Do you suffer from anxiety? Whether it’s your everyday stress, an anxiety disorder, or comes in the form of panic attacks, there’s a lot that can be done to help holistically. Yoga is definitely at the top of that list. Start practicing and see how yoga can help with anxiety disorders, stress, depression, and much more.
Welcome. You’re most likely reading this because you deal with stress and anxiety in your life. Honestly, who doesn’t, right? Stress, anxiety disorders, and depression are at an all-time high, and the way we live and our society today has plenty to do with it. I’m not an expert, psychiatrist, or yoga teacher. But I consider myself very well-versed on the issue of anxiety. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for the past decade and a half. I was first diagnosed with anxiety disorder at the age of 15 and prescribed medication. Over the past 15 years, I’ve had several ups-and-downs to my disorder, changed medications many times, developed agoraphobia, and had a whole host of health problems related to my anxiety and the side effects of medication.
However, I’ve also learned ways to deal with my disorder that are not just medication. This includes many things: therapy, research, diet, meditation, and yoga. Today I am focusing on how yoga can help with anxiety and stress. This is something that has been very beneficial to me. Even if you’ve never done yoga a single day in your life, this article is still for you. There is a place for yoga in everyone’s life.
Below, I outline exactly how yoga can help with anxiety, whether it’s related to a disorder, everyday stress, or a particularly hard period of time in your life. At the bottom of the page, I will give further resources, including how to start a yoga practice, free yoga videos, and additional books and literature on anxiety and how yoga can help with anxiety and stress. Remember, the more you understand anxiety, the less control it has over you and the more control you have over it.
How Yoga Can Help with Anxiety and Stress
Tame stress, learn helpful breathing techniques, heal your health, and make room for self-reflection. Learn how yoga can help with anxiety in 8 different ways.
Allows You to Unplug
Everything about our society today forces us to be constantly plugged-in. We’re always on our phones. We’re obsessed with social media. We’re glued to our TVs. This form of constant information and stimulus definitely has its pros and cons. Putting that aside, it’s proven to be especially harmful for our anxiety and stress levels. Over-stimulation causes anxiety, particularly over-stimulation when it comes in the form of consistent negativity. Watching the evening news, tuning in to the political debates, and even scrolling your Facebook feed can expose you to a fair amount of unfavorable emotions.
Not to mention, just the idea that we need to be so “on” at all times. We’re slaves to our phone’s notification tones, and far too often we’re sitting around with a form of LED light right against our nose. (And I’m not judging anyone here, trust me. I love Instagram and Netflix just as much as you!) Florescent and computer lights have been proven to be a source of anxiety. These lights are “external triggers” for many people. (In my group therapy, there are many people who have to wear sunglasses when they go into florescent-lit stores or can’t look at computer screens.)
But all that technology is pretty hard to break away from, isn’t it? When do we really get the chance? Things like taking a long hike or peacefully reading a good book can definitely help. Anything in nature that really allows you to unplug. And one of the best ways of all to unplug? Yoga and meditation. Not only does it allow you uninterrupted, quiet time, it also provides you with tools on how to truly enjoy the quiet. Yoga and meditation, above all else, teaches you to see and to appreciate stillness. Peace with yourself. Nothingness. This is something I never knew how to do or valued before yoga. And, like most things in life, it takes practice. You wouldn’t think sitting alone, in quiet, and thinking about nothing takes work. But, oh, it does. So don’t get discouraged if you’re new to meditation. And pay particular attention to the Savasana (your end of practice pose), all about relaxation and meditation.
Teaches Better Breathing
Breathing has a lot to do with controlling anxiety. Panic attacks cause hyperventilating, or over-breathing, but any abnormal breathing can worsen anxiety symptoms. Sometimes during my own anxiety attacks, I forget to breathe or find that I’m holding my breath.
When you hyperventilate during an anxiety or panic attack, your body is actually getting too much oxygen. Abnormally fast breathing causes you to expel too much CO2 and to take in too much oxygen. This causes a slew of issues, from dizziness to chest pain to rapid heartbeat. Yoga is all about breathing, and it can greatly help with teaching you to be conscious of your breath. Yoga breathing (or Pranayama) aids in relaxation by slowing the breath and heartbeat. Learn about Pranayama breathing techniques for anxiety from these articles from Yoga Journal and Yoga.com. Once you learn this type of breathing, it can be done anywhere and anytime you’re feeling anxious.
Helps with Stability
For me, one of the strongest symptoms of my anxiety disorder is related to balance. I am constantly incredibly dizzy, suffering from vertigo, and feeling as if the floor is shifting beneath my feet. One of the most helpful effects of yoga, for me, is that it really focuses on stability. It helps you feel grounded and rooted to the earth. My yoga practice helps me with feeling stable and knowing that my feet are going to take me where I need to go.
A main source of our anxiety is stress. Surprisingly, though, it isn’t always. Disorders and agoraphobia can stem from many different reasons, mostly biological. I experience anxiety 24/7, even when absolutely nothing is stressing me out. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that most people experience anxiety due to stress in their lives, or past stressors (PTSD, for example). A number of studies show that yoga reduces overall stress, on both the body and the mind. Yoga breathing takes our bodies from the “fight or flight” stage into the relaxed “rest and digest” state. From there, our bodies can calm, relax, and fight stress. Of course, yoga is not the sole answer, but it’s a valuable tool. Read here for a few studies on how yoga lowers stress levels and produces mood-boosting GABA, in addition to some helpful poses.
Heals Your Health
Yoga is a form of exercise, so of course it is beneficial to our health. It gets you moving, enhances your fitness, and improves your strength. And we all know the havoc that stress can do to our bodies. Fatigue, poor health, hair loss, weight gain and loss, headaches, muscle pains, sleep issues. The list of the side-effects of stress is lengthier than War and Peace. In this UCLA study, caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease who practiced yoga and meditation regularly saw significant improvement in stress levels. Blood samples of each person (taken before and after) noted that their inflammation decreased with yoga. This is big news, seeing as inflammation is directly linked to stress and a slew of general health problems. Of course, the study stated all of that much more scientifically. “The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression. Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation.” Basically? Yoga is awesome.
Another study, outlined here in National Geographic, also researched the proteins related to inflammation and the benefits of yoga. This study concluded with breast cancer patients reporting less pain and higher energy levels. It also details that yoga is helpful in lowering inflammatory responses to stress, reducing inflammation in heart failure patients, and improving the insulin and gluclose levels in those with diabetes. When it comes to stress, those who practiced yoga “found a 40 percent reduction in their salivary alpha amylase, a measure of the fight-or-flight response to stress.”
Teaches the Importance of Meditation
Meditation and yoga are significantly intertwined. For me, yoga is a form of meditation, although I will still practice meditation solely and go to community meditation. Meditation is not easy, but it has been critical in my understanding and healing of my anxiety. Like the popular Buddha quote, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” In practicing ACT and CBT therapy for many years, I truly understand the significance of our thoughts. This article outlines 76 Benefits of Meditation, including the studies behind how it reduces stress, anxiety, and panic disorder. How exactly to meditate? I love this piece from Gaiam on the different techniques and the how-to’s for beginners. I also dig this book: Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation 28 Day Program.
Makes Room for Self-Reflection and Inner Peace
Perhaps there’s an underlying source for your anxiety. Maybe there’s some self-reflection and inner dialogue that you need to have, but rarely get. Yoga gives you time alone, uninterrupted and un-plugged, to think and reflect. It brings about an inner peace that you may not be receiving or experiencing in your busy, everyday life. This is always important when it comes to our anxiety and stress. Yoga is a form of therapy for many people. I believe it is especially useful when combined with a therapy program (such as ACT or CBT). Yoga is self-care, and when we start caring for ourselves we are moving in the right direction and we are on the path to healing.
Creates a Safe Space
It’s far too easy to feel judged in this world. It seems like everyday I log online, I am reading a nasty comment or judgement from someone. Some people are just plain vicious and hurtful, and social media sure does make that a lot easier. For 10 years, I told no one about my anxiety disorder except a very small handful. To this day, I still get negative, judgmental reactions from people. “What are you so anxious about?” “Can’t you just relax?” “That’s not a real problem.” I can tell you, after being hospitalized, suicidal, in over 10 therapy programs, and unable to leave my house for a year, it is a real problem. People are always going to be critical. Some people might not even realize that they’re being that way, and they just don’t understand.
There are very few places in life where I feel completely me and safe. Practicing yoga is one of them. Whether it’s in a studio I’m familiar with or in my own home, yoga truly has created a safe, non-judgmental, and opening space. Yoga is about acceptance and peace. And for those who have severe anxiety or social anxiety (raises hand): don’t be afraid to go to a studio. No one is there to judge you. I find it most helpful, for me, to tell the teacher before class that I have an anxiety disorder and that I practice yoga to help with it, and that if I need to leave the class that is why. No matter what, this is your life, this is your practice, and this is your path. Surrounding yourself with positive people, being positive yourself, and creating safe, non-judgmental spaces for yourself will help you more than you know.
Thank you for reading How Yoga Can Help with Anxiety and please see below for further resources, videos, and books.
Further Resources for Anxiety
Specific poses, free yoga videos, and books on how yoga can help with anxiety and how to control your anxiety naturally.
How to get started: Find a local studio near you. Many yoga studios offer a free first class option. Try some free classes first, or practice in the comfort of your home before finding a studio if that makes you more comfortable. Additionally, you can usually find several yoga class packages on discount sites such as Groupon. But with some digging around and research, you’ll probably find some completely free or donation-based yoga. For example, check out this article I did for Fitt.co on 14 Free or Donation-Based Yoga Classes in Portland.
Where to find free yoga resources online: My absolute favorite way to practice yoga in the comfort of my own home is with Yoga with Adriene. She has tons of great videos on her YouTube channel. I’ve done her 30 Days of Yoga videos, which I absolutely love. For beginners, her Yoga Poses for Beginners and Yoga for Complete Beginners 20 Minute Home Workout will be helpful. She also offers several videos on how yoga can help with anxiety, including Yoga for Anxiety 20 Minute Practice and Yoga to Calm Your Nerves Practice. I have no affiliation with Adriene, but I absolutely love her videos. She’s down-to-earth, easy to follow, and her videos concentrate on the importance of breath. Another free yoga resource, DoYogaWithMe.com, offers hundreds of streaming yoga videos. Search and find your preference, from yoga for beginners to more gentle flows to several different breath videos. YOME and Fightmaster Yoga are also excellent free yoga video resources.
Further reading and research: For specific yoga poses to calm anxiety, check out 5 Yoga Poses to Help Alleviate Anxiety from MindBodyGreen and 10 Poses To Reduce Stress And Support Mental Health from Huffington Post. For further research and aid in anxiety, I highly recommend the books and products below. These are products I use myself:
This post includes a few affiliate links which just means that P+P receives a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you. These links are always only products that I highly recommend. Thank you for supporting P+P and reading How Yoga Can Help with Anxiety.
Thank you for reading this post on how yoga can help with anxiety. I hope that you have enjoyed this and learned from it, and I wish you success and peace in your yoga practice! As always, feel free to comment below or e-mail me with any questions, concerns, or comments you may have.