yoga and meditation for anxiety: the super basics

It seems more and more I’m hearing stories of people being referred to yoga by their sister/therapist/best friend from college/naturopath/six year old who attends a super progressive grade school/etc. to find relief from depression, anxiety, and the like.

The aforementioned topics are pillars of why YTC was founded in the first place, are experience on a sliding scale by most everyone at some point or another, and I am SUPER commonly asked things like:

“Is yoga good for me if I’m sad?"
”What yoga poses will help my anxiety?”
”I probably shouldn’t do yoga if I’m depressed, since it just makes you calm, right?”

For these reasons, and in response to these questions and all the rest like them, I’m here to offer some super basic answers.

This particular post is for people curious about yoga basics related to anxiety. If you’re experiencing depression you may find more helpful information here.

As you read on, please keep in mind these are “blanket tips” based on my studies and experiences. Still, what works for me may not work for you. What works for many may not work for you. Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes, so I’d encourage you to try things, see what works for you, continue practicing what does, and let go of what doesn’t — no judgement necessary. With all that said, here we go!

Erik Brolin

Erik Brolin

If you’re feeling anxious:

DO linger a while longer in forward folds and grounding twists, such as child’s pose and supine twist, as they can be calming, PNS-stimulating poses
DO practice 1:2 breathing, where your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, for an instant calming effect (bonus if you can safely do this breathing with your eyes closed)
DO try out “Restorative” and Yin style yoga classes, as they can be extremely calming and quieting

DON’T linger too long in backbends, as these asanas tend to be extremely energizing
DON’T attend too many “vinyasa” style yoga classes, as they may over-excite an already excited nervous system and leave you feeling exhausted and stressed
DON’T do yoga to music, instead try moving to the sound of your breath or nature, as this may allow you to more easily tune in to the body and the present moment

As a final note, I just want to hammer in that these are super basic, blanket tips to get someone feeling anxious headed in the right yogic direction for their state of mind. To say do more forward folding certainly isn’t equal to saying only do forward folds. Yoga is truly about balance. If you can think of anxiety as +1, balance as 0, and depression as -1, these tips are simply designed to move you more from a +1 into a state of balance, your “zero”. If you overdo it, you’ll skip right over balance and instead head into lethargy, boredom, or even depression. Listen to your body, notice how you feel after the yoga classes you take, the yoga poses you do, the visualizations, the meditations — pay attention to begin to figure out what works for YOU.

Kala MacDonald