Yoga for Anxiety – The Yoga Tool Box

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It’s long been known that Yoga can bring about a sense of calm and well-being when practiced regularly. I know this to be true in my own practice and it is my wholehearted belief that even pulling small bits from the principles of Yoga can make a big impact on overall wellness.

But what about those of us that deal with high levels of stress, daily anxiety, and even panic attacks?!

When in the throws of anxiety, it can be a challenge to set aside time and mind space for a full practice. Instead, we can each turn to our own ever-growing Yoga Tool Box: A  menagerie of yogic concepts to pull from and utilize in healing. Here I will share a handful of my personal favorite tools, pulled from my own Yoga Tool Box.  Use these as a jumping off point for your own healing path and continue to explore the elements of Yoga that nourish you best in your daily life:

Compassionate Svadhyaya: Self Study meets Self Love

Svadhyaya, one of our Niyamas, or internal ethics for living a more peaceful life, encourages us to stay ever reflective. I recommend connecting with an extra level of Self Love in the process. By allowing yourself to FEEL your emotions without judgement, you begin to open up the channels of communication within yourself. You can ask yourself about the source of anxiety, you can connect to your true needs, and you can begin to take action to healing.

Mental Check In:
  • Begin with Compassion~ First take a breath and place your hands over your heart, telling yourself that your experience and your emotions are valid.
  • Take a moment to listen to the tone of your inner voice and the energy of your emotions. Become curious about your own mind and heart.
  • If you have the ability, pull out your journal, or even a sticky note, and write down a word or two that describes your feelings. Otherwise just identify the word in your mind.
  • Finally, offer yourself consolation or a piece of advice exactly as you would to a close friend. Have your own back and be who you need in that moment.

Grounding: Physically and Emotionally

One of my most cherished lessons from my Yoga practice is learning to Ground Myself when I feel as though I’m flying uncontrollably through Life.

With anxiety, it’s far too easy to allow fears and overthought to bulldoze you down. Feeling grounded or fully present in your mind and body, can create a sense of security.

Find Your Grounding:
  • If you are standing, feel your feet pressed into the ground, creating a connection through all points of your feet. If seated, do the same with all elements of your body that touch the ground.
  • Envision roots growing from your body into the earth, protecting you from the uncertainty of the changing winds.
  • Gaze around you and find three things you can see in detail. Close your eyes and listen. Can you hear 3 sounds? Inhale. Can you smell 3 scents?
  • Allow the mind and body to settle into the Present Moment by connecting to all that surrounds you.

Pranayama: Gain Control by Working the Breath

Ahh the Breath. Our Life Force ~ The source of all Energy. One of the kindest things our bodies does for us while we are busy doing other things, such as grocery shopping and obsessing over that email we just sent.

In Pranayama, a principle Limb of the yogic tradition, we use strategic breath-work to create the energy we wish to harness.

When we take control over our breath, we give ourselves a true, tangible example of how deeply our Life is in our own hands, how much of our Life is within our power to choose.

2-to-1 Ratio Breathing:
  • This is a great breathing practice to nourish the nervous system during anxiety. By slowing and extending our exhales, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system – the source of our body responsible for our Rest-and-Digest (the opposite of Fight-or-Flight).
  • To do this breathwork, we extend the length of our exhales to be double the length of our inhales. This means deep, full breaths In and long, slow breaths Out.
  • Counting can certainly help here (try 4 counts on the inhale and 8 counts on the exhale) but sometimes, especially in the throws of anxiety, counting can feel overwhelming.
  • My best advice is to focus on filling the body up with air (truly feel it down to your toes!) and then to slowly release the air through pursed lips, almost as if you are breathing out through a straw.
  • Continue doing this until the inhales and exhales are flowing freely and the mind has begun to release the hold on your thoughts, freeing you from the overthinking that may be happening.

Mantra: I Got This

A mantra is a word or phrase repeated to aid in your meditation. It can be anything that ignites your Spirit and allows you to find a deeper connection to Self.

Within meditation, it helps us connect with the sixth Limb of Yoga, Dharana, or Single-Pointed Focus. When we allow the breath and body to steady and we focus solely on a word or a phrase, we begin to allow the rest of the world to fade away. Often, our anxiety is triggered or fueled by external influence so having a defense on hand can be helpful.

I use mantras as a grounding point, a way to center my Being. And the more I turn to them, the more they present themselves to me in my moments of need. In this way I think of a mantra as its own muscle that must be nourished and strengthened to be used with ease.

I tend to come back to a mantra that applies to nearly any situation I’m ever in~ I Got This. I say it to myself in my mind, I say it aloud before I begin something new, I even have it permanently etched into my skin. I offer it to you as a possible mantra, knowing that no matter what you face, YOU Got This.

Using Your Mantra On and Off the Mat:
  • One of my favorite parts of using a Mantra is its ability to be part of everyday life, from deep internal meditation to part of a casual external conversation.
  • The more you work with a Mantra in your meditation, the more it becomes a part of your personal lexicon, your go-to language. It becomes easy to think the phrase or say the phrase out loud in normal speech.
  • With anxiety, it can be helpful to “short circuit” your panic attack by interrupting your stream of thoughts with One Conscious Thought. This is the role of the Mantra as it relates to anxiety. This tool can be used as if you’re brandishing a sword against the negativity thoughts or emotions you are experiencing.
  • At the first sign of asnxiety, you can begin repeating your mantra in your head, allowing yourself to truly listen as you’re visualizing each sound. Check in with your breath here. Even if you are not able to change the breath in the moment, listen to it; feel it. Allow the breath to connect with the Mantra and thus steady your Being.

Asana: Move the Body to Release the Mind

When I’m anxious, I visualize my anxiety as a physical ball of energy inside of me that needs to be wringed out and released.

This energy of mine may have a color, it may have an energetic vibration, but it almost always sits in the pit of my tummy sparking itself up into my chest, down to my fingertips, and all through my rational mind.

When I’m unable to apply Compassionate Svadhyaya, when I am ungrounded and cannot control my breath, when my mantra is muffled by my screaming thoughts ~ I turn to my physical body to save my emotional and subtle body from itself.

Move, Breathe, Flow:

My best advice is to begin breathing and moving exactly where you are in the moment that anxiety hits.  Inhale your arms above your head, exhale bringing palms together at the heart’s center. Extend through your spine and lengthen up through each vertebrae. Twist side to side to move your energy.

Any pose, any movement, can be helpful to steady the mind when your anxiety is running rampant. As a quick reference, here are a few Asanas, or physical poses, you can utilize when anxious, either in order as a flow or as individual stretches as needed:

  • Easy Pose
  • Seated Twist
  • Cat / Cow Flow
  • Child’s Pose
  • Downward Dog
  • Forward Fold / Rag Doll Sway
  • Sun Salutations! (Even just Half – Stick to the standing portion and enjoy a flow that marries Ease + Accessibility)
  • Figure Four
  • Bridge Pose
  • Supine Twists
  • Supta Baddha Konasana
  • Savasana (Try it with calming music!)

As you continue building upon your own Yoga Toolbox and exploring ways to utilize Yoga as a means to managing Anxiety, it is my hope that you will feel an overall sense of wellbeing and nourishment from within.

This piece was written by Tiffany Marquez. Tiffany teaches the 6AM early bird flow on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.