With its unique combination of spiritual, athletic and breathing practices, yoga has now fully conquered the West. For many people, yoga offers a chance to stop and slow life down amid a hectic schedule. Yoga has made it to mainstream for its positive and profound impact on health and well-being.
Here is a compiled list of the best yoga poses to combat anxiety. When entering a yoga pose, it’s important to concentrate on your breath, with long inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth. Honing your focus on your breath can help quiet your mind, taking you one step closer to inner peace. Also, be gentle and do not stretch beyond your limit of what is safe.
Child's Pose (Balasana)
Yoga classes often begin with Balasana, which offers a gentle stretch to your hips and shoulders. Sit back on your heels, and fold forward until your forehead or chin touches the floor, extending your arms in front of you. Researchers at Harvard's Medical School found child’s pose to provide a “sense of calm and stability.”
This classic balancing posture will encourage focus and redirect anxious energy. Begin standing, slowly concentrate on shifting your weight to one foot and raise the other leg. Tuck the sole of the lifted foot on the calf, knee or inner thigh of the rooted leg and bring your palms together to help with stability. “Focusing your gaze on a point in front of you can make a big difference to your balance, but don’t worry about a wobble, it happens to everyone,” explains Audrey J. Drysdale, a health writer at Academized and Paper Fellows.
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Uttanasana is an essential pose in every sun salutation. From a standing position, hinge at the hips to take the head and shoulders forward. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings and glutes. Think about releasing any tension you may be holding in your face and jaw, while enjoying the sensation of letting go as you allow your head to hang heavy, pulled by gravity to assist the fold. Be sure to be gentle.
Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
This simple, grounding posture provides a platform for concentrating on your breathing and calming your mind. Sit with your hips open, soles of your feet together. With each inhale, stretch and lengthen your spine, as if the crown of your head reaches away from the earth. This is a meditative pose that you can spend a few minutes in as long slow breaths dissipate your anxiety.
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Halfway to an inversion, Viparita Karani elevates the legs above the heart, alleviating stress and tension. To enter this posture, sit with your right hip to the wall, then simultaneously lie back and swing your legs up, until your back rests against the floor and your legs are on the wall. You can even tuck a pillow or cushion under your lower back for support, facilitating complete relaxation and spend up to twenty minutes in the pose, eyes closed.
Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
This challenging balance pose will require synchronicity of body and mind to achieve, but when you find stability in the posture it can be cooling and calming. Focus your weight into your right foot and as you hinge forward, try to float the left leg behind you, parallel to the floor. From here, bring the right hand to the floor and open your chest to the left, straightening your left arm to the sky. “Stay for up to sixty seconds as the combination of balance and twist focuses your attention on your body and away from a stressful day,” says Lauren J. Chen, a yoga expert.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
The easiest pose physically but perhaps the most challenging for the mind, Savasana takes place lying down. Allow your body to be heavy and sink into the earth. Close your eyes, slow your breathing, and stay. Regular practice of this pose will cultivate advanced relaxation and meditation.
Research has found yoga to have significant positive health impacts on mental well-being, and even a single session has been shown to reduce anxiety. It’s important to remember not to get caught up in performing the “perfect” posture but rather to focus on breathing and finding a comfortable and sustainable position for you. Even the practice of finding the time for a few yoga poses can be an act of self-care that, in itself, will ease anxiety and relieve the pressure of a hectic day.
For more on basic yoga poses and yoga exercises, see our article "Yoga Poses for Grounding and Relaxation."
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