belly and one on my heart centre, which feels really soothing and can help you breathe in a more relaxed and expansive way.
2. Cat / Cow Pose
The tension that usually accompanies anxiety can create rigidity in the body, so moving in a fluid way in sync with the breath can feel incredibly liberating.
I like to inhale to Cow and exhale to Cat, because the shape of the poses encourage fullness in the breath, but go with what feels most soothing for you. Always be unhurried in your movements and see if you can feel as if you’re moving through water.
3. Plank Pose
What? Plank, is she kidding? Nope, because it can be really helpful to learn how to respond to a mildly challenging situation in a calm way. If you hold Plank for a little longer than the mind is comfortable with, it gives you the opportunity to keep the breath calm, even when things aren't easy.
It’s not a massive challenge but it’s enough to help build qualities like self-confidence and determination, which tend to be on hiatus in the heat of anxiety.
4. Standing Forward Fold
The combination of the forward fold and inversion make Uttanasana really calming. And you can literally imagine your worries and concerns leaving your body and your mind, falling off of the crown of your head and being released into the earth.
Judge how it feels for you, with all that energy buzzing around your mind, you might only feel comfortable staying for a few breaths, but even that can be enough to help you let go of tension.
5. Tree Pose
Anxiety can make you feel scattered and disconnected. This is where balancing poses like Tree can be really beneficial because they anchor you in the present moment.
Because of the whole nature/earthy/tree thing, this pose can be super grounding, particularly if you imagine there are roots growing down through your standing leg, connecting the sole of the foot with the earth beneath.
6. Eagle Pose
Another great pose to practice staying cool, calm and collected during a difficult moment. The benefit of balancing poses, particularly one where the body is in a relatively challenging shape is that you need to keep your gaze on one point to hold steady.
This single-pointed focus of the eyes helps to still the mind and there is nothing more soothing for an agitated mind than a few moments of stillness.
7. Bridge Pose
By opening up the space around the heart, you help to take some of the focus and energy away from an overactive mind. With Bridge, you have the uplifting quality of the backbend though it also has a calming, quietening effect. You can always place a block underneath the sacrum to make the pose feel a little more supported.
8. Child's Pose
A forward bend and mild inversion, Child's Pose is great for releasing tension and helping us to let go. It gives us the opportunity to breathe into the back body, in particularly our adrenal glands which can become overworked and exhausted through ongoing stress and anxiety.
9. Thunderbolt Variation
This variation of Vajrasana with the arms crossing over the chest and palms cupping under the shoulders just seems to quiet and calm everything down really quickly. It’s my go-to anti-anxiety pose if I’m feeling overwhelmed.
It has the added benefit of being soothing for our digestive system, which can get tied up in knots in response to pesky fear based thoughts.
10. Corpse Pose
This one might seem a little obvious but complete stillness in the body can help encourage stillness in the mind. Plus, you’re giving your body the chance to completely relax.
If you find your mind racing during Savasana, then it’s a good time to use a positive affirmation such as "I am calm," or "I let go." The more you affirm those statements, the greater the chance they’ll manifest.
The degree to which we are all affected by anxiety differs and this article is not intended to replace or interfere with medical advice. And whether your anxiety is mild or severe, please remember to be gentle with yourself.