The source of anxiety can be mysterious—we can’t always put a finger on the reason behind it. While some people feel momentary stress in certain situations, others suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and more complex conditions with long-lasting symptoms.
Getting to the root of stress and discomfort is important, and many factors are in your control. Cognitive behavioral therapy and psychiatry techniques are possible options to consider, but when anxious feelings or panic attacks arise, there’s no time to wait around. You need a game plan that can quickly calm your nervous system, and yoga can help.
The effects of yoga and its many postures have been studied for ages, along with breathing techniques and various forms of meditation. A smart combination of these tactics can give you the advantage when fighting back against feelings of tension, discomfort, panic, and more.
Let’s explore 10 simple poses you can use to help reduce anxiety symptoms, ease blood pressure and heart rate, and restore a sense of well-being—when you need it most.
1. Child’s pose
Anxious feelings are often cerebral, as if you’re “stuck in your head.” Child’s pose is meant to provide grounding relief by bringing you close to the floor and engaging in a relaxing stretch of the hips and back.
Begin child’s pose by sitting comfortably on your knees, then lowering your hips down between your heels so that you’re upright and stable. Slowly lower your torso down to the floor as you let your knees and hips slowly stretch out. Reach forward so that you fully extend your shoulders and spine and take tension off your lower back.
Hold the pose for as long as you need, and take deep breaths as you ground yourself physically and mentally. Feel free to incorporate pillows, blankets, or other props to support yourself and extend the time spent in this relaxing pose.
2. Cat-cow pose
It’s not uncommon to feel stress in your midsection, whether it’s “butterflies” in the stomach or nauseous feelings. With the cat-cow pose, you can restore balance to your midsection with grounding benefits and soothe tension in the back.
Cat-cow pose begins in a tabletop position with a neutral spine. Let your head lower forward and create an arch in your back like a cat, aiming to lengthen each vertebra and take pressure off the lower back. Alternate this with the “cow” pose, which has you reverse the movement so your back is in a reverse arch, and your head points up.
Don’t rush through the motions here—the cat-cow pose is meant to be slow, controlled, and in sync with deep breathing patterns for relaxation.
The term “asana” refers to the physical poses in the ancient practice of yoga, typically strung together in a sequence designed by yogis. The goal is to induce a sense of “flow” that aligns with your breathing and targets different areas of the body for stretching and strengthening.
For many of us, sitting still in one position is not the remedy for anxiety or stress relief. We need to move and release some pent-up energy to calm down. If that sounds like you, check out a simple asana sequence, like sun salutations, that will get you moving without putting too much strain on your body.
A sun salutation includes a series of folds, planks, upward and downward-facing dogs, and warrior poses. You can easily memorize this sequence and keep it in your back pocket for when you need a quick and healthy energy outlet.
4. Standing forward bend
The standing forward bend seems simple at first—just reach down and try to touch your toes while keeping your legs straight. But like so many yoga poses, this one is easy to learn and difficult to master.
Experienced practitioners are able to nearly fold their bodies in half, bringing their forehead to their shins and resting their palms flat on the ground with ease. While you’re not expected to do this out of the gate, you can navigate toward this goal as you gain range of motion and comfort.
As far as stress and anxiety go, this pose works wonders for boosting circulation and reducing the lightheaded sensations that often come with an anxious episode. Remember to keep breathing and use each exhalation to bend further into the pose.
5. Bridge pose
The bridge pose is designed to give you the benefits of grounding and centering while relieving tension and discomfort in the spine and hips. Start by laying flat on the ground and facing up with your hands by your sides. Plant your feet on the ground in a neutral position so that you can gently thrust your hips up and off the ground.
Even a subtle bridge position can take some pressure off your back, promote blood flow throughout the midsection, and alleviate stress with just a few deep breaths. Find a comfortable and slow rhythm that lets your hips rise and fall in a controlled motion.
When performed correctly, you’ll experience a sensation of “openness” in the chest, along with improved circulation and a sense of internal balance.
Sometimes, the best response to stress is to simply do nothing. But instead of distracting yourself with unhealthy habits, you can turn to savasana, or corpse pose, to reduce racing thoughts and calm down effectively.
This pose is a pillar of restorative yoga, and the reason is clear. It’s one of the least demanding yoga poses in the book, requiring you to lie flat on your back, stay still, and breathe deeply.
Savasana is the the perfect pose for yoga beginners, because you’ve already done it many times in your life. However, this time, your focus should be on steady, slow breathing as you bring yourself into a state of total relaxation.
7. Tree pose
Tree pose is part of nearly every yoga sequence, typically used to practice balance and restore alignment to the body. Start in a standing position with your hand pressed together in front of the chest. Gradually raise one foot so that it slides up the inner part of the opposite leg.
You should find yourself firmly planted in an upright position so that you can easily balance on just one foot. You can raise your hands above your head for an added challenge.
This pose isn’t the easiest, but it can certainly help take your mind off stressful thoughts and return you to the present moment with grounding benefits.
8. Bound angle pose
Also known as butterfly pose, bound angle pose can be done in several variations for a deeper stretch and calming effects. Simply sit down and bring your feet together so that they press against one another in front of you. Gently let your knees come to the ground to open up your hips and stretch the inner part of your groin. Be careful not to add too much pressure to the region to avoid straining.
Once in a comfortable position, you can bend forward to enhance the stretch in the lower back and extend the arms forward to stretch the shoulders.
9. Downward-facing dog pose
The downward-facing dog pose is a yoga classic, offering a deep stretch to the lower posterior chain and restoring circulation throughout the whole body. There are many ways to transition to and from this pose in yoga sequences, but it’s also fine to isolate and focus on this movement by itself.
The best way to enter a downward-facing dog is to start in a plank position with your hands flat on the ground for stability. Push your hips into the air and lean back onto your heels, so that you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings and calves. Try to keep your legs straight and knees locked to induce a deeper stretch and take pressure off the spine. You can also bend one knee at a time so that the opposite leg gets a better stretch.
This pose is versatile and essential to any yoga regimen, so it’s worth mastering, no matter your goals. By promoting blood flow and easing tension in the lower body, it’s also a great way to reduce feelings of stress and find balance once again.
10. Camel pose
Camels are known for their stoic focus and resilience, and with this pose, you channel these virtues in stressful moments. Camel pose begins seated on your calves with your knees and hips in a neutral position. Lean back in this position and face the sky while maintaining an upright posture. From there, start a back bend while rising up from your seat, staying on your knees.
Think of this pose as a simpler alternative to a bridge pose that doesn’t put pressure on your neck or shoulders. The goal is to open the chest and lean back to allow tension release throughout the torso and lower back. You should also feel a stretch in the front of your thighs and hip flexors.
The camel pose can restore a sense of strength and stability to your body and mind, with energizing effects as well. It’s a great “finisher” movement when you need to conclude your yoga practice and return to your to-do list.
What are the benefits of yoga for anxiety?
Yoga has countless benefits for self-care, from stretching and strengthening to reducing tension and anxiety. But what specific changes do you experience with a yoga practice, and why should you stick with it? Here are some insights on how yoga positively affects the body and mind.
Soothes nervous system
The nervous system is a complex network of transmitters and signals that we don’t yet completely understand. However, it’s clear that an overactive or uncalibrated nervous system can result in feelings of anxiety, and that yoga can offer soothing benefits.
By engaging all parts of the body and focusing on deep breathing, you can calm the “fight or flight” response of the nervous system, which is the source of many anxious feelings. With just a few minutes of yoga, you can return to the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation, calm, and steady focus—and can even help you fall asleep at night.
If you ever feel the racing thoughts, the rapid heartbeat, and the other tell-tale signs of panic, take some time aside for yoga if you can manage. Paired with deep breathing and grounding techniques, you’ll have the upper hand against anxiety.
Helps with stress management
There are countless ways to counteract stress, but yoga is among the most healthy and sustainable methods. Through movement, breathing, and mindfulness, you can target specific areas of the body where stress is felt. Remember, stress isn’t just psychological—it’s physical as well.
If you’re feeling restless and can’t seem to focus, yoga will help balance the flow of energy in the body so that you can utilize it for positive ends. When feeling overwhelmed, yoga will calm the body and mind and put things in perspective, limiting the effects of overthinking.
Stress is going to happen no matter what, but yoga offers a healthy and effective form of recourse that work every time.
Endorphins are some of the most powerful and useful of the many “feel-good chemicals” in the body. While other chemicals can be manipulated through various means, endorphins must be released through physical activity—in other words, they need to be earned. Once you get a healthy endorphin rush from yoga, you’ll see why so many people become life-long practitioners and advocates.
You don’t even need much time on the mat to get the benefits of endorphins, which can reduce feelings of discomfort and provide energizing effects.
Keep in mind that more rigorous movements like sun salutations tend to be better for endorphin release, while restorative poses will offer more relaxing effects.
You may not realize that tension and stress can make their way into muscles, where they become trapped and worsen with time. With regular yoga practice, you can release tension from the muscles with deep stretching and bring a sense of relief to the entire body.
Once you recognize patterns in your own body—such as where you tend to hold tension and stress—you can utilize certain poses more quickly and effectively to get the desired outcome. With practice and experience, your yoga efforts will be more targeted and offer even more benefits.
The bottom line
It’s amazing how quickly and dramatically you can change the course of an anxiety episode with a simple yoga session. With an arsenal of different moves and some complementary therapies like meditation, you will always have a way to combat feelings of stress when they arise.
You don’t need to feel powerless to anxious thoughts and stress with the right set of tactics and tools. Let yoga be the foundation of your daily practice for well-being, balance, and joy.