It’s not unusual for someone who suffers from anxiety to also suffer from depression, and vice versa. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 to 44, affecting 6.7% of American adults 18 and older. On the other hand, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 3.1% of the US population and often co-occurs with major depression.
Yoga has been widely recognized as a way to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, reportedly helping some practitioners adopt a more positive attitude toward life. Practicing yoga and moving the body has many physical benefits and there are also various benefits that yoga can have when it comes to mental health.
According to a Harvard University publication, yoga has been proven helpful in reducing anxiety and depression by helping regulate a person’s stress response system. With the ability to lower blood pressure and improve the quality of the breath, certain yoga poses in particular may help provide you with the means to cope with and alleviate anxiety and depression.
Here are some fundamental poses that help regulate the stress response system:
1. Child Pose
This basic posture helps relieve tension in the hips and lower back. By resting the forehead down on the ground or on a prop, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, producing a relaxation response.
Find a child’s pose by starting in a table top position, on all fours. Bring your big toes together and your knees apart. Sit the hips back on the heels and rest the torso in between the knees and thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you and take 5-10 deep breaths. With each breath, try to expand the ribcage in every direction, sending the breath to your sides and to your back as well as the belly and the chest.
2. Downward Facing Dog
This is another foundational pose that lengthens the spine, strengthens the arms and shoulders and stretches the hamstrings. This pose is considered an inversion, helping blood circulate to the brain. This inversion of your blood flow is instantly energizing, and counters symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Start on the hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and lift the hips back and up, so your body is making an upside down ‘V’ shape. The feet should be hips-width distance apart but don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the floor. You can even bend your knees if you have tight hamstrings. Suck the belly in, firmly press the floor away and relax the neck and shoulders away from the ears. To warm up, peddle out the feet and bend one knee at a time. Then hold steady for 5 deep breaths.
3. Bridge Pose
This backbend and chest opener help open the front line of the body. In bridge pose, the back of the neck, where we naturally hold a lot of tension, is stretched. Holding this pose can relieve that tension and ease symptoms of depression.
Start laying on your back. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the ground hips-width apart. Reach your hands toward your heels. On an inhale, press into your feet and lift the hips up off the ground. Strengthen the thighs and tuck your shoulders underneath to help you press up higher. The hands can interlace behind your back, reach for the heels, or press into the ground. Hold for five breaths.
4. Standing Forward Fold
Dropping the head below the heart has a calming effect on the mind and body. In a standing forward fold, the body can quickly relax and get a stretch of the entire back line: from the hamstrings all the way up to the back of the neck. The pose may also help ease headaches and chronic fatigue.
Start standing with your feet hips-width apart and your hands on your hips. Bend your knees, hinge at the hips, and fold forward. Drop your hands onto the floor or grab opposite elbows and let your head and neck hang heavy. You can sway the torso from side to side, and try to stay inverted for about one minute.
Research suggests that the practice of yoga modulates the body’s stress response and can be helpful for both anxiety and depression. The scientific study of yoga indicates that mental and physical health are not only closely related, but are essentially two sides of the same coin. In addition, the holistic approach and low-risk involved in practicing yoga makes it an appealing option to manage anxiety and depression.
Michelle Kirel aspires to share with as many people as possible the necessary tools to maintain a healthy, strong and resilient lifestyle. Michelle has a lifelong passion for yoga. She was exposed to yoga at an early age by her mother who is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor. It was during college when she started practicing daily and falling in love with the feeling that comes after a yoga class. Following graduation, Michelle completed her 200 hr certification training in Vinyasa Yoga to dive deeper into the ancient tradition. She currently combines her understanding of yoga with Neurokinetic Therapy to help people treat chronic pain, injuries and postural imbalances.