One common reason that people turn to yoga is to try to find ways to reduce anxiety and stress. Yoga is a very powerful tool for this. You don’t have to be able to do complicated postures to achieve this benefit, as long as you have a pair of lungs you are able to harness this benefit.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a persistent feeling of unease, that may or may not have an obvious cause. It is different from stress, because stress generally has a root cause (although this can be an imagined situation, there is still a root cause). The stress response will pass once the cause is no longer an issue.
Anxiety is connected to stress, but the cause can be very non specific. Anxiety can be seen as a build up of stress. An anxiety attack may be provoked by something seemingly very insignificant. It is, in fact, the build up of anxiety that creates the problem.
There are many types of anxiety, including phobias, PTSD, post natal anxiety, IBS, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, social anxiety, hoarding and much more.
Some 3 million people in the UK are believed to suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
How can Yoga reduce Anxiety?
Yoga is an excellent tool to help reduce anxiety. It can help you restore some peace to your life if you suffer with any form of anxiety disorder. There are many ways that Yoga can help to reduce anxiety.
Calm the nervous system
Slowing the breath and bringing awareness to your breathing in Yoga soothes and calms the nervous system. This is known as Pranayama. This takes the body and mind out of the stress response, and restores the body to balance and relaxation. Learning to breathe well has numerous benefits, but the impact on the stress response is possibly the one that 21st Century humans need most!
Stilling the mind
Anxiety is the result of thoughts that seem beyond your control. When you learn to sit quietly, to focus on the breath, and to let go of the thoughts that try to distract you, in time you will find that you are better able to do this in daily life as well. This control of the thoughts is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and stress (old video).
The Three Rules of Yoga
One of the first lessons I was taught on Yoga teacher training was Swami Gitanada’s ‘Three Rules of Yoga’. These are ‘Don’t Judge, Don’t Compare, Don’t Beat Yourself Up‘. These rules are very powerful guides for happy living in terms of how you interact with the world and yourself. So much anxiety and unhappiness comes from judgement, comparison and self recrimination – being able to let go of these will free you from so much stress and anxiety.
Yoga teaches the value of acceptance of the current state of things. That is not to say that you cannot make changes, but Yoga asks us to accept, without judgement or criticism, the fact that life is as it is. From this state of acceptance you can look calmly at what changes you need or want to make in life. This is a very empowering way to approach life – the ability to say ‘yes, this sucks, it is what it is, and I can accept that this is where I am now’ enables you to take ownership of what has happened in your life and move forward.
Physical release of tension
The mind and body are intrinsically linked – what the mind experiences manifests in the body, and vice versa. If you have anxiety in your mind, it will find its way to physical symptoms, such as IBS, high blood pressure, headaches and more. Similarly, tension held in the body will add to tension in the mind. Yoga helps you to release this tension through breath work, postures and end of class relaxation. The practice of ‘throwing out’ which I teach in all my local and one to one classes, is a powerful and healing practice that allows you to release mental tension through the body.
Feel Good Factor
Yoga practices produce a neurotransmitter known as GABA. This is a chemical in the brain that makes us feel good and happy. This natural high is the reason that people leave yoga classes smiling. GABA deficiency is a contributory factor in conditions such as anxiety and IBS, so regular Yoga could help to alleviate this deficiency and reduce the anxiety at a biological level.
In addition to the increase of GABA, Yoga also reduces Cortisol, the stress hormone, thereby producing a double whammy of anxiety reduction and happiness.
Could Yoga reduce anxiety for you?
As you can see, there are some powerful reasons why Yoga could help you to reduce anxiety and stress. Would you like to give it a try? Subscribe now for your free 45 minute Yoga class lesson and practice tracker. Give a regular practice a try and see how you feel as a result. You never know, it might transform your life!