Effective Ways to Reduce Anxiety Without Medication
The hustle and bustle of everyday life can leave us feeling exhausted and sometimes anxious. It’s normal to experience occasional anxiety, but sometimes it seems to take on a life of its own, consuming you over trivial matters.
It starts as a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach, and left unchecked, can turn into physical problems such as hair loss, skin rashes, and insomnia. If you find yourself constantly worrying and fretting, yoga can help you cope.
Yoga can help you cope
Studies have shown that the practice of yoga is an effective way to combat anxiety. When your hear the “practice” of yoga, it’s more than just the physical poses (which do help a lot on their own). In this sense, yoga is also referring to the conscious breathing and mindfulness techniques.
The potent combination of yoga poses, breathing techniques (pranayama), and mindfulness meditation helps to reduce the tension and symptoms associated with anxiety.
In this article, we will explore ways to incorporate physical yoga poses, breathing, and meditation to reduce stress and anxiety.
Reduce Anxiety with Yoga Poses
There are many yoga disciplines, and all incorporate a variety of physical poses that will leave you feeling calmer. Certain poses in particular focus on grounding and stilling the mind.
Try the below poses all together as a flow practice, or use your favorites when you just can’t seem to shake that jittery feeling of nervous energy.
Standing Forward Fold: A forward fold is a good way to loosen up, relax your upper body, and reverse the blood flow. Increased circulation to the brain releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that reduce anxiety. Let your body relax as you hinge from the waist and sway ragdoll or grab onto your ankles for a deeper stretch. As you exhale, focus on letting go of your stress.
Tree Pose: This is a good beginner pose for those new to balancing. Tree pose requires a calm mind in order to maintain balance. Remember, trees sway, so let your body sway if it needs to. Focus on your body awareness and ground yourself to the earth. For more of a challenge (a great way to calm and center the mind), try this pose with your eyes closed.
Eagle Pose: This pose is about creating balance in the body as you work one side and then the other. Eagle pose requires the mind’s full attention and helps us let go of negative thoughts and energy. It’s a great detoxifying pose so you can move things through and out of you. Try holding this standing pose for 30-60 seconds on each side.
Half Moon Pose: Another more challenging balance posture is the Half Moon. It brings a stillness and focus to the mind as you work to remain balanced. Half Moon is a pose that activates earth and air energy, so you feel grounded and strong but also light.
Child’s Pose: Recovery poses like Child’s can be taken throughout your yoga practice. This pose is all about relaxation as you rest comfortably with your limbs loose and your forehead on the mat. It’s a calming and centering pose that’s also gently restorative for your lower back, a place where we hold a lot of tension.
Supported Shoulderstand: Many inversions help with anxiety, as they refresh the blood throughout your body. Shoulderstand is an inversion that’s accessible even to beginners because of the support it provides. As you breathe, imagine your problems and anxiety flowing out of you. With each inhale, bring in positive cleansing energy.
Headstand: Headstands are a more advanced inversion that requires focus and concentration. Your mind must remain in the present moment to maintain balance. Headstand is often referred to as the “King of Asanas” for its immense benefits, and at the top of that list is – you guessed it – relieving anxiety.
Fish Pose: A complimentary pose to inversions is Fish pose. This is a great pose to reduce the tension that many people carry in their back and shoulders, two places that get physically tight as a result of mental stress and fatigue. This pose reverses these negative effects and leaves you feeling more open and nourished.
Legs Up the Wall: Legs Up the Wall is a simple pose typically used at the end of practice. It is believed to have a calming effect on the nervous system, which is why it’s a favorite for stress and anxiety relief. If you find your mind wandering during this pose, have a partner stack a bolster or books on your flexed feet. Having to balance the weight will keep you focused on the present.
Corpse Pose: Savasana is done at the end of your practice or anytime you need to take a break to de-stress. There is nothing active in this pose – simply relax and breathe, concentrating on deep inhalations and exhalations.
Reduce Anxiety with Conscious Breathing
Along with these specific poses, focused breathing is another method used to reduce anxiety. Yogic breathing is called pranayama, which translated means “to extend the vital life force.”
The easiest breathing technique to practice is focused on utilizing the diaphragm. This engages the entire body and is believed to increase the supply of oxygen to your brain while promoting a state of calmness.
Here’s how to practice it:
From a seated or standing position, start by placing one hand on your chest and the other on the stomach directly below your rib cage.
Close your eyes, then take a slow, deep breath of air through your nose into the bottom of your lungs. You should feel a stretch in your lungs as you concentrate on inflating your diaphragm (not your chest).
Your chest should move only slightly, while the other hand feels a push as your stomach rises. When you’ve inhaled fully, pause for a moment, purse your lips, and then exhale fully through your mouth.
As you exhale, relax your entire body. Your exhale should last twice as long as your inhale. You should aim for 6-10 deep, slow breaths per minute and repeat for a minimum of ten minutes each day.
To learn more about pranayama and difference conscious breathing techniques that you can practice, read Pranayama Explained and 5 Techniques to Get You Started.
Reduce Anxiety with Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is another aspect of yoga that can help your mind let go of anxiety. A quiet mind needs a quiet environment, so pick a place to meditate where you won’t be disturbed.
As you begin to meditate, set an intention that you choose to let go of all other obligations at this time. During your meditation, you may find yourself distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations.
When you find your mind wandering, acknowledge what is happening and reset by refocusing your gaze and concentrating on your breath. Don’t judge yourself when you find yourself distracted.
The goal is to find silence, and there is no right or wrong way to get there. Mindful meditation can help bring you back into awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and immediate environment, freeing you from lingering negativity.
As Baxter Bell said, “Yoga has a sly, clever way of short circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.” Yoga can be a powerful tool to calm our nervous system and relieve anxiety. It can be practiced in a studio, at home, or even outdoors in nature.
When we are stressed and anxious, many people hold tension in their shoulders, necks, jaws, back, and even in the pelvic region. This tension can then feed back to our minds and perpetuate the feeling of unease.
Yoga, along with breathing and mindfulness can reduce the constriction. When the physical tension begins to dissipate, so does the emotional and mental angst. This leads to lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and an overall improved sense of well-being.