As a mental health provider, in addition to being a Certified Yoga Teacher and Certified Reiki Master Practitioner, I treat many clients who are struggling with anxiety on a daily basis. We have the normal issues from children experiencing anxiety when making new friends, to the adolescent trying to figure out what college to go to, and the adult feeling anxious about a career change. We all feel this fear and uncertainty when we’re presented with something new and challenging, and a little fear is completely healthy to keep us moving and focused.
Fear becomes a problem, though, when it begins to dominate our lives and becomes persistent. Our physical bodies also begin to suffer under this stress and illness can develop from being so run down. When this cycle becomes chronic, then it becomes an anxiety disorder, a state of excessive uneasiness, worry, or fear of the unknown, which needs to be treated, and this is where yoga can help.
Yoga, and other holistic methods, combined with proper mental health treatment can help you cope with the various levels of anxiety that you may be experiencing. Your doctor and/or counselor can also guide you to understand what type of anxiety disorder you have: Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, to name a few.
How to know if you have anxiety disorder?
You feel unusually panicky, scared and uneasy.
You tend to get uncontrolled, obsessive thoughts of past traumatic experiences.
You wake up from frequent nightmares.
You tend to repeatedly wash your hands.
You have problems sleeping.
Your hands and feet stay unusually sweaty.
You get frequent palpitations. (Web MD)
How can Yoga help manage your anxiety?
When the body is not engaged in exercise and at the same time is experiencing anxiety, tension in the muscles builds, breathing remains constricted for a good portion of time, and the mind is restless from the racing thoughts that feed the anxiety. Basically, we are a body not at rest!
Practicing a few Yoga poses daily can help to regulate the breath and relax the body by gently releasing tension from the large muscle groups, flushing all parts of the body and brain with fresh blood, oxygen, and other nutrients, and increasing feelings of well-being. “Whole body” exercises such as the Sun Salute Poses are particularly helpful because they encourage you to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Many exercises can be adapted so you can do them even in an office chair (American Yoga Association).
Yoga is also about the breath. Smooth inhalations and exhalations can curb and reduce the severity of panic attacks, help with making healthy choices when faced with a difficult situation, and calming the mind (quieting the thoughts). By focusing on the sound of our breath, we begin to let our thoughts go and let the body quietly repair itself. Combining the breath-work with the poses allows you to be more in control of yourself and adds another layer of awareness that is needed to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Doing a few poses a day with the breath-work is all you need to begin managing your anxiety. It is another tool to add to your bag of tricks in addition to working with your doctor or counselor. Yoga can be done at home or there are several studios that offer many levels of classes ranging from Beginner to Intermediate.
Yoga Sequence for Anxiety Reduction for Adults & Children
Legs Up the Wall
How to Perform Legs Up the Wall Pose • Begin by sitting on the floor with a wall next to your side. Your legs should be stretched out straight in front of you. Exhale and gently lie down on your back, engage your core and hip muscles to bring your legs up into the air with the bottoms of your feet pointing to the ceiling. • Pivot your body so the backs of your legs are now touching the wall. Bring your sitting bones flush to the ground and as close to the wall as possible so your torso and legs create a 90-degree angle. • Relax your neck and place your hands on your belly or to your sides with palms facing up. Focus on your breathing and with each breath release any stress or anxiety, starting from your feet and down through your body. • Stay in the Legs Up the Wall Pose for five to 20 minutes. To come out of the pose, gently press the bottoms of your feet into the wall and roll to one side, making sure you support your legs until they reach the ground. Stay on the ground for a few seconds until sitting up so as to avoid lightheadedness.
Reclined Cobbler Pose
How to Perform Reclined Cobbler Pose • From Legs Up the Wall Pose, begin to bend the knees slightly and place the soles of the feet on the wall. Slide the feet down about half-way and then press the soles of the feet together. Allow the knees to fall out to either side. • Draw your heels in as close to your groin as is comfortable. Back off if you feel any pain in your knees. • Press the outer edges of the feet together strongly and lightly press the knees toward the wall for an inner thigh stretch.
How to Perform Tree Pose • Start in a standing position with your legs shoulder-width apart and arms at your side. • Shift your weight to the left foot and bring your right heel alongside your calf muscle or the ankle of your standing. • Rest your hands on the top of your pelvis and make sure it is parallel with the floor, left hip directly over your left foot to aid with balance. Firmly press the sole of the right foot against the inner thigh, while resisting with the outer aspect of the left leg. • When balanced, bring your hands together in front of your chest and focus on a fixed point on the floor about five feet in front of you. • You can also bring hands above your shoulders, opening up the rib cage and placing them in a V-position. • Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute. When ready, exhale and bring the right foot to the floor. Repeat the Tree Pose, but this time with the opposite foot.
Head-to-Knee Forward Folding Pose
How to Perform Head-to-Knee Pose * Sit down on the floor and extend both legs out in front of you. * Keep your legs and spine straight. * Place your hands besides your thighs on the floor in such a manner that your palms rest on the ground. * Bend your right leg from the knee, fold it and place it on the inner side of your left thigh. * Keep your left leg straight. Do not bend it. * Lift your hands off the floor and place it on the upper side of your left thigh. * Inhale. Slide your hands over your leg in the forward direction till you reach your toes. * Bend your body from your waist as you slide in the forward direction. (Here you can keep your hands on the ground besides your body instead of thighs and slide it in the forward direction. In both the cases, you get the same effects & benefits) * Exhale as you slide forwards. * Remain steady in this position for 30 seconds and then release.
How to Perform Child’s Pose • Begin by kneeling on the floor with feet together and knees shoulder-width apart – make sure you are sitting on your heels with hands resting on your thighs. • Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs, bringing your chest and head toward the floor. Your forehead should rest comfortably on the floor or mat. Pull your tailbone and head away from each other and imagine you are adding space along the vertebrae in your spine. • Rest your hands and arms next to your legs on the floor with palms facing up. Release any tension in your shoulders and add space between your shoulder blades. • Child’s Pose is a resting pose so stay in this pose for 30 seconds to a few minutes. To come out of the pose, lengthen the front of your torso and with an inhalation, engage your core muscles and lift your torso.