Yoga for Stress and Anxiety

We can all agree that our society is chock-full of daily stresses. Looming deadlines, sick and cranky kids, and gridlock traffic can all send you into a tizzy. Our bodies often respond to these daily stresses with anxiety. It’s a completely normal response to our life experiences.

Anxiety works like a protective mechanism to prevent us from entering into a potentially dangerous situation. And it can help us escape from one, should we find ourselves there. This naturally occurring response is aptly named the fight-or-flight response.

Research shows that the more active your fight-or-flight response is, the easier it is to trigger anxiety in the future. So with continued stress, you may become more sensitive to the effects of anxiety. Sort of like the chicken or the egg conundrum!

Anxiety can be treated in a variety of ways. From medication, talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to various relaxation techniques. Here are some natural yogic ways to fight it:

Just Breathe: Pranayama
At the core of many anxiety attacks is your breathing, or lack there of. When you’re anxious, the diaphragm is tense, which stops the air from moving downward as you inhale. Research shows that pranayama, or mindful breathing can be just as effective for some as prescribed medication.

Calm the mind: Meditation
In the '70s, Herbert Benson, M.D, and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard found that practicing transcendental meditation could lower blood pressure, improve heart health and reduce stress. Your mind can be the culprit that creates and perpetuates anxiousness. Constant negative self talk or worry about health, finances or relationships can turn into a relentless replay of unresolved issues. Meditation helps to shut off that dialogue. Sometimes it’s as easy as focusing on the sensation of your breath entering through the nostrils. This type of focus creates a state of deep relaxation, which then translates into a calmer, and more focused overall existence.

Get Moving: Asana
Another extremely important yogic tool in battling anxiety is a good Asana practice. The movement burns off nervous energy that can contribute to feelings of anxiousness. While you’re practicing Asana, you’re totally absorbed in the breath and the body’s movement. This is a great way to tap into the powers of pranayama and meditation. Asana can prepare you for a great experience while sitting and breathing in meditation.

In addition to the immediate benefits of exercise, people who practice these three things regularly tend to build a greater internal sensitivity, which allows them to detect early signs of anxiety.

If you're interested in putting this amazing practice into action, join me for an 8 week workshop series with a special focus on yoga and how it can curb anxiety and stress.

Note: I wrote this article for slice.ca. For full article, pose guides, and breathing techniques click here.