Therapeutic Yoga can be whatever you’d like it to be. The reason it was given this name, is because it is exactly that: THERAPY.
Across varying populations concerning a multitude of different ailments and conditions, Yoga has been shown to prevent, reduce, or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional, and spiritual pain, suffering, and limitations*. In fact, a study in 2005 showed that anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults aged 18 and older*!
We’ve reached the end of 2020, and the beginning of a completely new year, but we cannot forget or ignore the fact that 2020 was quite a challenging year for most if not all of us. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a poll released in October 2020 showed that 62% of Americans feel more anxious than they did at this time last year! Although we can’t change what has happened in the world, we can change how we react to it. Our first reaction may be fear, anxiety, or stress, but can we find a way to prevent or proactively work on this? Absolutely!
What Does Yoga Do?
Yoga is a 3000-year-old tradition and is not regarded in the Western world as a holistic approach to health. In fact, it’s classified as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the National Institutes of Health. Without getting too into the history and root of Yoga, as I do in this blog post, let’s take a look at the effect yoga has on our bodies to alleviate Anxiety.
- Slow and deep breaths stimulate the vagus nerve, a vital part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This counteracts the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which activates our fight/flight/freeze response. When your PNS is dominant, your heartbeat slows, which drops your blood pressure. The more consistent your practice, the more sustainable this is throughout the day, leading to less heart disease and a more calm body and mind.
- Your hormones will thank you! Yoga helps to drop cortisol levels, a hormone released when we experience physical or emotional stress. Too much of this hormone can suppress your immune system, and recent studies show that there is a very real connection between brain and gut health.
- Meditative exercises increase the degree of alpha brain waves, the electrical activity in the brain associated with quiet thoughts, restfulness, calmness, and alertness. In fact, after a yoga practice, you may even notice your attention and hand-eye coordination have improved. With regular practice, this alertness and calmness can become permanent!
Here are a few yoga poses to help melt away your anxiety
No mat needed for this one! Find a lying, seated, or standing position and simply breath for equal counts. For example: Inhale for 4 seconds, Hold for 4 seconds, Exhale for 4 seconds, Hold for 4 seconds. You can even download an app to do this throughout your day: Box Breathing App, Breathe 2 Relax, Universal Breathing are just a few examples. Try this for at least 2 minutes at a time to calm your nervous system.
This pose is my go-to in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Don’t be afraid to move side to side as well. Your spine is likely in a fixed position for most of the day if you work a desk job. Getting your spine moving in different directions helps to lubricate your vertebra to keep your lower, mid, and upper spine strong and mobile. If you aren’t using it, you risk losing it! Nerves that run to the organs and throughout your body come from your spine. It’s important to refresh them with movement so new blood and energy can channel through them to the recipients at the other end of the nerve! Breaks throughout the day to practice Cat/Cow can help if you are experiencing bouts of anxiety or stress.
Yes, lots of animal poses! This pose helps you with coordination, core stability, and practices your patience. Starting in a tabletop position, try to keep the spine stable as you lift your arm up next to your ear. Follow that by lifting the opposite leg behind you. Has your spine arched? If so, keep the foot on the ground. The amount of thought you need to put into this is enough to help you forget about whatever anxiety you have on your mind. If you are suffering from generalized anxiety, challenge yourself throughout the day with different versions of this pose, for example: hold onto an object in one hand, or try to lift both the arm and leg from the same side. You might get a laugh out of falling over a few times!
This strengthening pose technically counts as an inversion, so you’ll get the same benefits of a handstand without having to do one! Inversions are great for building concentration, circulation, and balancing out our fight-or-flight response. Lying on your back, Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels close to the sitting bones. Press your feet and arms actively into the floor as you firm your butt and lift it off the ground. Again, focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position. Avoid arching the back! Hold for 30 seconds to a minute or get in 15-20 repetitions to get your heart pumping.
As long as you’ve got access to a wall or a chair, this pose is always available to you! Lying on the ground, I like to put a pillow or block under my sacrum (the bone on the part of your lower back that connects to your butt), and then swing my legs up the wall as if you are the letter “L”. It may not look like much, but a lot is happening here. Lymph and other fluids that can lead to swollen ankles, tired knees, and congested pelvic organs flow into the lower belly, refreshing the legs and the reproductive area. Best of all, no warm-up or cool-down is required! This one is great while meditating or trying to wind down after work.
In conclusion, it looks like there is hope for Yoga in the remainder of 2020 and the foreseeable future, but it has yet to be thoroughly studied in colored populations, as most of the legitimate studies I’ve found include small sample sizes of majority-white participants. It would be far better to see these studies conducted in colored communities, low-wage regions. It’s those places where yoga is not affordable, and different countries, like this study that was conducted on women living in Iran. In the end, we are all one community, and it’s empowering to know that we can share this *free* medicine with our neighbors next door or across the globe.