Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
Yoga can help treat depression and anxiety: yogis recommend certain poses that are especially good to alleviate stress and promote relaxation. The Huffington Post recently published an article featuring six anxiety- and depression-relieving poses: Elena Brower of Virayoga recommended child’s pose, legs up the wall, forward bend, backbend, cat pose, and headstand.
In child’s pose, you sit on your knees with your feet touching your bottom. You then put your chest against your knees and your forehead to the floor (or your yoga mat). You can stretch your arms out in front of you or put them alongside your body. Legs up the wall involves lying on your back while you stretch your legs up a wall and rest them there. Your butt should be up close to the wall, if not touching it. To do forward bend, lean forward with your legs straight (if you can; if not, bend your knees slightly) and touch your toes, or get as close as possible to touching them without straining. Hang there and breathe. Backbends can be done in several ways: Elena Brower recommends doing them over an exercise ball. With your feet on the floor, sit on the ball and bend backwards, raising your hands over your head, until your hands touch the floor behind you. In cat pose, you’ll be on all fours, and arching your back like a cat. Headstands are difficult poses: you can use a wall to prop yourself up if it’s too hard to balance on your own.
Breathing techniques are also useful in combating anxiety. The rapid breathing that often comes along with anxiety can be calmed by lengthening the amount of time you exhale as compared to the amount of time you spend inhaling. There have even been studies on breathing’s effect on panic attacks: the research suggested that left-nostril breathing could help alleviate OCD symptoms. The practice of left-nostril breathing is tied to ayurvedic medicine: practitioners believe that the left nostril is linked to the nervous system and the brain. Left-nostril breathing involves inhaling through the left nostril while closing the right nostril with your thumb. You then close your left nostril with your thumb while releasing your right nostril, and then exhale slowly through the right nostril. There’s a variation of this where you alternate nostrils to breathe in: this method is also useful for calming anxiety.
Kirtan, or yogic devotional singing, can be useful for anxious people, as can prayer – the key is to find an activity that takes you out of yourself and focuses you on something besides your anxiety, while relaxing you. Meditation falls into this category: while you teach yourself not to focus on worrying thoughts, you also train yourself to calm your mind and gain perspective on your anxious feelings.