Anxiety, stress and overwhelm are huge issues in our culture today. We live in a society that seems to reward “the busy” – how often do you ask someone how they are and the answer is some form of “so busy.”
Yoga has been a great tool for me to manage my anxiety and stress levels. Here are a couple of poses you can do at home to help calm your mind and body.
Pranayama – Breathing
Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force – the breath. Most people only breathe into the top of the lungs but especially, when we are anxious, our breath is short and quick. By breathing deeply and focusing on the breath, we can calm the mind and the parasympathetic nervous system (that fight or flight instinct of the amygdala) that is over stimulated by anxiety.
Come to a comfortable seated position. Closing down the eyes if it is comfortable or just gentle softening the gaze. Bring your attention inwards focusing only on your breath. Take one hand to the chest and the other to the belly to really connect with your breathing. Rather than focusing on deepening the breath (such as a three part breath or dirga pranayama – which can actually energize and cause more anxiety), instead focus on slowing the breath down (calming or diaphragmatic breathing). Make your inhale shorter than the exhale – inhaling for a count of 2 and exhaling for 4, pausing at the end of each exhale.
Continue this breathing for at least 5 to 6 rounds, or as many as needed to feel calm. It is recommended to practice this breathing on a regular basis rather than just waiting until a moment of anxiety is upon us. To come out, slowly begin to open the eyes, bring the hands down to your knees and bring your breath back to it’s natural rhythm.
Salamba Balanasana – Supported Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is a grounding, restful pose, used frequently during a vinyasa practice to allow yogis to catch their breath and rest between flows. The restorative version calms frazzled nerves, encourages us to breathe into the back of the body, and tightly wraps the front of the body into a protective cocoon. It allows us to really centre and ground into our own body and allows us to feel safe from the outside world.
Because you will be holding this pose for an extended period of time, it is essential to support the knees with a yoga mat and blanket. Draw the knees wide into a V shape. Prop a bolster (or a long pillow) up on a block or two, drawing it toward the body between the knees. Lengthen over the bolster and slowly lower the torso down to the props. Wrap the arms around the bolster in a hug through the space between the floor and prop. Turn one cheek to rest on the bolster and close down the eyes. Sink into the props to feel fully supported and secure.
Hold this pose for at least 5 minutes before gently lifting the head to centre and turning the other cheek to rest on the bolster; hold for another 5 minutes to allow for the neck to be balanced. To come out of the pose, bring the head back to centre and press the hands into the mat on either side of the bolster. Slowly, press yourself back up into a table or kneeling position.
Viparita Karani – Legs Up The Wall
Raising our legs over our heart and heads is very calming for the parasympathetic nervous system. It also gives the heart a break as it does not have to work as hard to pump the blood down to our feet and back again; gravity plays a role and allows the blood to flow natural back up to the heart (or down in this case). This is helpful in calming anxiety as we can often feel like the heart is racing or palpitating when we’re feeling stressed or anxious. This pose is also great because it can be done anywhere there is an open wall.
Disclaimer: there is no graceful way to get into this pose so just let it go.
If you wish to lay on a yoga mat, bring the short edge of your mat along the baseboard of the wall. Lay on your left side in a fetal position with your left hip/glute against the wall. Roll onto your back, extending the legs. If you need to get closer, press your hands into the ground and scoot closer to the wall. Relax your arms at your side or they can come out to goal post/goddess arms.
If it is too much of a stretch for the back of the legs (hamstrings), place yourself further from the wall, bend through the knees and plant the feet against the wall. Close your eyes or use an eye pillow and calm the mind by focusing on the breath.
Stay in this pose for as long as you wish but to get the full benefit, at least 5 to 10 minutes is recommended. To come out of the pose, draw the knees in toward the chest and slowly roll over onto one side. Press your hand into the floor to slowly bring yourself back up to seated.
Are there certain self-care practices you use when feeling stressed or anxious? I would love to hear them in the comments!
Much love & namaste,
These poses are not meant to replace proper medical attention. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from anxiety or depression, please seek professional help. Speaking with a doctor or a counselor is tremendously helpful in identifying and managing anxiety triggers.
It is okay to not be okay. Reach out, ask for help, speak up. You are not alone in this and there is support out there. And always remember, you are loved.
Hope for Wellness (mental health counselling and support for Indigenous peoples)