How Yoga Helps with Anxiety
Stress and anxiety have become so commonplace that many of us have come to view them and their side effects as part of our everyday lives.
Anxiety disorders affect one in thirteen people globally and one in eight in Ireland. With these figures rising, it is essential to understand the impact that anxiety has on our bodies and what we can do about it.
Anxiety triggers the sympathetic nervous or the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body. An over use of this system can suppress the immune system and weaken the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to fatigue, memory problems, digestive issues, heart problems, weaker lung function and a slower metabolism. Cortisol, the stress hormone released during the fight or flight response, encourages the muscles to contract which can lead to stiffness and tension in the body.
Three ways yoga can help;
Postures – Lengthening and strengthening muscles helps to relieve the tension caused by contracted muscles. Exercise also encourages the production of serotonin or the ‘happy hormone’ which can lift the mood. Many poses are aimed at easing digestion and stimulating the thyroid gland, helping to ease these symptoms of anxiety.
Breathing Techniques – When we experience stress, fear or anxiety, our natural response is to hold the breath or breathe fast and shallow which increases the heart rate and decreases oxygen to the brain. Learning how to breathe deeply into the belly and to slow the breath down, tricks our bodies into feeling more relaxed naturally. Creating awareness around the breath makes it easier to spot anxious thoughts as they first arise, making it easier to de-escalate them before it gets to a stage of panic.
Meditation – Learning how to focus the mind and control the thoughts helps dramatically in reducing anxiety. Anxiety is mostly fear of what will happen in the future, learning how to withdraw from thoughts about the future and stay in the present moment dramatically helps with anxiety. Meditation can also help you observe or sit with the physical sensation of anxiety. Meditation has been proven to lower blood pressure and increase lung capacity – both factors that are hindered by anxiety.
What can I do at home?
· Try some forward folds. Place your feet about hip width distance apart and fold forward from the hips. Let your arms and head hang down. This pose releases tension in the neck and shoulders while also increase blood flow to the brain.
· Sit in a comfortable upright position and carefully scan your body for all feelings and sensations. If you come across tensed muscles, consciously relax them. If you feel anxious, experience it a physical sensation rather than as an emotion. Notice wherein your body feels good and relaxed. Feel the good and the bad without trying to resist any of it.
· Lying down, bring all of your awareness to your breath. As you inhale, allow your belly to expand, as you exhale in deflates. Repeat this, trying to consciously slow down each breath.
At Ahimsa Wellness, we offer many different yoga classes and workshops dedicated to reducing stress and anxiety levels. Check out our facebook and instagram page to keep up to date.