Right now is perhaps one of the most stressful and traumatic times our generations will ever face. Throughout the protests, politics and media, there is an ongoing stream of negative images, police brutality, systemic racism and a luring sense of change.
Whether you’re on the streets protesting for equality or researching how you can make a difference from your own home, you might want to take a step back for several moments and practice a little yoga.
When people embrace yoga, they feel calmer and less anxious — and the reality is, more and more of us are experiencing heightened anxiety and stress due to recent events. YOGA + Life® collated a list of six asanas that will help you gather your thoughts and alleviate anxiety.
Legs Up The Wall
Practicing an inversion pose like legs up the wall can be especially helpful for people battling anxiety. When someone’s head is below heart level during an inversion, the nervous system relaxes and stress melts away.
Many yoga instructors believe this asana is a cure-all — it is proven to help anxiety, digestion, depression, arthritis, premenstrual discomfort, headaches and so much more.
Start by getting comfortable beside one of your walls or near the headboard on your bed before going to sleep. Lay down in the fetal position and shimmy your hips up against the wall. Next, roll on your back and start walking your feet up the wall until your body is in the shape of an “L.” Some people enjoy propping a folded blanket or bolster beneath their backside for added comfort. Your legs and feet may start feeling numb, just observe and embrace the tingling sensations. Take deep inhalations and exhalations with your eyelids gently closed for ten minutes.
Standing Forward Fold
Standing forward fold’s stretch the entire backside of your body, from your head down to your heels. This is another inversion where your head drops below your heart, promoting relaxation and calmness. This asana will also open and stretch your hips — the part of our body that carries the most tension from daily stressors.
Stand tall in mountain pose with your feet together — take a nice deep inhalation while you distribute the weight of your feet evenly on the floor. Next, lift your sit bones towards the ceiling while folding your body forward, until your knees are straight (not hyperextended) and all of your fingers are making a connection with the ground. Stay here and relax for five breaths. Be mindful of how your body feels; don’t push yourself too hard — bend your knees if you’re experiencing discomfort.
When you’re practicing a balancing asana such as tree pose, your concentration is on your focus, balance and posture, rather than the anxiety you’re enduring.
Much like a tree, you will feel grounded and centered with your feet distributing even pressure on the ground, like roots. Tree pose boasts many healing benefits, like improving balance and stability, alleviating anxiety and toning the abdomen and legs.
You can start off in mountain pose with your feet hip distance apart. Stand tall, lengthening your spine and back, with your arms beside your body. Take several breaths — four second inhalations and four second exhalations. Find an object or part of the room to focus on — having a focused gaze, or drishti, will improve your concentration and balance. Next, shift your weight into your left leg and raise your right foot off the floor. Align the sole of your right foot with your left inner thigh (you can place your foot against your left inner calf if that feels better). Once you’ve found the positioning that is most comfortable for you, make sure your left toes are pointing downwards and your hips are straight forward. Move your hands into prayer position and extend your arms, or branches, upward. You can test your balance by slowly waving your branches or closing your eyes. Repeat on the opposite side.
Puppy pose is a heart-opener that stretches and lengthens the spine to relieve tension and discomfort. This asana can relieve the anxiety you’re experiencing and strengthen your muscles.
Begin in tabletop position — on all fours with your knees directly below your hips and hands beneath your shoulders. Walk your hands forward a few inches while sinking your sit bones down towards your heels. Keep your elbows lifted off the ground and firmly press your hands down, engaging the muscles in your arms. Next, rest your forehead on the floor and relax here for two or three minutes. Feel your chest open and soften with each breath as your bodily tension and anxiety drifts away.
Restorative asanas, like child’s pose, are often performed when a person needs a break during an intense class, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice this pose on its own. Child’s pose encourages strong and steady breathing which helps relax the body and mind.
Other health benefits include: less anxiety, healthy circulation and blood flow, releasing tension in the back, neck and shoulders and lengthening the spine.
Kneel down on a yoga mat with your knees together and rest your palms on your upper thighs. On your next exhale, lower your torso until it’s resting on your thighs. Extend your arms forward and let your sit bones connect with your heels while you breathe in and out. You can rest in child’s pose for as long as you need.
For a variation, you can try “wide child’s pose” — kneel on your mat with your toes together and your knees hip distance apart. Lower your torso until it’s between your thighs and extend your arms forward. You can place a yoga block beneath your forehead for added comfort and stability.
Shavasana, or corpse pose, is a restorative position that’s usually performed after a full yoga practice. However, many yogi’s enjoy resting, relaxing and even sleeping in this asana because it can rejuvenate the mind and body while easing presenting symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Lay down on your back and let your arms and legs take up as much space as they need — generally speaking, 45 degrees away from your side-body. You can close your eyes, relax your face and unclench your jaw. While you’re breathing in and out through your nose, notice as your limbs become heavier and heavier; feel your body rise and fall with each breath. Rest here for as long as you need — your mind, body and spirit will thank you later.
Photo by Elly Fairytale