10 Yoga Moves for Anxiety and Depression
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Chronic anxiety can be debilitating, but there are a handful of natural solutions that can help you find relief—and yoga is one of the best. Practicing yoga consistently can help reduce blood pressure, pulse and respiration rates, mental agitation, and psychological distress, according to a 2015 study in The Journal of Evidence Based Medicine and Healthcare.
Try these 10 Yoga Moves to Feel More Balanced
Try the following 10 yoga moves for anxiety and depression. Each of the following was selected to combine relaxed breathing with a deep stretch to ease your mind, strengthen your body, and help you feel more balanced and refreshed.
1. Dancer Pose
Balance poses, like the dancer pose, require focus. Indeed, to remain balanced on one leg, you must control your mind, the place where anxiety lives, concentrating so intently on form that troubling thoughts (financial worries, relationship angst, etc.) fade away.
Begin by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart on your yoga mat. Raise the toes of your right foot off the ground and spread them before lowering them back down again. Press firmly into the floor with all four corners of your foot (inside edge, outside edge, ball, and heel), and engage the muscles in your right leg, glutes, and core. Fix your eye gaze to a spot on the floor about three to four feet in front of you.
Breathe deeply as you shift your bodyweight onto your right leg. Bend your left knee and raise your left leg behind you, grabbing your foot with your left hand. Hinge forward at your hips as if you are leaning over a bar, and reach up with your right hand as you press into your left hand with your left foot.
Hold this position for eight breaths. Switch sides and repeat. Notice how quiet your mind becomes when you have to focus on not falling over?
2. Child’s Pose
You don’t have to be all that old and wise to know how to survive in this crazy world, according to Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. If your anxiety level is through the roof, then you may want to escape into child’s pose for a while. This restorative pose encourages deep breathing, can help lower your blood pressure, and elicits a deep stretch.
Begin on your hands and knees. Bring the inside edges of your feet together, sliding your knees outward until they’re slightly wider than hip-width apart. Sit on your heels, drop your belly between the thighs, and lower your forehead to the floor. Reach out like a cat, keeping your elbows elevated as you extend your arms as far as possible along the ground in front of you. Hold for 10 to 15 breaths.
3. Corpse Pose
Have you ever seen the fainting goats that freeze and fall over when scared? They may be onto something. When life becomes too much to bear, play dead. Corpse Pose only requires that you lie on the floor and breathe. The pose can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety and depression, relax the body, and eliminate headaches and fatigue.
Just find a quiet spot to lie down on your mat. Separate your feet so they are a bit wider than hip-width apart. Extend your arms out at a slight angle beside you with your palms facing up. Now close your eyes and breathe deeply for five minutes. Repeat whenever you feel overwhelmed or exasperated.
4. Shoulder Stand
When your world is a mess, flip your perspective. Each time you move into an inversion (i.e., a pose that places your heart above your head), you increase blood flow to your brain, refreshing it. Like the dancer pose, this one requires you to focus intently, helping to hone that ability while reducing stress.
Begin by lying flat on your back with your legs extended and your arms by your sides, palms down. Raise your legs so that they’re perpendicular to the floor and pointed toward the ceiling. Press your arms against the floor and engage your core to lift your butt far enough off the ground for you to place your hands on your lower back. Lower your legs into a plow pose, touching the floor above your head with your toes if you can. Hold for four or five breaths, and then raise your legs so that they point straight up toward the ceiling. Hold for eight to 10 breaths.
Come out of the pose by first lowering your legs back into a plow pose, holding that position for a few breaths, and then slowly rolling your body back down into a lying position, keeping your legs straight and your movement controlled.
5. Fish Pose
This pose is used to counterbalance the shoulder stand, so you should follow the latter pose with this one.
Begin flat on your back with your legs extended and your arms by your sides, palms down, just as you did for the shoulder stand. Prop yourself up onto your elbows, pressing your forearms into the floor as you arch your back and lift your chest as high as you can. Lower the crown of your head toward the floor, and either point your toes or flex your feet (your choice). Hold this pose for eight to 10 breaths.
6. Seated Forward Bend
In addition to helping to relieve tension and anxiety, the seated forward bend produces a deep stretch in the lower back.
Start by sitting with your legs together and extended in front of you, and your sit bones (the bones directly under the flesh of your butt) planted firmly on the floor. Flex your feet so that your leg muscles are engaged, and rest your hands on the floor by your sides. Lift your chest toward the ceiling to straighten your spine, and then walk your hands down the sides of your body until you feel a deep stretch. Hold this pose for 10 breaths.
7. Camel Pose
The camel’s generally docile demeanor likely inspired the name for this pose, which stretches the neck, shoulders, chest, and abs—places where the body often holds stress and tension.
Start by positioning yourself in a tall kneeling stance. Separate your knees and feet to hip-width apart and flex your ankles so that your toes are pressed into the floor. Place your hands on your lower back, fingertips pointing toward the floor. Lean back, pressing your elbows together to help keep your pelvis pressed forward. Beginners can hold here. To go deeper, walk your hands down the back of your legs until you touch the back of your heels. Keep your head in a neutral position, or allow it to drop back without straining your neck. Be sure to keep your quads perpendicular to the floor to maintain proper alignment and avoid injury. Hold this pose for five to eight breaths before returning your head upright.
Come out of the pose by engaging your core and slowly walking your hands up the back of your body until your spine is straight . Your head should come up last. Tuck your chin toward your chest, stretching the back of your neck. Hold this pose for another five to eight breaths before returning your head to an upright position.
8. Easy Pose
The name alone should reduce your anxiety level. The easy pose is ideal for meditation, and will help to calm your mind, ease stress, open your hips, and strengthen your back, helping you feel strong and capable.
Begin by sitting with your sit bones pressed firmly into the floor. Cross your legs and place your feet beneath your knees, keeping your torso erect, your neck aligned with your spine, and your shoulders relaxed. Rest your hands on your knees, palms facing down. Take 10 deep breaths, focusing intently on the sensation of each inhale and exhale.
9. Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
A great way to de-stress is to loosen up your shoulders, neck, back, and hips—which is exactly what this yoga pose does, along with lowering your blood pressure and increasing blood flow to your brain.
Stand with your feet spread wide and aligned with the edges of the mat. Flex your legs, sweep your arms behind you, and interlace your fingers. (If your shoulders are prohibitively tight, hold onto a strap with both hands.) Hinge forward at your hips as if you are leaning over a bar. Keep your spine straight and drop your head, letting it hang toward the floor.
If this is too intense on your hips, bend your knees slightly to take some pressure off of them. Hold this pose for eight to 10 breaths. Release your hands and move them to your hips, pressing your feet into the ground and bending your knees slightly as you slowly raise your torso and come out of the pose.
10. Legs up the Wall
Most people spend the better part of each day with gravity pulling blood toward their feet. The legs up the wall pose helps switch the flow in the other direction. It can also help slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and relax your legs, hips, and back.
Lie flat on your back with your left side pressed against a wall. Lift your knees toward your chest, turn your body so that your bottom is against the wall, and then extend your legs up it toward the ceiling, allowing your arms to rest naturally by your sides, palms up. Hold that position for 10 to 15 breaths.