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Benefits of yoga for individuals with anxiety



By Mel (ADAVIC Volunteer)

2014 - October 22nd


When I first decided to give yoga a go I thought it was just about twisting your body into uncomfortable-looking poses.  I soon learned that it was more than that, and that yoga is really about the connection of your breath to your mind and body.  What I also didn’t realize is the wide range of benefits that yoga can provide for general mental well-being.  Indeed, yoga is great for promoting relaxation and the development of stress coping skills, which makes it a great tool for individuals who suffer from anxiety.  

 
You can work on physical strength with any kind of exercise, however yoga is unique in the way it allows you to be mindful.  When you practice yoga you are encouraged to be in the present moment.  Some of the poses can be challenging and require focus on each of the muscles of your body from head to toe.  As you flow through poses there is also concentration on how you time and control your breath.  Many people find that this connection of breath and body allows them to let go of any anxieties or negative thoughts they may be experiencing.  Yoga very much utilises the principles of mindfulness, encouraging individuals to acknowledge thoughts and let them go with the breath and body as a point of focus.  
 
Similar to other forms of exercise, practicing yoga can improve mood and everyday function.  The word yoga means to unite.  Whilst it is a very individual practice, it can also bring a sense of belonging to the wider community.  When you are in a yoga class, you are encouraged to focus on yourself and your own mind and body.  However, many people find that chanting, meditating, and challenging their body physically with a group of people brings a sense of social cohesion and positive energy.  
 
It is evident that yoga can reduce anxiety and help induce a deep state of physiological relaxation.  The regulated breathing and poses used in yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system which calms the body and reduces stress.  Muscle tension is also released as rarely used muscles are utilized.  Further, some evidence suggests that certain poses assist the body to reduce inflammation and increase immunity, counteracting the negative effects stress and anxiety has on the body. Overall, it is evident that yoga reduces physical stress and tension in the body.  
 
While some of the poses may look challenging, yoga is for everyone.  The poses can be done in many variations based on level of physical ability.  Those who practice yoga are always encouraged to listen to the limits of their body and only do what feels comfortable for their body.  I would encourage everyone to give yoga a try.  Whenever I leave yoga class for the week I notice that I am significantly more relaxed in both mind and body so I hope that you can have the opportunity to experience this too.
Yoga and meditation classes:


 
 

Yoga for anxiety:

While all yoga can be beneficial for anxiety, there are several studios which offer classes or workshops specifically for individuals with anxiety.

 

Practical breathing technique:


A simple yoga breathing technique which I use whenever I need to calm my mind and body is called square  breathing.  

  • Step 1: Visualize a square in your mind.  Starting at the bottom left corner, inhale as you count to four and imagine that you are moving along the side of the square to the top left corner.  
  • Step 2: Hold your breath for four counts as you travel from the top left to the top right corner of the square.
  • Step 3: Exhale slowly for four counts as you move from the top right corner to the bottom right corner
  • Step 4: Hold your breath for four counts as you travel from the bottom right to the bottom left corner
  • Step 5: Repeat this process.  As your breath deepens you can extend the length of the breath that you take and take more than four counts.  Notice the effect this has on your mind and body.  Most people find that this focus on breathing allows them to quieten their thoughts and slow their heart rate as they continue.   
 


References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/April/Yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/get-hardy/201305/take-stand-yoga-today
Li, A., & Goldsmith, C. W. (2012). The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Alternative Medicine Review Publisher, 17(1), 21-35
Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J., Pilkington, K., & Ramaratnam, S. (2005). Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(12), 884-891
My many yoga teachers :)
 
Namaste – the light in me recognizes the light in you
By Mel – ADAVIC Volunteer
 

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