Most of us are familiar with the tightening feeling in our chest, or an ill-feeling in the pit of our stomachs; perhaps our breath will quicken until we’re nearly gasping for air and in desperate need of a break. That’s anxiety and we all experience it at some point in our lives, often at inopportune moments. 

In a time of anxiety, we can turn to yoga as a way to manage symptoms, and in turn, find a plethora of benefits to adding yoga to our weekly, or even daily, routine. Here are five ways yoga can help with your anxiety:

1) Yoga Moderates the Heart Rate and Breathing

One of the most well-known characteristics of yoga is the focus on the breath; you will always hear your instructor reminding you to "breathe into" wherever you feel a pull in your body, and there is a reason for that. 

Pranayama helps to manage the breathing, and there are many ways to do so, but the easiest one is simply remembering to do it. Breathe in. Breathe out. 

By regulating your breath, you are, in turn, managing a major symptom of anxiety: short, perhaps shaky, or quick, breaths. When you slow down your breathing, you are already alleviating some of the anxiety, causing you discomfort. 

A study at Harvard has also confirmed that breathing practices in yoga help to slow down the quickened heartbeat associated with anxiety. If you can sit comfortably in a seated position and place your palms on your chest, you will eventually feel your heart rate returning to its resting state.

2) Yoga Promotes Muscle Relaxation

An optimal yoga sequence for anxiety will include poses or asanas that will help you stretch each part of your body, and then ending with a Savasana or Corpse pose, to deeply relax your body and mind. 

As you stretch your chest and back in Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), your legs in Upavistha Konasana (Seated Forward Bend), or as you make a deep twist in Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes), you will feel your body loosening and preparing for relaxation. 

While some people may prefer a release through a more physical outlet, such as through a traditional workout, when you practice yoga your focus is not tensing the muscles through exercise but relaxing them to ward off the physical symptoms of anxiety. You may find pockets of tension throughout your body when you are anxious, such as in your back, your shoulders, your neck, or your chest; by partaking in a slower, deeper form of yoga, your muscles can begin to relax. 

Savasana, a common finishing pose in yoga, is an excellent way to make sure every part of your body, from head to toe, has benefited from your practice. This asana is perfect to close the practice as it allows your body and mind to fully deeply relax.

3) Yoga Encourages you to Focus on the Breath and the Body

Yoga soothes the mind. You can forget about your worldly struggles and focus on your body, and your breath. 

We've already talked about the physical benefits of yoga for decreasing the feelings of anxiety, but how does yoga help your mind? 

When suffering from anxiety, we often feel like we need an escape, but many things that offer us an escape are unhealthy to our bodies, and do not actually provide any benefits; they may hurt us more than help us. However, when we begin to practice yoga, we find that the outside world melts away, and we can embrace ourselves and everything that we are; we are not meaning to rid ourselves of anxiety by practicing yoga, but by focusing on the breath and body, we can welcome peace and acceptance into our minds. Rather than focus on what ails us, we focus on what helps us; we focus on the four corners of our foot in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and how it roots us to the ground, and not on how it will hurt if we fall.

4) Yoga Opens Blocked Chakras Related to Anxiety

Imagine seven wheels in your body, churning efficiently, relying on one another to move energy from the head to the tailbone; when that energy moves freely, you feel balanced and spirited. Now, imagine if one or two of those wheels become stuck, and can no longer move that energy throughout the other chakras – what happens to that energy? 

Energy is no longer effortlessly running throughout your body, but becomes stranded in some parts, and concentrated in others. This is known as a blocked chakra. 

There are seven major chakras in the human body, and two that are related to anxiety are the throat and solar plexus chakra, or Visuddha and Manipura. Specific poses can help unblock our Visudda and Manipura, such as Child's pose (Balasana), Bow pose (Dhanurasana), or Boat pose (Navasana). Simhasana, or Lion's pose, is another wonderful asana that forces the breath out of your lungs by breathing with your mouth open wide and tongue sticking out – like a yawning lion! By addressing your throat and solar plexus chakras, you can help address your anxiety.

5) Yoga Improves Your Mood

Anxiety is marked with your "fight-or-flight" response, where adrenaline courses through your veins at any event that evokes frustration, fear, or nervousness. 

You can see that yoga almost has the opposite effect; practicing yoga increases dopamine and serotonin production, two chemicals associated with improving your mood. Dopamine is known as the "reward" hormone and helps you feel good, while serotonin can help balance your mood and anxiety levels. 

Yoga also focuses on acceptance and mindfulness, two notions that will help you feel more at peace with yourself and your place in the world. While we cannot say that yoga will help you to get rid of anxiety completely, we can say that by welcoming yoga into our lives, we are accepting ourselves, even when we are suffering. When we practice yoga, we find it's okay to give in to our anxiety; to cry; to admit to ourselves that we have had a hard day, and then we will be able to let it go easier.

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