Feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed? You're not alone. According to Beyond Blue, anxiety is now the leading mental health illness in Australia. Over time it wreaks havoc on ours bodies, minds, relationships and self perceptions, leaving us at risk of sleep disorders, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, obesity, autoimmune diseases, adrenal problems, depression and heart disease. But there's a range of strategies we can use to alleviate anxiety and yoga is absolutely one of them. Yoga offers deeper self-awareness around anxiety triggers, symptoms and remedies whilst calming the mind and the nervous system.
As someone who suffered from anxiety from a young age, a home yoga practice was (and still is) one of my most accessible and effective ways to cultivate balance. So as a certified yoga teacher who specialises in yoga for anxiety (see Yoga for Stress and Anxiety Workshop) these are my top 5 yoga poses to quell anxiousness. Think nurturing forward fold and supportive supine postures to hit reset and shift habits of holding tension. Perfect for a tired body and a busy mind. Nothing fancy or challenging. Just softening and letting go. Find a place of comfort, silence and serenity to really enjoy the full benefits of these poses.
Tip: I recommend using the support of a bolster for this practice to allow you to drop in to these poses a little deeper. If you don't have a bolster, stacked pillows or a rolled yoga mat wrapped in a blanket works a treat. A little support goes a long way.
Childs pose is my go to pose when I'm feeling overwhelmed. It helps to release stored tension in the back, neck, shoulders and hips, all of which can help to decrease feelings of anxiousness. Close down the eyes and draw your awareness to the rhythm, pace and pattern of the breath. Inhale for the count of 4 focusing on inviting space into the lower back body. Exhale for the count of 4 focusing on softening and releasing into the tissues. Find peacefulness and stay for 3 minutes.
Lazy Side bend
Lazy Side Bend focuses on stretching the muscles of the side body (the intercostal muscles) that we tend to shorten and tighten when seated for extended periods of time. This pose improves rib cage mobility, expansion of the diaphragm, spaciousness of the lungs, allowing for deeper, longer, fuller breaths. Additionally, it stretches and massages the abdominal muscles and digestive organs to aid digestion helping shift into the parasympathetic nervous system (relax response). Stay here for 3 minutes each side while returning to a 4 count breath.
Tadpole Twist works wonders for anxiety by stimulating the vagus nerve and allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to work more efficiently. It helps open and release stored tension in the chest, shoulders and back, subtly re-align vertebrae, relieve unnecessary pressure on nerves and strengthen muscles surrounding the spine. This particular restorative twist stretches the little muscles in between the ribs, making more space for the lungs to expand, making more room for more oxygen. This helps the body work more efficiently on a cellular level, aids digestion by squeezing the abdominal organs, and once you're out of the twist, fresh blood, lymphatic fluids and nutrients flood the area. Stay here for 3 minutes each side while returning to a 4 count breath.
Waterfall Pose is a supported inversion similar to Legs-Up-the-Wall. A great pose to ease anxiety symptoms, relieve lower back pain, reduce insomnia, lowering high blood pressure, relieve swelling, balance the kidneys, and reverses the effects of gravity on the entire body. Perfect after a long flight, when you've been standing / seated all day, if you can't sleep or when you just need to de-stress. Stay here for 3 minutes allowing gravity to work it's magic. Find again your 4 count breath.
Relaxation pose is the ultimate pose of surrender. Much like savasana, relaxation pose looks easy but is dubbed the most difficult pose to master. The reason is that the art of relaxation is harder than it looks. Relaxation pose increases body awareness and interoception, which has been linked to decreased signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression. A bolster under the knees also helps release tension in the lower back and relax the psoas (the muscle of the soul). Stay here for up to 15 minutes.
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