Does Yoga Help Anxiety?
The 1 Exercise That Finally Helped Ease My Anxiety
I have always been a worrier. From the small things like the weather to the more serious stuff — you know, like global warming — I sweat it all. And I've been in this frantic state of mind ever since I can remember. My mom tells me this is just who I am; it's part of my personality. But who wants to be a ball of nerves all the time? Not me.
Yet after months (OK, more like years) of experimenting with different anxiety-easing methods — therapy, coloring, list-writing . . . you name it, I've tried it — I've finally found something to quiet my worrisome mind. That something is yoga. Now don't get me wrong, I am by no means a yogi (more like a wannabe yogi), but with every class, I can feel my mind turning down the volume on my anxiety. More importantly, I can feel myself becoming stronger, both mentally and physically. And oh, how liberating it feels!
If you, too, are at wit's end with thoughts constantly rattling around, I challenge you to roll out a mat and give yoga a go. You most likely won't feel a difference right away, but give it time and the change will come. Trust me, as someone with 26 years of worrying experience, this calming practice can work wonders if you give it the chance. Below are three ways yoga has helped tidy up my messy mind.
1. I've captured control of my inner thoughts.
My first yoga class was a total wreck. My noisy, nagging brain wouldn't simmer down. I kept thinking about all I needed to get done that day. That week. That month. Even thoughts of the coming years were starting to creep in. Yet I quickly realized that if I was going to one day reap the rewards of serenity, I would have to embrace mindfulness. But how?
I challenged myself to only focus on the mat. Not the room. Not the people perfecting the poses in front of me. Just me and my island of foam. And for 60 minutes, that's what I slowly learned to do. But because focusing on the present moment felt so soothing, I sought out ways to be mindful outside of yoga. I challenged myself to switch up little things throughout my day. Whether it was walking down a new street or forcing myself to actually take a lunch break and step outside for fresh air, by becoming more aware of my surroundings, I captured more control of my mind instead of allowing my mind to completely control me.
2. I can harness the power of breathing.
I once heard a yoga teacher direct a class to "inhale the good sh*t and exhale the bullsh*t." I laughed at the time (which helped me get through that moment's Chair Pose), but that saying has stuck with me like glue. In fact, it's become somewhat of my mantra. Think about it: when you breathe in positivity, that energy has power over your thoughts. And the same goes with negativity. So get those negative vibes out!
At the studio where I regularly attend classes, we take a lot of collective breaths together during our practice. The instructor will tell us to exhale everything out of our lungs. Next, take a deeeeep inhale and hold it. Breathe in one more sip of air and then let it all go with a big "H-A." Talk about a meditative feeling. Try it, you'll see!
Before yoga, I wasn't aware of the healing power breathing can have on the mind. But now that I see this glorious light, I can't begin to tell you how many times I use these techniques in my everyday. When I have control over my breath, I find control over my thoughts and the cycle continues.
3. I've gained a new sense of patience.
Nothing happens quickly in yoga. Even after months of practice, I am still far from a euphoric state of mind. My thoughts still often ripple through any given Downward Dog. I am still far from those acro-yoga tricks. Come to think of it, I still haven't mastered the forearm headstand. I have a long way to go, but that's the point. Yoga isn't just a beautiful practice, it's a way of life.
If you look at the practice as a whole, it can be overwhelming, but if you take it one step at a time — one day at a time — you will improve your skills. With diligence, practice, and patience, your mind will become more balanced. Your thoughts will slow down. Ultimately, you will carve the path to becoming your own warrior rather than worrier.
Ready for Child's Pose yet?