yoga for stress, anxiety, and depression
At the onset of the Shelter In Place order, you may have felt a tinge of uncertainty. As the months have passed, though, your ability to process the news, gossip, and/or unhealthy information that is flooding your feed may have triggered you into a state of ongoing stress, anxiety or depression.
Are you fearful now waking up each day to face the trauma unfolding in the world? You’re not alone. The World Health Organization has mentioned that more than 300 million people of all ages are suffering from depression. It’s no surprise to learn that people are struggling with an inability to deal with this ongoing traumatic life experience.
There are some simple lifestyle changes like yoga, meditation, and dietary habits that could help you to fight depression.
According to Ayurveda, depression is a sign that the body-mind complex has low prana. Prana is a life-force energy and is responsible for enthusiasm, happiness, and peace.
First, before I suggest a solution, let’s look at the symptoms of depression to see if this resonates with you:
Symptoms of Depression:
Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.
Irritability, anxiousness, and guilt
You might feel unstable, dull, and slow
Feeling out of control and tense or worthless
Hobbies and activities you used to enjoy don’t seem appealing
Physical symptoms such as aches and pains, cramps, headaches, breast tenderness, bloating
Digestive issues that don’t improve, even with treatment
A dramatic change (either way) in weight could be a sign
Lost interest in your relationships and daily activities
In addition to the ongoing global crisis, there are many causes of depression.
Family– You’re at a higher risk of developing depression if you have a family history of depression. Abuse– Past physiological, sexual, sexual, or psychological abuse may increase the exposure of clinical depression later in your life. Death or even a loss- Sadness or despair from the death or loss of a family member can boost the chance of depression.
Yoga is one of the best ways to lighten your mood and keep depression at bay. Yoga poses increase blood circulation to the brain and enable the production of the mood-elevating hormones. Yoga helped me during the most challenging time of my life, inspiring my book Yoga Wisdom: Warrior Tales Inspiring You On And Off Your Mat which also includes many other yoga teachers sharing how yoga helped them move through life’s inevitable ups and downs.
Yoga is proven to help. Try the following poses:
6 yoga poses to fight depression
1. Child’s pose
Balasana is made of two Sanskrit words;‘Bala’ which means child and ‘asana’ which means pose.
It calms your brain and relieves stress and anxiety. It gently stretches the lower back and glutes, allowing the body to be relaxed.
How to do Balasana:
1. Kneel on the floor and rest your buttocks on your heels.
2. Then exhale, start bending forward gently and place your chest between your thighs. You can also keep your knees together. Find what feels best for you.
3. Keep your forehead flat on the floor reaching your arms forward, placing palms flat on the floor. You can also place a block under your forehead.
4. Breathe and hold for four or five breaths before releasing it slowly.
5. You can also reach your arms back towards your feet, turning your palms up.
If you are pregnant this may not be the pose for you, but you can split your knees and use a bolster or two under your chest. There are other restorative ways to bring relief to your back if you are pregnant (like triangle pose or wide squat). Pregnant or not, never do any pose that feels bad.
2. Downward Facing Dog Pose
Downward facing dog, also known as Adho Mukha Svanasana, encourages blood circulation to the brain, lengthens your hamstrings and calves, and provides a nice stretch for your spine too. It helps to fight depression by enabling fresh blood to flow into your body. This pose sooths and calms the nervous system.
How to do Adho Mukha Svanasana:
1. Start on all fours. Hands shoulder width apart.
2. Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back, gently pressing back with your heels. Your knees can be slightly bent if needed.
3. Firmly press all points of your palms into your yoga mat.
4. Gaze towards your belly button.
Caution if you have wrist issues.
3. Bridge pose
Setubandhasana is a Sanskrit word contain three Sanskrit words: Setu means ‘bridge,’ bandh means ‘to lock’, and asana means ‘pose.’
Setubandhasana is also known as the bridge pose, as this pose resembles the formation of a bridge. This pose stretches both your back and neck muscles in order to relax them. Practice this yoga pose for back pain relief too. Inversions are enormously beneficial to the nervous system. Having the head below the heart is soothing and cooling. Fresh, oxygenated blood is sent to the brain which can help manage anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
How to do Bridge Pose:
1. Start by lying flat on your back.
2. Bend your knees while feet flat on the floor. Keep knees and feet aligned with your hips
3. Put your arms beside your body, palms facing downward.
4. Slowly lift your hips and pelvis, firmly pressing feet into the floor. Ensure that your head stays centered- do not try to turn your chin.
5. Hold your body in this position for four or five breaths. Don’t forget your Ujjayi breathing.
6. Slowly lower down, feeling each vertebra of the spine.
Caution if you have had neck or back injury, knee or shoulder injury.
4. Plow Pose
Plow Pose, Halasana, lowers the stress in your spine and enhances your posture. It calms your brain and reduces stress. It’s also great for your neck, but make sure to never turn your head while in this pose. It helps with headaches and insomnia.
How to do Halasana:
1. Lie flat on your back, with your arms along-side your body.
2. Lift your legs off the ground at an angle of 90 degrees to the ground.
3. Put your hands on your buttocks and using them as support, lift your buttocks towards your chest.
4. Slowly bring your legs up and over behind your head, touching your feet securely on the ground. Do not turn your head when in this position.
5. Remove the hands from the buttocks, straighten your arms forward, and put them onto the ground with the palms facing downward.
Precautions: Caution if you have asthma or high blood pressure. Go slow. Breathe.
5. Seated Forward Bend
Seated Forward Bend, Paschimottanasana, is a favorite of mine. It’s a classic pose from Hatha yoga. It gives the whole back of the body a good stretch including the calves, hamstrings, and the spine. It’s calming, centering, encourages introspection and receptivity. Excellent for runners. This pose improves your mood. I find that I can really tap into the concept of presence in this pose. As a practice, presence and mindfulness are proven to ease stress.
How to do Paschimottanasana:
Begin by coming to sit in Staff Pose (Dandasana) with your legs straight in front of your body.
Bring your arms straight out to the sides and up over your head, reaching toward the ceiling.
Inhale and draw your spine up long.
As you exhale, begin to come forward, hinging at your hips.
On each inhale, lengthen your spine.
On each exhale, deepen into your forward bend. Imagine your belly coming to rest on your thighs, rather than your nose coming to your knees. This will help you keep your spine long.
Keep the neck as the natural extension of your spine, neither cranking it to look up nor letting it go completely.
Take hold of your ankles or shins, whichever you can reach. You can use a strap around your feet. You can also grab your big toes and gaze at them. Do whatever feels best. Keep your feet flexed strongly throughout.
Research shows that Seated Forward Bend can not only help to relieve feelings of anxiety and stress, but also deal with the associated symptoms such as tiredness and headaches.
And last, but not least, Corpse Pose:
6. Corpse pose – The most important pose in yoga.
Corpse Pose (Shavasana) is the asana often used at the end of a yoga practice and/or class. Not only is this important because it allows the body to absorb and integrate the benefits of your practice into your muscle memory, mind and nervous system but it also allows the physical body (heart rate and blood pressure) and nervous system to return to baseline. This is a critical part of any healthy yoga practice.
Shavasana calms the nervous system and promotes equanimity in your entire body. Fatigued muscles get to relax, tense shoulders and jaws soften, and the eyes quiet down to reflect a quieter state of mind. Shavasana helps relieve mild depression, high blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.
How to do Shavasana:
Lie down on your back, letting your arms and legs flop naturally. Close your eyes and let your body sink into the surface beneath you. Now concentrate on your breathing, and relaxing each area of the body.
Before you come out of Savasana, take a mental snapshot of how you feel on every level. Ask yourself what you’d like to take with you from your practice, and what you might like to leave behind. Seal these observations into your psyche with an inner smile, and then enjoy a deep inhale to awaken and emerge into your day. Now take a moment to notice that you feel more rested, awake, and alive than you did before.
Make it a habit to do these yoga poses at least 4-5 times a week. Keep breathing and focusing on all that you have accomplished. As you open yourself up to the moment, you gain confidence and self-awareness. Allow yourself to feel joy, even in the midst of deep suffering. This is a great life paradox – Joy is possible even in times when challenges seem insurmountable.
Repeat a mantra that brings you joy. Stay curious. Curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. New beginnings. Each day is a new opportunity. Be Well. Namaste.