Anxiety is an emotion accompanied by fear and somatic tension signs in which a person anticipates impending danger, tragedy, or misfortune. Those “somatic symptoms” they’re referring to aren’t the same as what you feel when you’re afraid of anything right now (1).
Excessive anxiety has long-term health consequences, with physical anxiety symptoms including palpitations and irregular heartbeat linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women (1).
Anxiety is linked to physical tension and enhanced mental alertness to keep an eye out for potential threats, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5). The sensations of worry, dread, and uneasiness that accompany anxiety disorders are constant and can be overwhelming. These symptoms not only endure, but they can also deteriorate over time, interfering with regular activities such as weekly shopping, work, and sleep (2).
How Yoga Can Help With Anxiety
If you have chronic anxiety, your sympathetic nervous system, often known as the fight, flight, or freeze system, is overworked. This means that your body reacts more strongly to a perceived threat, resulting in anxiety symptoms like restlessness, worry, and irregular heartbeat. As a result, your parasympathetic nerve system, often known as your rest-and-digest system, is underactive. Your physiological activities, such as heart rate and digestion, are regulated by this system (2, 8).
Yoga is an attractive therapeutic solution for persons who reject ostensibly psychiatric diagnoses and therapies, according to studies (3). Girodo showed evidence of yoga’s benefit in reducing mood and anxiety symptoms, as well as soothing mental and physical ailments. Yoga has been demonstrated in these studies to lessen perceived stress and negative emotions, as well as relieve mental and physical ailments (6).
Anxiety involves focusing on future events, which can be distressing, according to the study. Imagine these future events to be your “what ifs” or anxieties while you’re alone. When we’re nervous, our minds are racing with possibilities, yet the only thing that matters is what’s happening right now. Most of our anxieties are unfounded (5). The validity of research on the effects of meditation has been challenged. There is some evidence that meditation can help persons with anxiety symptoms, particularly those who have worry as a secondary concern (3,5). It may also help with physical and mental stress symptoms (3).
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that patients with panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder be educated on the importance of exercise in maintaining overall great health. Yoga is proven to be effective, would be an attractive alternative because it is non-pharmacological, has low adverse effects when practiced as recommended, and has worldwide recognition (4).
The number of people seeking help for their anxiety disorders has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 epidemic, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America Report, thus the demand for effective anxiety management is extremely great right now. According to research, stimulating the vagus nerve, which is a crucial component of the rest-and-digest system, is essential for moderating the fight, escape, or freeze stress response. Practicing yoga is one technique to stimulate the vagus nerve (7).
Meditation, Yoga Poses & Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
Meditation aids in relaxation
Meditation is possibly the most interoceptive of all practices because it motivates us to pay attention to our thoughts,” explains Knopik. Meditation may aid with self-control and awareness, which can help us stay in our body and away from our thoughts (9).
Asanas (yoga positions) are a vehicle for exploring the present moment. It is a technique of growing awareness to observe your thoughts as they come during mindful movement which might help you unwind.
According to a 2012 study, contemplative treatments (such as meditation, yoga, and qigong) are excellent methods for reducing anxiety symptoms (10).
Pranayama breath practice links the mind and body
Pranayama is a proactive breathing technique that transmits information to the brain via the respiratory system, according to Knopik (9).
However, not all types of pranayama are suitable for anxiety. Some breathing exercises for Anxiety, such as
Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire)
Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire) is supposed to energize and stimulate the sympathetic nervous system rather than the parasympathetic nervous system.
How to practice
- Place your hands on your lower tummy and sit straight in a comfortable posture. If you’re seated on a chair, make sure both feet are on the ground.
- Take a deep, cleansing breath in through your nose and out through your mouth before you begin.
- Deeply inhale through your nose, almost filling your stomach with air.
- In a rapid motion, forcefully expel all of the air from your lungs while bringing your navel in toward your spine. The diaphragm is the main source of movement in your body.
- Allow your lungs to naturally fill up as your tummy grows.
- Allow your breathing to return to normal and pay attention to your body’s feelings after repeating this cycle 10 times.
- Repeat the ten-movement cycle three to four more times.
Ujjayi Pranayama (Breath Regulating Technique)
Pranayama that stimulates deeper, more consistent breathing patterns, such as Ujjayi breath, may be more appropriate depending on the intensity of your anxiety symptoms.
How to practice
- Begin by sitting in a relaxed position, such as Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Close your eyes lightly and relax your body. Allow your mouth to gently open. Your jaw and tongue should be relaxed.
- Deeply inhale and exhale through your mouth. Feel the air going through your windpipe as you inhale.
- Slightly constrict the back of your throat on exhalations, as if you were whispering. As you exhale, softly murmur the word “ahhh.” Consider how your breath might cause a window to fog up.
- Maintain a slight tightness in the neck on your inhalations as you get more comfortable with your exhalations. Your breath will make an “ocean” sound, going in and out softly like ocean waves.
- When you can easily manage your throat during inhalations and exhalations, gently close your mouth and start breathing just via your nose. Keep your throat restricted the same way it was while your mouth was open. As you breathe through your nose, you will continue to hear the “ocean” sound. Direct your breath over the back of your throat, across your vocal cords. Close your mouth but keep your lips soft.
- Allow your thoughts to be relaxed by focusing on the sound of your breath. It should be audible to you, but not so loud that it can be heard by someone standing a few feet away.
- Allow your inhalations to expand your lungs to their maximum capacity. During your exhalations, completely expel the air.
- Start by sitting for five minutes and practicing Ujjayi. Increase your meditation duration to 15 minutes for a more in-depth experience. Begin to integrate your breath into your movement gradually. Inhale with Ujjayi as you expand and lengthen your yoga postures (“asanas”), then exhale with Ujjayi as you constrict and fold forward. Maintain the link between Ujjayi breath and asanas throughout your Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga practice.
- When you’ve finished your exercise and come in Corpse Pose, let out your Ujjayi breath (Savasana).
Yoga poses activate the Vagus Nerve
Yoga improves interoception, or how we sense feelings in our bodies, which activates the vagus nerve. Yoga also boosts vagal tone, which means your body can relax faster after a stressful situation. Increased vagal nerve activity may help to alleviate symptoms of a nervous system malfunction, such as anxiety (8).
Cat-Cow pose (chakravakasana)
When you’re dealing with a stressful situation at work, the Cat-Cow pose might help you relax.
How to Practice
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists squarely beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Your fingertips should be pointing to the top of your mat. Knees and shins should be hip-width apart. Soften your gaze downward and keep your head in a neutral position.
- To begin, go into Cow Pose. As you inhale, lower your belly to the mat. Raise your chin and chest to the ceiling and lookup.
- Draw your shoulders away from your ears and let them broaden across your shoulder blades.
- After that, go to Cat Pose: draw your belly button to your spine and curve your back toward the ceiling as you exhale. The position should resemble that of a cat extending its back.
- Allow the crown of your head to fall to the floor, but keep your chin from touching your chest.
- Inhale as you return to Cat Pose and exhale as you return to Cow Pose.
- Rep 5–20 times, then sit back on your heels with your body upright to rest.
Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
If you’re searching for a very basic position to calm you in the present moment when you’re feeling worried, try Butterly Pose with a focus on your breathing; yogis believe the pose fosters introspective introspection.
How to Practice
- Sit with your spine upright and your legs straight out in front of you.
- By bending your knees, bring your feet closer to your pelvis. Your feet’ soles should be in contact with each other.
- With your hands, tightly grasp your feet. For further support, place your hands beneath your feet.
- Make an effort to get the heels as close to the genitals as possible.
- Inhale deeply and slowly as you exhale. Exhale as you press your thighs and knees down to the floor. Continue to push them down with a slight effort.
- Begin fluttering both legs up and down in a butterfly-like motion. Begin slowly and gradually increase your speed. Maintain a regular breathing pattern throughout.
- Fly as high as possible and as quickly as possible. Slow down before coming to a complete stop. Take a big breath in and lean forward as you exhale, keeping your chin up and your spine straight.
- Push your knees and thighs closer to the floor by pressing your elbows towards your thighs or knees.
- Feel the stretch in your inner thighs and relax your muscles by taking long, deep breaths.
- Draw a big breath in and lift your body. Gently release the stance as you breathe. Relax by straightening your legs in front of you.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana )
Cow Face Pose is a great hip opener since the hips are where tension, anxiety, and fear are stored.
How to Practice
- Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your back straight and your legs spread.
- Bend your left knee and place your left foot on the right hip’s outer edge. Fold your right leg over the left thigh and rest it there. Make sure your knees are in close proximity to one another and piled on top of one another. Your sitting bones should be equidistant from your heels. Try the modified stance if you can’t sit squarely on your sitting bones.
- Roll your right shoulder back and down while inhaling. Then, with your right arm folded behind your chest and your hand between your scapulae, position it behind your torso.
- Now roll your left shoulder back and gently lift and stretch your left arm behind you, attempting to reach your right hand between your shoulder blades. If you are unable to catch your backhand’s fingers, you might use a variation of this pose.
- Your left elbow is pointed up, and your scapulae are firmly pushed against your back. Maintain a straight spine, extend your chest, elevate your sternum, and lean your body back softly.
- Hold the posture for half a minute to a minute. Slowly let go of your arms and legs.
- Relax before switching sides and repeating the stance. Keep in mind that the leg on top and the arm on the same side should be in a lower posture.
Eagle pose (Garudasana)
Eagle Pose, which helps you to stretch your legs and hips while simultaneously strengthening your core and improving your posture, is one of the ideal yoga poses for reducing anxiety.
How to Practice
- Stand up straight, relax your knees, and concentrate your eyes on a place immediately ahead of you. Use your left foot to support your weight. Raise your right foot above your head. Cross your right thigh over your left thigh as high as you can.
- Wrap your left leg around your right foot. Bring both arms in front of you, parallel to the floor.
- Bend your elbows and cross your left arm across your right arm. Gather your forearms and wrap your left palm around your right hand, crossing your wrists while maintaining your arms hooked. The palms will be twisted in the Namaste posture.
- Raising your elbows to shoulder level while keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears is a good technique to start with.
- The palms should create an eagle’s beak and rest in front of your nose.
- Hold this posture until you’ve regained your equilibrium, then slowly lower your body to the ground by bending your left knee.
- Maintain a straight spine with a rising crown of the head.
- Hold for 5–10 seconds before repeating on the other side.
Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
Reverse Warrior is an energizing pose that improves circulation and breathing. This pose keeps the nerve system active and functional.
How to Practice
- Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with your arms at your sides and your feet hip-distance apart. Turn to the left and take a 4-5-foot step with your feet wide apart. Set your heels in a straight line.
- With your toes pointing to the top of the mat, turn your right foot out 90 degrees. Rotate your left foot inwards slightly. The angle of your back toes should be 45 degrees.
- Raise your arms to shoulder height and parallel to the ground. Your arms and legs should be in a straight line. Stretch vigorously from fingertip to fingertip with your palms facing down.
- Bend your front knee while exhaling. Align your front foot’s ankle squarely above your knee. The front of your shin should be parallel to the ground. Bring your front thigh parallel to the floor by sinking your hips low. Warrior II is the name of the character.
- On your next breath, drop your left (back) hand to the back of your left leg. Lift your right arm straight up, pushing your fingertips toward the ceiling while you inhale. Next to your right ear, place your right bicep.
- As you stretch through the sides of your waist, keep your front knee bent and your hips sinking low. Come into a small backbend by sliding your backhand farther down your leg.
- Bring your eyes to the fingertips of your right hand by tilting your head slightly.
- Maintain a comfortable posture with a lifted chest and long waist sides.
- Hold for ten to twenty breaths. Inhale as you drop your arms back into Warrior II to release.
- Straighten your front leg and press down through your rear foot. Lower your arms completely. Turn to the left, reversing your feet’ position, and repeat for the same amount of time on the other side.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Tree Pose needs your whole attention, which might help you shut off your busy mind. When you master the posture, you’ll feel more in control of your emotions because you’ll feel empowered and calm.
How to Practice
- While standing in Tadasana, extend your toes, press your feet into the mat, and strain your leg muscles. Raise your front hip points toward your lower ribs to gently elevate your lower belly.
- Exhale while pulling your shoulder blades down your back. Inhale deeply while elevating your chest. Take a steady vantage point and look straight ahead.
- Raise your right foot to the height of your left leg or shin, hands-on-hips. Don’t make any touch with your knee.
- Join your right foot to your left leg.
- Make sure your pelvis is squared and level at the front.
- Make Anjali Mudra with your hands at your heart or spread your arms upwards like branches yearning for the sun when you feel stable.
- Repeat on the opposite side by stepping back into Mountain Pose and holding for a few breaths.
Triangle Pose Yoga (Trikonasana)
A triangle pose is an energizing pose that may help you relax your neck and back.
How to Practice
- As you stand, be sure your feet are wider than your hips.
- Your left toes should be facing forward, and your right toes should be pointing inward at a slight angle.
- Extend your arms forward from your shoulders. Your palms should be facing down.
- Reach forward with your left hand, extending your torso forward.
- To bring your right hip back, hinge at the hip joint. Place your left hand on your leg, the floor, or a block.
- Raise your right hand toward the ceiling.
- Feel free to look in any direction that seems good to you.
- This pose can be held for up to a minute.
- Then repeat on the other side.
Balancing Table Pose (Bharmanasana)
Dandayamana Bharmanasana, or Balancing Table Pose, strengthens the core, improves memory and concentration, lowers fatigue, lengthens the spine, and promotes awareness.
How to Practice
- Kneel in a comfortable position. Your knees should be in a straight line, and your feet should be wider than your hips.
- Maintain a smooth surface on the floor with the tops of your feet.
- Put a pillow or block beneath your buttocks, thighs, or calves if this is too unpleasant.
- Placing your hands on your thighs is a good idea.
- To expand your chest and stretch your spine, sit up straight.
- Maintain this position for up to 5 minutes.
Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position)
Anjali Mudra is a great way to achieve a spiritual state of consciousness.
How to Practice
- Sit in Siddhasana or stand in Tadasana. Inhale deeply and lock your hands together. Your thumbs should be gently resting on your sternum.
- Hands should be pressed together firmly yet equally. Make sure one hand doesn’t dominate the other (typically your right if you’re right-handed, your left if you’re left-handed). If you notice an imbalance, gently release the dominant hand while maintaining pressure on the non-dominant hand.
- Draw the crease of your neck toward the center of your head by bowing your head slightly.
- Lift your sternum into your thumbs and extend down the back of your armpits, making your back elbows heavy.
Anxiety is characterized by a distressing focus on future events. Through various researches, yoga was proven to reduce perceived stress and negative emotions, as well as to alleviate mental and physical disorders. Meditation has been shown to aid those with anxiety symptoms, especially those who have worry as a secondary concern.
References and Further Reading
- Nabi, H., Hall, M., Koskenvuo, M., Singh-Manoux, A., Oksanen, T., Suominen, S., … & Vahtera, J. (2010). Psychological and somatic symptoms of anxiety and risk of coronary heart disease: the health and social support prospective cohort study. Biological psychiatry, 67(4), 378-385.
- American Psychiatric Association, D. S., & American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (Vol. 5). Washington, DC: American psychiatric association.
- Salmon P. Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: a unifying theory. Clin Psychol Rev2001;21:33–61.
- Clark, D. M. (2011). Implementing NICE guidelines for the psychological treatment of depression and anxiety disorders: the IAPT experience. International review of psychiatry, 23(4), 318-327.
- Field, T., Diego, M., Delgado, J., & Medina, L. (2013). Yoga and social support reduce prenatal depression, anxiety and cortisol. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 17(4), 397-403.
- Girodo M. Yoga meditation and ooding in the treatment of anxiety neurosis. Journal of Behavioral Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry 1974;5:157-60.
- Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., & Lejuez, C. W. (2012). Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and anxiety, 29(7), 545-562.