Yoga is a powerful tool for anxiety. Selecting the appropriate asanas (postures) can help you calm the mind, relax the body and release nervous tension.
Everybody once in a while experiences fear or anxiety, and a little bit of it is okay. Just like salt in food, it is needed to keep you disciplined and focused.
The problem starts when these thoughts or fears become persistent and so frightening that it interferes with your everyday life.
Yoga may be able to provide some help.
Yoga asanas can be selected for their therapeutic results. This is typical of Ayurvedic yoga or Ayuryoga. In this style of yoga, the practice you do is tailored to your mind body type or prakrti.
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Yoga For Anxiety
Yoga means union. It is the union of the individual consciousness (atma) with the universal consciousness (paramatma) or your higher soul.
Yoga is not merely the physical postures of twists and turns and stretches. It actually involves much more.
Patanjali defines yoga in his second sutra as: yogaḥ citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ.1
Essentially, he’s saying that yoga can tame the mind. It is the nature of the mind to jump from one thought to the other. This is commonly referred to as the monkey mind. Yoga helps to calm down this chatter.
When anxiety becomes so severe, it interferes with your everyday life, then it becomes an anxiety disorder. The feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating. This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. If left untreated, anxiety will keep getting worse. This is where yoga can be of some help. Yoga practice can help you control your fears by slowing the activity of your monkey mind.
Symptoms Of An 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.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, anxiety is an expression of excessive Vata in mano vaha srotas (the channel of the mind). This occurs along with the predominance of rajas and tamas (manashik guna), qualities of activity and inertia in the mind.
When aggravated Vata accumulates in the channel of the mind, it tends to cause constriction or dries up the nerve tissues. This causes obstruction in the natural movement of Vata dosha which can lead to fear, anxiety, contraction and even loneliness.
READ MORE: Vata Diet: Everything You Need To Know
Regular yoga practice can help you stay calm and relaxed in daily life. It can also give you the strength to face events as they come without getting nervous.
Yoga practice ideally includes a complete arrangement of asanas (body postures), pranayamas (breathing techniques), meditation and philosophy. These have all helped several anxiety sufferers recover and face life with new positivity and strength.
Yoga For Anxiety: 10 Poses
Here’s ten yoga asanas which may help calm an unsettled mind.
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
- Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
- Janu Sirsasana (One-Legged Forward Bend)
- Marjariasana (Cat Stretch)
- Paschimottanasana (Two-Legged Forward Bend)
- Hastapadasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Adho Mukha Savasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
- Sirsasana (Headstand)
- Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
The best way to control the monkey mind is to watch your breath. Taking your attention to your breath can free the mind of the clutter of thoughts that give rise to anxiety.
After practicing yoga sit quietly and do some deep breathing exercises (Pranayama). These five exercises may provide some relief.
- Nadi shodhan pranayama or Anuloma viloma pranayama (Alternate nostril breathing or balancing breath)
- Sitali Pranayama (Rapid turtle breathing)
- Kapalbhati Pranayama (Bellow breathing)
- Bhastrika Pranayama (Yogic breath of fire)
- Bhramari Pranayama (Bee freath)
Yoga For Your Mind
Yoga is not just for your body. It is for your mind as well. It does not matter what form of yoga asanas you follow. Try and keep to the basics of inhaling and exhaling throughout the practice. This will help in oxygenating your muscles and rejuvenating your body and mind.
Another very powerful tool to consider is meditation.
Meditation helps you create a peaceful time for yourself in the day. There are thousands of meditation practices from different traditions to choose from. Find a meditation style that suits your needs and daily routine.
Scientific research has shown that a regular meditation practice can help significantly reduce levels of stress hormones.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety.
“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
Another way to use yoga for anxiety is by incorporating certain principles into your life. The ancient yoga principles of Patanjali can be your guideline. Follow these simple yoga principles of Yamas and Niyamas.
Yamas are ethical rules. You can think of them as moral imperatives. These are the five Yamas listed by Patañjali in Yogasūtra 2.30.2
- Ahiṃsā: Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings3
- Satya: truthfulness, non-falsehood4
- Asteya: non-stealing3
- Brahmacārya: chastity,4 marital fidelity or sexual restraint5
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness4
The second component of Patanjali’s yogic path is called Niyama. This includes virtuous habits, behaviors and observances. You can call them the “do’s”.6 Sadhana Pada Verse 32 lists the niyamas as follows.2
- Śauca: Purity, clearness of mind, speech and body
- Santoṣa: Contentment, acceptance of others, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them, optimism for self.7
- Tapas: Persistence, perseverance, austerity.8
- Svādhyāya: Study of Vedas (see Sabda in epistemology section), study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self thoughts, speeches and actions.8
- Īśvarapraṇidhāna: Contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality).7
These truisms may be the secret to happy and healthy living.
The Santosa principle (niyama) teaches the value of contentment.
The Aparigraha principle can help us overcome greediness or the desire to keep possessing more, which can be a reason for stress and anxiety.
The Saucha principle talks about the cleanliness of the mind and body. The Yamas and Niyamas of yoga will also help us eat nutritious food and live a healthy lifestyle which significantly contributes to overcoming anxiety and stress.
Please Note: Yoga alone should not be considered as the only treatment option. A yoga practice can complement proper medication after consultation with a healthcare provider or qualified Ayurvedic practitioner. An expert can properly guide you so you can understand the type of anxiety disorder you may have and the best course of treatment.
- Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.2
- Āgāśe, K. S. (1904). Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Puṇe: Ānandāśrama. p. 102.
3. James Lochtefeld, “Yama (2)”, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing.
4. Arti Dhand (2002), The dharma of ethics, the ethics of dharma: Quizzing the ideals of Hinduism, Journal of Religious Ethics, 30(3), pages 347-372.
- Louise Taylor (2001), A Woman’s Book of Yoga, Tuttle, ISBN 978-0804818292, page 3.
6. N Tummers (2009), Teaching Yoga for Life, ISBN 978-0736070164, page 13-16.
7. N Tummers (2009), Teaching Yoga for Life, ISBN 978-0736070164, page 16-17.
- SA Bhagwat (2008), Yoga and Sustainability. Journal of Yoga, Fall/Winter 2008, 7(1): 1-14.