A few months ago I shared some of my favorite yoga poses for coping with depression. Like many people diagnosed with depression, I also have an anxiety disorder. Thankfully, yoga helps with that too! But just like depression and anxiety are different animals, so are the yoga poses that can help with them. So without further ado, here are three things I use when working through a rough patch of anxiety.
- Breathing. Yeah, really! When we experience anxiety we often develop a pattern of shallow, rapid breath, which can lead to cold or numb hands and feet--even dizziness. Taking deep, steady breaths is a great way to begin feeling calm and grounded again. You can do this practice anywhere--standing, seated in a chair, or lying in a comfortable position. Bring one hand to your chest and one hand to your stomach. If it feels relaxing to do so you can close your eyes, or find an object in the room to bring your focus to. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and feel your belly expand. Pause here briefly, for as long as feels comfortable. Three seconds works great for me, but your mileage may vary. Next, exhale through your mouth and notice your belly contracting as the breath is released. Repeat as many times as you like.
- Wide-legged forward fold. When anxiety hits, I prefer to do this pose while seated in a chair. Doing so gives me a stable, safe place for me to focus on continuing my deep breathing without worrying about feeling wobbly or dizzy. Find a seat in a comfortable chair (if it has wheels, make sure they’re locked!) and firmly plant your feet on the floor slightly wider than hip-width distance apart. Inhale, lift your chest, and extend your spine--imagine an invisible thread on the top of your head gently pulling it up toward the ceiling. Exhale and bend forward from your hips, bringing hands to a yoga block or to the floor. If you don’t have a yoga block, a few stacked books or a small cardboard box works great here. Continue breathing in this pose for a few moments, with every inhale lengthening your spine, and every exhale allowing yourself to deepen your forward fold slightly. When you’re ready to come out of your forward fold, do so on an inhale, coming up about half the distance first, then slowing coming all the way up to a seated position. Allow yourself a few moments before moving into a standing position to avoid dizziness.
- Tree pose. One of the most easily recognizable yoga poses, Tree is my favorite way to get grounded and focus on breath. I like practicing this one with a wall behind me and a chair in front of me to assist with balance. Start with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Begin to shift your weight into your left foot, placing a hand on the back of a chair to help with balance if you’d like. Bend your right knee and turn it outward, bringing heel to rest inside left ankle and toes to the mat (or a block). Engage your core. Breathe. If you feel stable here and would like more of a balance challenge, bring the sole of your right foot to press gently inside your left calf. Resist with your left leg. Breathe here. To come out of Tree, turn bent knee back to center, straighten your leg, and bring your foot back down to the mat. Don’t forget to do the other side!
These strategies are my definite go-to when I'm struggling with anxiety, but they might not be right for everyone. If these don't work for you, don't be discouraged--experiment with different breathing exercises and gentle stretches until you find something that does. And remember to treat yourself with kindness and compassion in all things!
Kris Anne is a registered yoga teacher and has been part of the YogaQuest community since 2012. She loves that YogaQuest provides a safe space for geeks to practice yoga, and an accepting environment in which she can move her body and feel free to be a weirdsmobile. Because it has meant so much to her, she is dedicated to bringing YogaQuest to more people, and sharing its message of non-compliant self care.