Anxiety is horrible, isn’t it? Whether you suffer from overwhelming, paralyzing panic, or mild yet persistent, nagging worry, it’s an extremely unpleasant experience.
Like any mental health condition, anxiety is a complex issue. There’s no guarantee that yoga is the answer, but many people do use yoga to successfully manage and soothe their anxiety; and there are proven ways that yoga can help. Here are a few of them:
Yoga Makes You Present
Yoga is primarily a mindfulness practice. It’s about being here now, in the present moment. The thing about anxiety is that it tends to make you very future-focused. An anxious mind will worry, obsess over, and live in the future, either forgetting or unable to tune into the present. Yoga counteracts that, and teaches you to let go of your concerns about the future and notice what’s going on right now instead. (Learn 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)
Asanas Give You Focus
In theory, meditation is a great practice to calm an anxious mind. However - and this is me speaking from personal experience here - when your mind is racing and jittery, the thought of sitting still and trying to meditate can be intimidating and off-putting. The mindful movements of yoga asanas are a great alternative. Focusing on the way your body moves gives you a tangible anchor for your wandering mind, making it easier to steady your thoughts and become more centered.
Exercise Releases Endorphins
Exercise is a proven way to encourage your body to release endorphins. These are the body's well-known “feel good” hormones. They help lower stress levels, improve the quality of your sleep, and ward off anxiety. (Read more in Sleep is a Treasure.)
Yoga Dissolves Tension
Ever had super-tight shoulders or a stiff neck after a stressful day? Most of us, when we’re anxious, are inclined to hold tension in our muscles. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. The more tense our bodies get, the worse we feel mentally, which makes us feel even more tense and creates a negative downward spiral. The stretches of yoga and the way it takes you out of your habitual movement patterns can help unlock the tension from your body, easing your mind in the process. (Read about Relieving Muscle Pain and Tension with Breath.)
Yoga Cultivates a Calm Mindset
You might come to yoga in search of a strong, flexible body, but often the most unexpected benefits are the lessons yoga teaches you about how to approach life. Your yoga mat is the ideal place to practice surrender, trust and self-compassion: all powerful anti-anxiety tools.
Of course, there are no quick fixes for anxiety because managing and treating anxiety is a complex process. However, as a multi-faceted approach, yoga can be a great place to start. Let go of your expectations, trust in the process and see where it takes you.