Well friends, it’s been a doozy of a year. With the global coronavirus pandemic that has impacted all of us and a disheartening string of social and environmental events, mental health and wellbeing have taken a hit. In fact, the CDC reports that reported anxiety among American adults has increased by a shocking amount – from 8.1% to 25.5% since 2019.
For those who have practiced yoga, you likely have experienced the stress-relieving and anxiety-reducing benefits of the practice first hand. I know for me, especially on hard days when the last thing I want to do is get on the mat, by the time I have finished my practice I always feel so much better: in body, mind and heart. In fact, the positive effects of yoga on our overall mental wellbeing are being scientifically studied and proven.
Harvard Medical School writes:
“The scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.”
Yoga has become an accepted tool to help ease anxiety. However, the type of yoga you need may change from day to day. Some days you need to move slowly and softly, somedays you might need to flow and sweat, and other days you may simply need to sit and breathe. Whatever you need today, here are three short yoga practices that you can try at home, each with their own focus.
Grounding and Calming Yoga Sequence
While doing this practice, hold each pose for five to ten deep breaths. You might get a blanket to bring onto your mat for extra support. Turn the lights down low. Play some calming music. Really focus on your breath and the sensations in your body.
Begin in Child's pose, by bringing your shins to the mat, big toes to touch and knees wide. Let your hips sink back over your heels and walk your hands forward on your mat, allowing your chest to melt down to the earth. Bring your forehead to the mat and relax your belly. Breathe deeply.
Child's Pose with Lateral Stretches
Keep your hips where they are in child's pose, but begin to walk your hands to the top left corner of your yoga mat, allowing your chest to follow. Keep your right hip rooted down and breathe into the space created in the right side of your body. You might choose to stack your right hand over your left hand. Breathe here, and then return to center and switch sides.
From your child's pose, push yourself up to your hands and knees for a moment in table top. Then, step your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand and bend the right knee. Keep your left knee on the mat and untuck the left toes. Allow the hips to sink forward. You can stay lifted on your fingers or come down to your forearms. After a few breaths, switch sides.
Transition to your back and hug both knees into your chest, feeling your sacrum rooted down. From here, drop your knees over to the right and shift your gaze to the left. Open your arms wide or in a goal-post shape, keeping your shoulders rooted on the mat. Breathe into the mid-belly, and maybe close your eyes. After a few breaths, return knees to center and switch sides.
Hug both knees into your chest one final time, giving yourself a big squeeze. Perhaps think for a moment about one thing in life that makes you feel grateful. Then, with an exhale breath, extend all your limbs wide on the mat for your final resting pose. Allow your eyes to close. Imagine all your muscles softening. Stay here and rest for 5-10 minutes.
Burn and Let Go Yoga Sequence
For this sequence, the goal is to move quickly and allow the body to build heat. You can repeat the sequence as many times as you’d like until you start to sweat. Move fluidly and freely! Turn the music up loud. Let it all go.
Sun Salutation A (x5)
Sun Salutation A is a common sequence of poses in yoga intended to warm-up the body at the start of a yoga practice. Following the set series of poses shown on the left, move through this sun salutation anywhere from 3-5 times to begin to build heat in the body. Be sure to move with the breath and listen to your body as you move.
Sun Salutation B (x3)
Sun Salutation B is similar to the Sun A sequence, in that it is intended to build heat in the body through a series of repetitive poses. However, Sun B goes a level deeper by adding in chair poses and warrior I pose on each leg.
For this sequence, we recommend completing three Sun B's as you continue to build heat and fire through movement. Embrace the sensation of work and maybe even build up some sweat!
Warrior I, II & III (x2)
After you've moved through your Sun A and Sun B sequences, you should already be feeling warm in the body. Continue to build on this energy by finding a flow through the Warrior Poses. For Warrior I, Bring your right foot to the top of the mat, and ground your left foot down on the back of the mat at a 45 degree angle. Keep your hips square to the front of the mat and extend your arms to the sky, keeping your ribs hugged in.
To move into Warrior II, sweep your left arm open and open your hips to the long side of your mat. You might need to widen your stance slightly, as you continue to press into the knife-edge of your left foot, and bend deeply in your right knee.
From Warrior II, transition to Warrior III by sweeping your left arm forward again and pressing off the ball of your back foot to send your chest forward. Stand into the right leg and lift the left leg off the mat. Your torso and lifted leg should be parallel with the mat. Keep core engaged and breathe.
If you want to move through these movements again, you can transition back into Warrior I from here, by dropping your left foot to the back of the mat. Continue this flow for as long as you wish (we recommend at least twice), then come through a vinyasa and switch sides.
Boat Pose (Pulses x10)
For this last push of heat-building, make your way into boat pose by bringing your sitz bones onto the mat and hovering your shins parallel to the mat, with your torso leaning back and your core engaged. Breathe in boat poses for three breaths, then on an exhale breath lower to low boat pose, by lowering the body so that the heels and shoulders are hovering right over the mat. On an inhale breath, use the core to lift yourself back into boat pose. Continue pulsing in and out of boat and low boat for at least ten rounds of breath.
After your final low boat, see if you can hold yourself in your hover for the count of ten. At the end of the tenth count, take an exhale breath and allow your entire body to lay on the mat, finding your final Savasana. After all that heat-building, you should notice a change in your heart rate, see if you can bring your breath down to a normal rhythm and just relax. Allowing the breath and mind to become calm.
Be Still, Find Peace Yoga Sequence
This yoga practice is not what you may think of on a day to day basis. Because there are no asanas (poses) involved except one: Sukasana or Easy Seat. This yoga is all about the breath, which we'll walk through below. Find a comfortable seat, close your eyes and settle into the space. Maybe you burn incense or play calming music.
Begin this practice in Sukasana, or Easy Seat Pose, as shown above. Feel your seat rooted into the mat or onto a block. On an inhale breath, sit up nice and tall, feeling your crown extend to the sky and your shoulders roll down your back. Maybe you close your eyes and find a comfortable place for your hands.
Begin to tap into the natural rhythm of the breath. Simply noticing where in the body you feel the breath moving – perhaps into the ribs or maybe the low belly. Begin to link the mind to the breath. As other thoughts arise, simply notice them and return back to the breath.
As you breathe, you'll begin to notice that the body becomes softer. As you breathe, you'll notice the mind becoming quieter. If you'd like, you can bring a mantra into your breathing practice, perhaps thinking about a single word that represents some emotions you'd like to cultivate: Joy, Peace, Love, Gratitude.
With each inhale breath repeat the word silently in your mind, and with each exhale breath also repeat the word in your mind. As you silently repeat your mantra, you'll notice if the word brings up any effects in your body or heart. Again, simply noticing, and letting go, returning the mind to the breath and the mantra.
Breathe here for as long as you'd like to, then, as you feel ready, or when your mind feels quiet, you can bring your hands to heart center and close your practice with a final deep, cleansing breath.
As you blink open your eyes, simply notice again how you are feeling, perhaps lighter, quieter, softer. Move slowly as step into the rest of your day or evening.
The world feels a bit harder to manage right now. If you are feeling down or perhaps anxious, then yoga might be a tool you can use to support yourself. Remember that it's okay to not feel okay sometimes, and that we are here for you.
How else are you managing your anxiety and emotions these days? We'd love to chat about it in the comments below.
Be well, dear yogis.
Note: We are not mental health professionals. Yoga is not a proven cure for serious cases of anxiety or depression. If you are struggling, please know that there are resources available to support you. Find out more here: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml