As you know, there are countless benefits of exercise. If you have a good workout routine, then you’ve probably experienced some of them yourself. Not only does exercise give us an escape from daily life, but it is also an opportunity to build a healthier, stronger version of ourselves. Even if our thoughts do start to scatter, it is fairly easy to return our minds to the mat and continue with the yoga session. It’s no surprise then that yoga has become one of the most popular forms of exercise in recent years.
Yoga also has a positive impact on a person’s wellbeing, plus it can be done almost anywhere. When the body moves in more fluid motions and the focus shifts to what our body is telling us, the greater impact yoga has on our mental health. You may find yourself feeling more at peace and your mind may become more stable. Paying attention to the sensations moving through your body is a big part of doing yoga as an exercise that benefits mental health.
In a world where everyone seems to be medicated by everything from psychotropics to paracetamol, it might be a good idea to consider some alternative natural remedies from the far east and other places. With the right amount of practice, yoga can be very beneficial to mental health. Here’s why, and what, yoga poses are the best for easing the mind.
How does yoga help anxiety?
At the Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Chris Streeter and her team compared the benefits of yoga to walking on the brain. It was found that yoga reduces anxiety, boosts mood, and increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA – an anti-anxiety neurotransmitter) in the brain.
The study consisted of two groups – a yoga group, and a walking group – who took part in their respective exercises for one hour a day, 3 times a week, for 12 weeks. Brain scans were performed at the beginning and the end of the trial, with anxiety and mood levels being measured throughout the study. After the study, it was found that yoga had a significantly larger effect on the participants’ brains than walking did.
So, with this in mind, which yoga poses and movements are best at helping to reduce your anxiety levels?
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
The back, shoulders, and neck are where most people tend to feel stress and tension. The child’s pose is a good way of releasing this tension, helping you to relax, and focusing on breathing. It helps you to connect deeply to your body and focus on what sensations you are feeling.
Start on your hands and knees, with your big toes touching. With your hands and arms extended in front of you, and your legs hip distance apart, exhale as you let your body fall forward. Keep your torso on top of, or in between, your thighs, and keep your head resting on the mat. Keep your arms extended and and press your buttocks down onto your heels. Feel free to stay in this position for as long as you wish, breathing slowly and deeply as you do.
Tree Pose (Vrikasana)
The tree pose is a basic standing pose used to focus predominantly on balance, distracting you from other stresses you may have.
Stand with your feet a hip width apart, before shifting your weight to your right leg. Bend your left leg and rest the sole of your left foot either on your inner right thigh, or just below the knee, with your toes pointing downwards. Place your hands in a prayer-like position on your chest, and choose whether to face your head upwards or forwards. Once again, keep your breathing slow, deep, and steady for 2-3 breaths before switching over to the other leg.
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)
This is one of the more challenging poses, which helps with anxiety by stimulating the abdominal region. Several studies link gut health and mental health, so finding ways to improve digestion is a great way to improve your mental health. This pose is one of those ways, in addition to it improving balance, posture, and coordination.
Put your hips a hips distance apart, before turning to the left and extending it to around 4ft. Take your right foot and make sure the toes are pointed forwards towards the front of the mat. Make sure both your feet are planted firmly on the mat, before bending your right knee and keeping your pelvis and torso centred.
Raise your hands above your head and put pressure on your right foot. Lift your left leg behind you while your torso leans forward. Aim to have the upper half of your body parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep your arms outstretched and point your left foot out. Straighten your right leg, keeping your gaze on the ground and hold it for 2-3 breaths. Slowly lower your leg back to the floor before repeating on the other side.
This pose is an advanced pose, so please don’t try this if you are a beginner, or at least without supervision of someone who is trained to do it. However, if you feel comfortable enough to do this pose, it can help to increase blood flow to the head to detox the adrenals. It may also improve mood, lower blood pressure, and lower your heart rate.
Start on all fours and keep your hands a shoulder’s width apart. By keeping your elbows at the same distance, lock your hands so that your little fingers are touching the floor. Place the crown of your head – the very top – on the floor so that your hands are interlocked behind it. Start tucking in your toes and ‘walk’ towards your torso, gradually lifting your hips as high as you can take them.
By using your ab muscles, lift your lower half of the ground while pressing your forearms further into the mat. Lift your legs and hips up so that your lower half is completely straight over your shoulders. Feel free to use a wall to help you get to this position. Feel free to stay in the position for as long as you like, but when returning to the mat, lower one leg at a time and stay in the child’s position for a little while to rest for a few breaths.
Legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani)
This commonly used pose is great for relieving anxiety and relaxing our bodies. Furthermore, it’s a great way to reduce lower back pain and menstrual cramps. Feel free to add extra comfort by putting a pillow under your back to further relieve your back pain.
Sit close to a wall, before walking your legs up the wall until they are perfectly straight. Make sure your bum is against the wall in order to help this. Also, your head and shoulders should be resting nicely on the mat. Close your eyes for as long as you want to relax, taking deep breaths. To get out of the pose, simply move your legs left or right until you hit the floor. Be careful, however, that you don’t hit anything on the way down or lower them too fast hitting the floor hard.
So there you have it: 5 yoga poses that help to treat anxiety, as well as other health conditions. Some are more complex than others, so make sure you know your skill level and feel confident enough before you try certain poses. However, with help, you are sure to get there and be able to help your anxieties by escaping the world for a little while. As studies have shown, hour-long sessions 3 times a week will be enough to make a significant change to your mental health, mood, and GABA in your brain. For more ways on how to improve your mental health, check out some of our other blogs, such as “Vitamin D: Does it Help My Mental Health.”
Yoga is great for anxiety because it focuses on controlling your breathing and your thoughts.
Yoga can improve a person’s mood more effectively than walking regularly can.
Some poses are more complex than others, so you should make sure you have the skill level to perform a couple of the poses above. all of them are possible though with a little practice.