You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I have suffered from anxiety for most of my life. In my late teens and early twenties, I tried to hide my constant fear in a mask of anorexia and bulimia. Thankfully, I found yoga in 2003 and my life has never been the same. While it will not be an instant cure-all, yoga will help you find release from the suffering of anxiety and will be there for you when the moments of fear come. It will connect you to your Source on the inside by helping you to get grounded where you are and allow the feelings of fear to pass through you. You got this!
Here are my five personal go-to poses when my anxiety is through the roof. I hope they can help you:
1) Standing Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Just as the name implies, Standing Mountain Pose (Tadasana), is my initial go-to pose when panic strikes. Wherever I am, I stop what I am doing, find my stance, and breathe. This pose is the antidote to fear, providing grounded support even in the toughest of times.
Find a comfortable standing position on your yoga mat. Bring your feet parallel and hip-width distance apart. Lift and spread wide the toes, pressing down through the base of the big toe, pinky toe and the centre of the heel. Lift the knee caps up, being careful not to lock your knees, as locking will only create more feelings of uneasiness. Find steadiness through the pose by pressing down through the heels and reaching the crown of the head up towards the ceiling. As much as you press down through the feet, feel the crown of your head reaches up, creating length through the spine. Spiral the palms forward, so that you are externally rotating your arms. Take a deep breath in through the nose and give a big exhale out the mouth. Repeat inhale, exhale AHHHHH. Then slowly close the mouth and focus on inhaling and exhaling through the nose. If you’d like, close your eyes. Focus on the breath. You can stay in this pose as long as you need to, allowing yourself to feel tall, steady and safe, just like a mountain.
2) Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
From Tadasana, look down and make sure both feet are still pointing forward and hip-width apart. Your feet should be parallel like railroad tracks. Make sure your buttock flesh goes DOWN and check to make sure you aren’t either Elvis-ing your pelvis forward or pushing your booty back too much. Pick which leg you are going to start with. Ground down through the standing leg as you bring your bent leg to your shin, your calf, or all the way up to your thigh. DO NOT put your foot on your knee. Your knees are expensive and that can be dangerous! When suffering from anxiety, I like to bring my hands to my heart centre with one palm resting on top of the other over the heart. Take deep breaths into the hands. All is well.
Repeat on the second side. Although anxiety may make you feel like you are flying on the wind, remember that you are strong like a tree. Your roots are deep. Even though the wind may whip and whirl your branches around, you can remain rooted even in the toughest of times.
3) Cat and Cow with Lion’s Breath
Come onto your hands and knees into a table-top position. Make sure that your hands are shoulder-width apart, your knees hip-width apart and your feet splay directly back from your knees. On an inhalation through the nose, bring the shoulder-blades onto the back as you arch the spine and look up. Now on the exhale, spread wide the collarbones and round the back, breathing out through your mouth, sticking your tongue out long and bringing your gaze to the tip of your nose. Repeat this sequence. The inhalation is always through the nose as you do a gentle backbend and you’ll have a forceful exhalation out the mouth, sticking out the tongue and bringing your gaze to the tip of the nose. Don’t worry if you feel funny, in fact, a little laughter can go far in alleviating an anxious mood! I love this pose for letting go of whatever it is that is making me feel afraid. I just take a deep breath as I look up and try to gather up all of the feelings of discomfort and worry and then let EVERYTHING go as I stick my tongue out, exhale and bring my gaze to my nose. This breath and asana combination works for me every single time. If I can’t get to a yoga mat to practice, I’ve been known to go into the bathroom and practice Lion’s Breath in the bathroom stall. Just give into the breath and allow it to carry your fears away as you exhale. Let go completely so that you can allow a new feeling to come in. Repeat as many times as you’d like.
4) Child’s Pose (Balasana)
It can be helpful to slow down, to go within, and to breathe into the back body. They call it a child's pose for a reason because it allows us to rest, allows us to fully feel anxiety and to find safety within. From a table-top position, make your way back into
child’s pose. Bring the feet together and the knees wide apart for this variation. If your forehead does not easily come to the ground, bring the ground up to meet you with blocks, blankets, or bolsters. Likewise, if your thighs cannot comfortably come to your heels, place a blanket behind your knees. Bring your arms down by your sides, so that your palms come to face up by the heels. The most important thing to allow this pose to aid you in anxiety is to press the forehead down into the mat. Allow your third eye to really press into the mat and slightly down so that the skin goes towards the nose.
Breathe into the space between the eyebrows. Let go and breathe. When I feel particularly worried, I will often stay in this posture for five, ten or even fifteen minutes!
5) Yogic Squat (Malasana)
Bring your feet hip-width distance apart or wider (for me they needs to be significantly wider.) Slowly lower yourself down as far as is comfortable for the knees and squat down. Ideally, your arms will come inside your knees. It is OK for your feet to be lifted. You can take the squat wider if that is more comfortable for the back of the calves, or you can stuff a towel, blanket or mat underneath your heels for support. If your arms come inside your knees, press the hands together and use the arms to help to gently open the shins/thighs/hips by pressing the backs of the arms into the legs. (Be mindful not to press on the knees!) Stay as long as is comfortable, but aim for at least three to five breaths. Breathe down deep into the pelvis as you press your heels towards the ground. Feel the energy of the ground rise up to meet you. When you are done, slowly press into your heels to mindfully rise up to a standing mountain pose to end your practice.