12 Yoga poses to help relieve anxiety

By Maggie Giuffrida, Yoga Instructor

Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million adults ages 18 and older? What’s even more shocking is that while anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about one-third of those suffering actually seek and receive treatment.

Perhaps this has to do with the social stigma attached to mental illnesses — a certain shame and guilt society can impose on those suffering from such disorders — but given that consistent anxiety can also lead to a more serious state of depression, it’s important that those struggling with anxiety take action, ask for help, and know their options.

While medication is a common treatment route presented to those suffering from a generalized or acute anxiety disorder, that’s not the only road you can take. Another proven path to help alleviate anxiety is through the practice of yoga, which helps shift our focus and attention away from the daily stresses of life and onto our body and breath, releasing physical and mental tension, and is a lot safer in the long-run than turning to medication to solve the problem.

“Yoga helps our entire system slow down,” says Elena Brower, yoga instructor, speaker and co-author of Art of Attention, in an article for The Huffington Post. “Our bodies are programmed to heal naturally, and what stops that healing are all the stressors of daily life. Yoga dissolves those stressors for time during practice and usually the effects last for hours after.”

Lianne Miller, a certified yoga instructor at Epic Fitness, agrees with Brower — and she knows from experience.

“My mom enrolled me in my first yoga class when I was in high school in hopes that it would help my anxiety, and now, eleven years later, I still practice regularly to help maintain mental balance,” she tells Full Fathom Wellness.

Lianne says that yoga helps her deal with every day stressful situations in multiple ways. Firstly, she notes, it’s an excellent form of physical exercise, which is vital to overall mental health and wellness. The practice of yoga has also helped her learn to use her breath to regain control of the mind and body during an anxiety attack or stressful situation. And perhaps most importantly, she stresses, yoga has taught her to be more gentle with herself, both physically and emotionally.

“Yoga brings an element of stillness and quiet into your life, which I believe is absolutely necessary for managing stress and anxiety,” Lianne says.

The calming effect yoga has on the mind and body works on several levels, she notes, the first of which being the breath.

“When you slow and deepen your breath, the body begins to physically relax and the nervous system is signaled that the body is not under stress,” Lianne says. “Secondly, I have found that simply flowing through a series of yoga poses can be very calming. The awareness is drawn to the practice and to the breath, freeing the mind from all of the every day noises.”

So what are some of Lianne’s go-to yoga poses to help alleviate anxiety? Find out below.

1. Bound Angle Pose

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Bound Angle Pose helps to relieve mild depression, anxiety and fatigue, while stimulating the heart and improving general circulation. It also stretches the inner thighs, groins, and knees.

2. Cat/Cow Pose

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Cat and Cow  poses stretch the front and back torso and neck while providing a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs.

3. Standing Forward Fold

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Standing Forward Fold is excellent for calming the nervous system as it provides a release of the upper body and soothes the mind through a gentle inversion. It also helps to stretch the hamstrings, lower back and sciatic nerves, while relieving anxiety and depression, worry and disorder.

4. Tree Pose

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Tree Pose boosts confidence and promotes concentration, focus and awareness by bringing attention inward and taking your mind away from stress and anxiety. It also strengthens the ankles, thighs, core and glutes, as well as the back muscles.

5. Half Moon Pose

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Balancing poses such as Half Moon Pose help to take our attention off of the mind and into the body, releasing stress and anxiety by quieting the mind and cultivating focused awareness.

6. Camel Pose

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Camel Pose stretches the entire front of the body, including the abdomen, chest and throat, as well as the ankles, thighs and groins. It helps to relieve anxiety by opening the heart and throat, facilitating connection and expansiveness.

7. Child’s Pose

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Releases tension in the back, neck and shoulders, which are areas where most people hold a lot of stress. Child’s Pose also helps to promote relaxation by encouraging steady conscious breathing, which is particularly great for anxiety sufferers due to a calming of the nervous system.

8. Supported Headstand

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Supported Headstand calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression by boosting the health of adrenals, which can be overtaxed in a state of anxiety. This pose also stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands and strengthens the arms, legs, and spine; improves digestion; and tones the abdominal organs.

Learn how to safely hold a headstand here.

9. Supported Shoulder Stand

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Inversions such as Supported Shoulder Stand  help relieve anxiety by turning the body upside down — literally — and helping the mind and body get a new perspective. This pose aids in digestion, helps relieve swollen legs, calms headaches, relaxes the mind, and improves circulation to the upper body and brain.

10. Fish Pose

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Fish Pose helps fight fatigue and anxiety while stretching the belly and anterior neck muscles, stimulating the belly organs and throat region. It also helps to enhance and correct body posture, provides strength to the upper back and neck’s back muscles, and stimulates the hip flexors and rib muscles.

*Only perform this pose if you have no neck issues.

11. Happy Baby Pose

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Happy Baby Pose stretches the inner groins and the back spine while calming the brain and relieving stress and fatigue.

12. Corpse Pose

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Corpse Pose is the ultimate pose for relaxing the body. This pose helps calm the brain, relieves stress and mild depression, and reduces headaches, fatigue and insomnia.

Model: Lianne Miller

Photo credit: Maggie Giuffrida