Three Yoga Practices to Ease Anxiety & Stress
There are two things I know about stress and anxiety. 1.) There is nothing wrong with us for feeling it and 2.) Everyone feels it.
Stress, by definition, is mental and/or emotional strain or tension due to adverse or demanding circumstances. Anxiety, on the other hand, is worry or nervousness usually related to something in our lives that has an uncertain outcome.
In both cases we experience a sense of overwhelm. The nervous system then becomes over-active and the “fight or flight” response is stimulated. This creates fatigue, agitation and lack of clarity in the mind. Luckily, there are many things from our yoga practice that can offer relief.
1. Be Here Now
The normal human response to a stressful situation is to attempt to control it. Unfortunately, not all situations can be controlled. Our next act is usually to check out or escape the uncomfortable feelings associated with the stress. Some favorite techniques for this include: drinking, eating, shopping, watching TV or videos, checking social media and being angry at our spouse, kids or the world.
Sadly this makes us unpleasant to be around, detrimentally effects our relationships and actually solves nothing. As soon as we stop distracting ourselves, we’ll realize that the stress is still there. What we can change, however, is how we react to and handle stress and anxiety. Here are some suggestions.
- Be in the Now, distracting and numbing yourself from what’s happening is not actually helping you.
- Remember, stress is not going away, no matter what you do; when you accept that, you’ll be more likely to come up with healthy coping strategies and creative problem solving.
- Instead of ignoring, avoiding or complaining about your stress, acknowledge it and be compassionate with yourself as you learn to face and address it.
- Get some fresh air, take a gentle walk or sit outside for a few minutes in the sun (without your phone!). The mental space will give you more room to deal with what’s happening.
2. Create Restfulness
Our kidneys sit on either side of the spine in the low to mid back. On top of the kidneys are the adrenal glands, the source of adrenalin. When stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system into “fight or flight,” these organs go into overdrive to help us flee. Since we know we often can’t flee what’s causing us anxiety, we have to learn healthy ways to calm our reactivity.
One way is to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s often called the “rest and digest” response because it induces tranquility by lowering blood pressure, encouraging digestion and increasing contentment. (For a detailed look at both sides of the nervous system, go here.)
To activate this calming state:
- Breathe consciously, slowly and deeply.
- Relax your eyes, ears and tongue.
- Stretch your legs, it will help you feel more grounded and calm.
- Support your kidneys by lifting them up gently towards the back of your body.
- This is done by pulling the abdominals down and in gently, while moving the back ribs up towards the head.
- A restful way to both stretch the legs and support the kidneys is as follows
- Place a rolled up towel or Mexican blanket at the crease of your thighs.
- Fold forward and grab your feet.
- The blanket will draw your waist back and press your thighs down for you.
- Note: If you can’t reach your feet, you can do this standing with bent legs and your head hung down like a rag doll.
3. Prana Mudra
Mudra means gesture in sanskrit. Mudras are shapes we form with our hands to stimulate different channels of energy in our bodies. Prana is life force energy, vitality or chi. This gesture corresponds to the root chakra, which represents feeling calm, grounded, supported and stable. Practicing this mudra increases vitality, reduces fatigue and calms anxiety.
How to Practice
- Sit comfortably with an upright spine, either on the ground, a meditation cushion, or in a chair.
- Balance your head above your pelvis and roll your shoulders back
- Rest your hands palm up on your thighs.
- Join your thumbs to your pinky and ring fingers, stretch the middle and ring fingers straight.
- Hold the mudra as long as you can without pain or discomfort in your hands. 3-5 minutes would be a good starting point.
- Breathe slowly and deeply with a relaxed jaw the whole time.