How to Use Yoga for Stress and Anxiety

High-stress lifestyles seem to be increasingly the norm in our culture, but stress and anxiety can take a huge toll on everyday health and wellbeing if not kept in check. Adding adaptogen herbs and/or CBD supplements to your diet may help reduce stress. But it is often a good idea to have some other tools under your belt to deal with anxiety during an acute episode or a particularly stressful phase of life. Yoga can be just the ticket to move energy through the body, integrate deep breathing exercises into your routine and calm the mind during times of anxiety and stress.

Benefits of Yoga

Most people are aware of the physical benefits of yoga, such as greater strength, flexibility, and maintenance of a healthy weight. You might not be aware that its benefits go far beyond the physical into the mental, emotional and spiritual realms. Various forms of yoga have been practiced for millennia and have been cultivated to help people find holistic balance in mind, body, and spirit. Recent scientific research supports the idea that yoga is beneficial for anxiety. Most studies on the subject show that instituting a yoga regime helps people to lower anxiety and better deal with acute stress.

Meditation to Relieve Anxiety

One key aspect to the practice of yoga is meditation. Through the use of focused breathing, mantra and body postures, yoga helps to integrate meditation into a physical practice. Those put off by sitting meditations may be happy to learn that built into a yoga practice are meditation techniques performed by means of movement and breathing. In scientific research, meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, ease anxiety and depression, reduce insomnia and contribute to overall improved health and vitality. In a recent randomized controlled trial (RCT), mindfulness meditation techniques were also found to reduce symptoms of general anxiety disorder.

Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

Another key aspect to the multifaceted healing effects of yoga is deep breathing. Pranayama (specific types of breathwork) can alter the brain’s state and contribute to overall relaxation and vitality. Particularly when practiced in the morning, yoga breathwork helps to oxygenate and invigorate the body and brain, reducing anxiety and stress, as well as improving nervous system function and supporting the immune system’s fight against oxidative stress. Many types of yoga include pranayama as an integral part of the practice. Focusing on the breath and deep breathing can also come in handy during an acute anxiety episode or panic attack. Focus on deep breathing, particularly on the exhale, to help tame an attack.

Tips for Starting a Yoga Practice

New to yoga? No problem. Start slow and take it one step at a time. Many yoga classes are geared toward beginners, while some are open to all levels. Start with one class a week, and practice what you learn at home a few mornings a week before work. You can find many excellent instructional yoga videos online for free or through subscription services like GaiaTV.

Practicing yoga in the comfort of your own home may seem cozy, but sometimes getting off the couch for a DVD or YouTube sesh can prove to be a challenge. Classes offer direct support from a knowledgeable instructor, someone to correct that not quite proper position — a  benefit your TV doesn’t offer. Booking a private instructor to help you push your limits to do the poses correctly (and safely) can really jumpstart an active yoga practice. There are many different styles of yoga as well as lots of instructors to choose from, so try a few classes until you find one that feels like a fit!

Amy Myszko is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Certified Lactation Counselor and has been practicing herbalism and nutrition since 2007. She recently graduated with a master’s degree in Lactation and is pursuing a career as a Holistic Lactation Therapist.

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