The holidays are some of the happiest times of the year, but they can also be some of the most stressful for a slew of reasons—you’re staying under your parents’ roof again, your end-of-year bonus can’t even compete with last year, you’re the only uncoupled person at your friends’ festive get-together (aka my life). We all cope in our own little—or big—ways, but yoga for anxiety can be a great plan of action to get ahead of your stressful feelings before they take root, especially if you tend to get anxious around this time of year. And if you’re anything like me and find yourself especially overwhelmed in yoga class when it’s not tailored to beginners, don’t worry because you can learn a few simple poses that will help you achieve some inner zen.
The awesome news is that even though these yoga poses are easy, they’re still effective at fighting off stress. So whether you’re being proactive or you’re trying to avoid a panic attack, it’s time to learn all about yoga for anxiety. Below find out how and why yoga works to fend off anxiety, plus three simple poses to keep in your back pocket for when you need them.
The practice of yoga is a challenge
Oftentimes, the things in life that cause us stress are those that are the most difficult. Taking up a habit that isn’t always simple prepares you for the hurdles that you are bound to face. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class and tried a complicated move, it’s not out of the ordinary for your instructor to tell you to just “breathe through it.” This mentality can be easily applied to life as well. (Of note: As we mentioned above, the specific poses we suggest are not particularly difficult, but learning yoga as a whole is a challenge worth considering.)
It teaches you to breathe
If you’ve ever been in the middle of a full-on panic attack, you probably found that you were gasping for air. When we get anxious, breathing can be the first thing we stop doing (accidentally), when it should be the number one thing we focus on. The reason this happens is that our nervous system is inextricably linked to our breathing. The practice of yoga teaches you to breathe long, slow breaths that help your nervous system to relax both body and mind.
Yoga alleviates tension
I’ve recently starting taking barre classes, and I can’t tell you how often I need to focus on reducing the tension in my shoulders or lower back to get the moves “right.” What’s interesting is that we all hold tension in different parts of our bodies—some in our shoulders, others in our jaws, and some even in our stomachs. If it becomes far gone, this tension can actually cause discomfort in your mind, too. The movements and stretching in yoga reduce the strain in our bodies and get rid of this pesky tension.
The movements stop cycling thoughts
Have you have ever had worrying thoughts that cycle in your mind? It can be so annoying that you wish you could turn your brain “off” for just a few minutes. One positive thing is that getting into the flow of yoga allows you to hit “reset” for a bit as you focus on your body. It may take some practice to get these thoughts to go away, but you learn to breathe and start refocusing your attention on something other than your worries.
Three easy yoga poses to try
Legs Up the Wall: This position is exactly what it sounds like. Lay on a mat with your feet up against the wall (move your bottom as close to the wall as possible). Rest with your legs stretched up the wall and your arms out to the side with your palms facing up. The key here is getting your legs up higher than your heart.
Child’s Pose: This is one of my favorite poses, especially after a long workout. Kneel down on a mat with your feet under your bottom (your knees can be together or in a “V” position). Stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down. This pose helps get rid of the tension in all areas of the body. Plus, it helps your nervous system and lymphatic system, says Terri Kennedy, a registered yoga teacher.
Corpse Pose: Lie down on your back with your legs slightly apart and facing either side of the mat. Your arms should be out to the side slightly, and your palms should be facing up. Even though this is one of the simplest poses physically, mentally you are expected to try to release tension all over, including in your face (that part’s not easy). “It’s actually difficult for many people because we’re so not used to being still. … But it encourages the body to come to a more restful state,” says Kennedy.
For more calming yoga moves, head to our wellness vertical, THE/THIRTY.