“Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.” Yoga Sutra 1.2, Patanjali
According to The Yoga Sūtras (one of the foundational yoga texts), the goal of yoga is “to still the fluctuations of the mind”. This simple Yoga For Anxiety sequence is designed to do just that.
WHAT DOES ANXIETY FEEL LIKE?
“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” Arthur Somers Roche
Anxiety is a negative emotional state that is expressed both in the body and the mind. Similar to fear, depression and panic, it puts you in “fight or flight”—a state of high alert that is triggered when your brain perceives that you are under threat. Your heart beat, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscular tension increase, non-essential functions, including digestion and reproduction shut down and your attentional focus and vision narrow.
This “stress response” is designed as a short-term, emergency strategy. Unfortunately, if it stays activated for too long, it can start to damage your physical and mental health. We get trapped in negative thought spirals, adrenaline and cortisol remain elevated, the cardiovascular system is pushed to its limit, digestion is compromised, muscular tension gets stuck in the body and we struggle to get restorative sleep. And perhaps most detrimental of all, stress leaves our immune system vulnerable to attack.
YOGA FOR ANXIETY
“Learn to relax. Your body is precious, as it houses your mind and spirit. Inner peace begins with a relaxed body.” Norman Vincent Peale
It’s very hard to think your way out of anxiety but you can take a bottom-up approach. You can influence your physiology in order to alter your psychology. When you slow down your breathing, reduce your heart rate and release the tension from tight muscles, your brain perceives a reduction in the threat level and winds down the stress response. And once you’re out of “fight or flight”, you feel clear, in control of your emotions and reassured of your ability to make good decisions.
In this Yoga For Anxiety sequence, we combine deep, diaphragmatic breathing, long, passive stretches and body awareness to trigger the relaxation response and lower levels of anxiety. The poses that I have chosen are restorative and should be accessible, even to beginners. Please let me know if you would like any modifications. With repeated practice, we can train the body to switch more quickly and efficiently from a state of perpetual crisis into one of calm and clarity.
FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH
The key with this Yoga For Anxiety routine is to focus on your breath. When you train your attention on your breath, the space between your thoughts increases and your mind starts to slow down. It’s not at all easy to do but it does get easier with practice. Each time that you notice that you’re feeling scattered and your mind has spun off into worst-case scenarios, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Think of it as your anchor.
YOGA FOR ANXIETY SEQUENCE OBJECTIVES
- Quiet the mind.
- Release muscular tension.
- Trigger the relaxation response.
- Support the immune system.
- Help you to sleep.
All you need for this Yoga For Anxiety sequence is a mat and a quiet space. You can stay in each of the poses for as long as feels good to you.
1. Extended Child’s Pose
Start in Child’s pose. Touch your big toes together, bring your knees out wide and rest your forehead on the mat. If your bum doesn’t touch your ankles, you can sit on as many cushions or pillows as you need, to feel comfortable and relaxed. Start to slow down your breath. Breathe deep into your abdomen. Follow your inhalations and exhalations. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered off, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
When you feel ready to move, press up to all fours for Cat-Cow. Bring your wrists directly underneath your shoulders and your hips right above your knees—toes point straight back. Relax your neck and shoulders. Inhale into Cat and exhale into Cow. Move slowly between the postures, paying close attention to the sensations in your spine and shoulders. Release any tension in your jaw.
3. Puppy Pose
After a few rounds of Cat-Cow, reach your hands forward and pull your hips back into Puppy pose. Try to line your hips up over your knees, then relax your neck and shoulders as you melt into the mat. You can move gently from side to side. Bring your attention back to your breath. Follow your inhalations and exhalations, letting go of tension on every exhalation. If your mind wanders, just gently bring your attention back to your breath.
4. Downward Dog
Tuck your toes and lift your hips up into Downward Dog. Keep your knees bent. Drop your chest back towards your thighs and try to make a straight line all the way from your wrists up to your hips. You can bend your knees as much as you need to. Then start to walk out your feet—stretching the backs of your legs. Take it super slow.
5. Lizard Pose
Inhale, sweep your right leg up to the sky. Exhale, step your right foot outside your right hand, drop your left knee and release your back foot in Lizard pose. Check that your right knee is directly above your right ankle, draw your shoulders away from your ears and relax into the stretch in your left hip flexors. Try not to collapse into the pose. On every exhalation, try to let go of a little more tension. Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths.
Tuck your back toes and lift up into Downward Dog for the other side.
6. Bridge Pose
Drop down onto all fours. Sweep both feet to the right and sit back in the middle of your mat. Inhale, sit up tall. Exhale, lower slowly down to the mat for Bridge pose. Walk your feet back until your fingertips graze your heels. Inhale, press into your feet and lift your hips up. Exhale, relax into the pose. Check that your feet are hip width apart—toes point straight ahead and be careful not to overarch your lower back. Hold the pose for a few deep breaths—in and out through your nose.
Windscreen Wiper your knees a few times from side to side to release your lower back. Keep it slow and try to smooth out the movement in your hip joints.
Hug your knees into your chest and rock a little from side to side to massage your lower back.
7. Wind-Relieving Pose
Extend your left leg to the mat and hug your right knee into your chest in Wind-Relieving pose. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, hug your right knee in a little closer. Relax your neck and shoulders and tune back into your breath. Let go of tension in your pelvis on every exhalation. After 5-10 breaths, switch to the other side.
8. Dead Pigeon
Bring both feet flat to the mat for Dead Pigeon pose. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh and hug the back of your left leg in towards you. Press the back of your pelvis into the mat. Bring your attention back to your breath. Feel the release of tension in your right outer hip on every exhalation. After 5-10 breaths, switch to the other side. And then hug your knees into your chest.
9. Reclining Spinal Twist
Drop both knees to the left and look to the right in 2-Knee Reclining Spinal Twist. It doesn’t matter if your knees don’t come all the way down. Try to bring your knees in line with your hips, relax your neck and shoulders and tune back into your breath. On every exhalation, let go of a little more tension at your lower back. After 5-10 breaths, switch to the other side. Then hug your knees into your chest.
10. Happy Baby
We’ll finish in Happy Baby. Reach through to take hold of the outsides of your feet, bring your knees out wide and relax into the pose. Try to let go of any tension in your jaw, neck and shoulders. Press your lower back into mat. Close your eyes and rock gently from side to side. You should feel a lovely stretch in your groin and adductors.
FINAL RESTING POSE
Release your arms and legs and lie back in Final Resting pose. Let your feet come as wide as the mat and fall open. Relax your arms by your sides—palms facing up. Close your eyes. Feel the earth beneath you, supporting your weight. And allow your body to melt into the mat.
Bring your awareness to the rising and falling of your abdomen. Try to stay in contact with the rhythm of your breath for a few minutes. If you notice that your mind has wandered off, gently bring your attention back.
When you are ready, roll onto your right side, and gently bring yourself up to sitting. Now you can move back into your day, feeling calm, clear and relaxed.
Please let me know how you get on with this Yoga For Anxiety sequence. Are there other poses and techniques that you practice to relax your body and quiet your mind?