Yoga & Anxiety
Yoga is one of the best ways to lighten your mood and help keep depression at bay. Postures help to counteract anxiety-driven depression because it reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, inducing what’s known as the relaxation response. The breathing practice will often lift feelings of depression or erase stress and anxiety. With a long-term practice as the breath gets freed up, yoga breathing, or pranayama can be transformational for both your mind and body.
The practice of yoga increases blood circulation to the brain and enables the production of mood-elevating hormones. Once the relaxation response kicks in, many people feel that instead of trying to escape their feelings, they can stay with them, which is essential to identifying the psychological factors that trigger their anxiety and depression. But the path to getting to this relaxed place varies with each individual.
Strengthen Yourself with Awareness.
In addition to its physiological benefits, yoga teaches awareness, an invaluable skill for people who struggle with anxiety or depression. When you’re anxious, you can’t focus on anything because you feel overwhelmed. Having something to focus on, like a pose or your breath or a mantra, is very settling. When you’re paying attention, you’re more in touch with your thoughts and feelings as they arise at the moment, which is half the battle of resolving them.
Yoga practice teaches the kind of acceptance you need to handle difficult situations in life. We all have time when we want to come out of a pose because it’s uncomfortable, it seems too hard, or it brings up difficult emotions. But yoga teaches you to notice how you feel and to use your breath to accept your current situation even if it makes you uncomfortable, angry, sad, or agitated. As you learn to weather situations like these on your mat, you’ll see that as quickly as difficult emotions arise, they also change and fade away.
You’ll also be less fearful, whether physical or emotional surface in your daily life. In fact, you’ll gain confidence and know that you have the fortitude to cope with the array of emotions that course through you. Developing the ability to stay with pain can ultimately diffuse panic and depression, or allow you to get to the root of the difficulty. The ability to stay with pain will eventually allow it to subside.
Breathing practice for Depression: Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana
This Breathing practice is very helpful for quietening the mind and tones the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. You can also sit on a chair or at a wall if you need the support.
Relax your left palm comfortably into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
With your right hand, bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. The fingers we’ll be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
Inhale through the right side slowly.
Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow each breath.
If you’re feeling agitated, anxious, or fearful you might assume that the best yoga practice for you would be one made up of calming poses such as forward bends or restorative poses. But if your mind and energy are out of control, being completely still and willing yourself to relax may make you feel worse. In those situations a dynamic is more helpful, it will help to burn off nervous energy and to give your buzzing mind something to focus on is better. Supported backbends can then lift the spirits without overly stimulating the nervous system, provided you focus on your breathing and don’t aggressively work the pose.
Try this sequence:
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), variation
Effects: Combats anxiety and energizes the body.
Come onto your hands and knees like a four legged table. Place your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Place one or two folded blankets in line with your breastbone. The blankets should be high enough to support your head, but low enough so that you can lengthen your neck. Turn the toes under, and exhale as you raise your buttocks high in the air, moving your thighs up and back. Keep your elbows straight as you lift your buttocks up and release the crown of your head onto the support. If you have any back or knee problems it’s best to keep your knees slightly bent. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Effects: Helps relieve anxiety, energizes your whole body, and makes you feel calmer.
Sitting in a capital L like shape, breath in and raise your arms to the sky, breathing out reach forward towards your toes. Always remember to draw your shoulder blades away from your ears. If you have a back problem it’s best to keep your knees bent or place a bolster or rolled up blanket under the knees. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing deeply.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Angle Standing Forward Bend), variation
Effects: Calms jittery nerves and combats fatigue.
Place a folded blanket or a bolster in front of you. Step your feet wide apart (about 4 feet or so), keeping your feet parallel. Keep your thighs well lifted. Exhale and bend forward from your hips, placing your hands on the floor between your feet or place your hands on supports like yoga blocks. Draw your shoulder blades away from the ears. Release the crown of your head onto the support. To come out, bring your hands to your hips, looking forward and raise your trunk and come back to standing. Stay here for 1 minute, breathing deeply.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Effects: Releases tight muscles in your back and shoulders and calms your nerves. A deeply calming pose
Kneel on the floor with your feet and knees hip distance apart. Bend forward and rest your head on the floor, a yoga block or rolled up blanket. Stay here for several minutes and breath deeply