When I was a kid I would talk…a lot. I mean, a whole lot. It was kind of annoying for my family and it was really annoying for the few friends I had. And the more I talked, the louder I got. I didn’t realize it, though. To me, I was just sharing my thoughts with those around me that I felt safe to be with.
Other times, around those I didn’t feel so safe with or worried might ridicule me, I wouldn’t talk at all. But my thoughts kept right on, around and around and around.
Faster and faster. Louder and louder.
I discovered later that this was a symptom of my anxiety. It took many more years to admit aloud to my therapist that I had anxiety and depression. Now that I am further down this road, I have systems and tools in place that help me to manage my anxiety and depression and the stress that causes or triggers them. My number one go-to is yoga.
What does stress + anxiety do to your brain?
I could write a whole term paper about this subject and still not cover it fully. But instead of giving myself that stress and to save myself some anxiety (see what I did there?) I’m going to cliff-notes it for you.
Stress and anxiety activate the fight/flight/freeze response in our nervous system. This instinct is meant to be activated for only a short time. However, if we do not remove the stress or cause of anxiety, this response stays slightly “on,” causing our brains to work less efficiently, impairing our abilities to make rational decisions, and even causing degeneration of the hippocampus.
This sounds really serious, and it is. However, we can take steps to prevent this from happening, and in some cases, reverse the damage that has already occurred.
(Cue doom and gloom music)
Jeez, that was heavy.
Yoga to the Rescue!
The great news is that yoga can not only prevent this from happening by reducing stress and tension but over time it can build a resilience that protects you from feeling anxiety and stress in some situations.
Again, I am not preaching that yoga cures generalized or clinical anxiety. But it sure helps.
When you move the body and connect that movement with your breath, it causes the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, releasing that low-grade fight/flight/freeze state to dissipate. Further, it releases hormones necessary in repairing brain tissue and allows you to move into a space of restoration, rather than survival.
In other words, when you do yoga, you release tension you may not even realize is there. And when the tension is gone, your body can recover more quickly. That goes for your brain too.
Poses to Ease Stress and Anxiety
Here are some great poses you can try to begin to ease the tension that is caused by constant stress and anxiety:
1. Seated Side Bends
Seated in a way that feels good for you, cross-legged, or one foot in front or on top of the other, take a moment to tap into your breath. When you feel ready, inhale your arms up to the sky. As you exhale, tip over like a teapot to one side (doesn't matter which) and rest that hand on the ground, or your elbow if that feels good. Breath in this space, maybe moving the topmost arm in a way that feels good to you. When it feels right, inhale the arms up to center overhead, then tip over to the other side. Do the same, moving the arm if it feels good, breathing into the side of the body. After a few breaths come back up.
2. Seated forward fold
In this seated position, walk your hands forward and bow your head. Go as far as you feel comfortable, which might mean you can put your elbows on the ground or even your forehead. If not, that's great. Just breathe here, maybe swaying from side to side if it feels nice. Stay here as long as you like and when you're ready, gently come back up to a seated position.
3. Cat & Cow Pose
Coming into a tabletop position, with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, inhale and send the heart forward, gazing forward. Belly droops and tailbone turns up. As you exhale, reverse this, sending the spine high, belly button to spine. Head droops and tailbone turns under. Move through these two poses, using your breath to guide you. 3-5 cycles or as long as you like.
4. child's pose
From tabletop pose, send your hips back towards your heels and your arms forward on the mat. Allow your head to bow to the mat, or use a block or prop to lift your forehead. Breathe here, noticing how the breath expands the back side of the body and softens as you exhale. Stay here as long as you like, 5-10 breaths.
Laying on your back, turn your palms up at your sides. Legs are slightly wider than hip width, and the toes flop outwards. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Let the earth hold you for a while. Breathe and feel the edges of where your body connects with the ground below you. Breathe into those edges. Release. Relax. Stay here as long as you like. 3-7 minutes.
Bogus! These yoga poses didn’t work!
(Wait…did I really say Bogus!?!)
Sometimes it is really difficult to get out of your head and into your body. I know this from personal experience. However, yoga is called a practice for a reason. As long as it doesn’t feel bad or painful, I would stick with this for a little while. Or attend a class specifically designed for stress relief. That way the teacher can guide you through the poses so you don’t have to think about them too much.
If yoga gives you more stress and anxiety, or if the practice is painful, check with your doctor or therapist to see if there is another way to ease the anxiety and/or stress that you are feeling. Reach out and talk to someone about it so that you can get the help you need to ease back into a less stressful place.
What are some other ways to ease stress and anxiety?
There are lots of ways you can activate your parasympathetic system so that you can move out of the fight/flight/freeze response and into restoration and release. Here are just a few:
- Hug someone you love
- Read a book that you enjoy
- Turn off your phone for a while
- Take a Social Media vacation
- Exercise: walk, run, dance, swim, hike, jump rope, kayak, etc.
- Color, draw, paint, sculpt, knit, crochet, sew, or any other art form
Now you want to start yoga, don't you? I can tell you do.
But your brain says, “I don’t know how to do yoga! It’s so confusing with those YouTube videos and Pinterest infographics with the girl upside down in her doorway! There’s no way.”
Yes, there is.
Join me for Your Yoga Jumpstart, a *FREE* five-day challenge to get you out of your head and onto your mat with confidence and ease. Each day we will explore a common yoga pose, fun variations and ways to make that pose work for your body and brain.
It all starts as soon as you sign up here: