Yoga and Anxiety

Anxiety. Many of us suffer with it, carrying it with us in our tight chests and hunched shoulders, our minds chasing themselves as we clench our hands in jacket pockets and do our best to go about the day.  It shows up in bitten fingernails and hot flushes, in panic attacks about missing socks or running late for work. It isn’t easy. We still need to go to work, do the shopping, cook our dinner and pay our bills with that uneasy feeling in our chests and that panic at our heels. So what can help us?


Yoga, Yes Yoga!




A regular yoga practice is going to help the anxious souls, the deep thinkers and the worriers in a multitude of ways. Firstly, yoga is a practice of mindfulness, of conscious breath. Yoga reminds me to breathe. It’s simple, but it works. On particularly anxious days I find I forget to breathe deeply, so stopping and actually filling my lungs with air feels like drinking water after hiking through the desert. It’s like I forget that I have time to truly breathe deeply, starving myself with shallow breaths as I rush down the street, texting at the same time.


What’s more, in yoga we combine conscious breathe with movement, moving our bodies in time with our breath. Breath in, reach the arms up. Breath out, fold. Breath in, lengthen. Breath out, fold. This regular pattern, this synchronicity gives me something to focus on, fosters a feeling of order and balance within my own body. This is incredibly valuable, as so often anxiety makes me feel out of control – both in the world I find myself in but also my own bodies, as racing heart and chattering mind are hard to slow and quieten.


Anxiety can take a real physical toll, to which yoga can really help. Those tight chests and hunched shoulders need help to open, to stretch, to release. We store stress and anxiety within our bodies, and unknotting our backs can help us untangle our minds, or learning to open our hearts rather than round our shoulders can give space for confidence and growth. For me, anxiety has tightened my chest and my hips as I subconsciously curl inwards. I am making myself small, but no matter how hard I try, my anxiety isn’t going to vanish from trying to fold in on myself like a cardboard box. And hey, that slouching is not good for my body or my posture. Yoga helps us open, release and strengthen.


I find my needs are different depending on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I need a fast class like a power vinyasa to get myself moving and use up some of that anxious energy. Other times I just need to nurture myself and stretch and breathe with a yin class. If a class is too much for you when you feel anxious, talk to your teacher about some one-on-one classes, or even try a class on Youtube. I personally get a lot out of being present in a yoga class, feeling connected by breath and movement to those around me, and nurtured by my teacher’s gentle adjustments and thoughtful teachings. It is okay to tell your teacher you have anxiety too. They can then keep this in mind and be there to support you.


Most of the people I know who suffer from anxiety feel like they are always rushing. A regular yoga class means you are giving yourself at least one hour in the day to relax. One hour within which you can’t rush around ticking anymore things off your list, so what’s the point in worrying about them? With practice, you will learn to put your worries aside and use this time. You can take your watch off, turn your phone to silent and tap out for a while. Your yoga teacher won’t let you be late, it’s okay to relax.


The biggest gift yoga has given me is trust - in myself and also my place in the world. I found this gift in little phrases said by my teachers, in the realisation I can conquer anxiety with something as simple as my breath. For us deep thinkers and anxious minds, a little more trust in ourselves and the overwhelming world we find ourselves in is a damn good thing. It comes with time, with finding a teacher you really resonate with, and going gently.


Finally, there’s a lot to be said for that special word, Namaste.

“The light in me, sees the light in you.” That’s right. People can see the light in you, even when you’re anxious, you missed your bus, you lost your socks, you were late for work, you drank too much coffee, forgot your Mum’s birthday… whatever it is, people can see the light in you. How great is that.