What is it exactly?

Well, occasional anxiety is an expected part of life, for example, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. Sometimes anxiety can become problematic and involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.

The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

There are several types of anxiety disorders and some general symptoms may include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge

  • Being easily fatigued

  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank

  • Being irritable

  • Having muscle tension

  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry

  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep.

The body is always going to have a survival instinct about it, so worry and anxiety are going to be a part of our daily life. But there are deeper movements and practices that allow us to self-regulate even when we realise things are out of control. (Richard Miller)

Many studies have found that a little regular yoga can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. It is believed that yoga is so effective for stress relief because, aside from the physical benefits that yoga brings, it encourages a good mood, an increase in mindfulness, and a healthy dose of self-compassion.

Yoga lowers tension and promotes relaxation. In times of high stress and anxiety, our bodies tend to constrict and out breathing becomes shallow. We start to hold tension in our shoulders, necks, jaws, or elsewhere. Excessive muscular tension can then feed back to our minds and perpetuate the feeling of unease.

When we experience the relaxation benefits of yoga, we can lower our physical tension, which helps release the grip that anxiety can have on us.

Yoga helps us regulate the breath, which is intimately related to our nervous system. When we're anxious we tend to take rapid, shallow breaths, or we might even unconsciously hold our breath and then take big gulping breaths. When we slow and deepen our breathing, we soothe the nervous system. Yoga can teach us to breathe with awareness and to use the breath to move through challenging poses or events in our lives.

Yoga increases bodily awareness. In addition to the relaxing effect that comes directly from a session of yoga, we can also learn greater awareness of our bodies that can further lower our physical tension and stress away from the mat. We often carry unnecessary tension in our bodies, and through the practice of yoga we can get better at recognizing tension and letting go of it.   

Yoga interrupts worry cycles. All of us have had the experience of getting stuck in our heads, and chronic worries can be exhausting. When we step on the yoga mat, we have an opportunity to step out of the thinking mode. Our worries can of course come with us, and yoga gives us the opportunity to practice letting go of the worries and coming back to our bodies and breath, over and over. Through this practice we can learn to let go of our worries at other times, too.

Doing yoga demonstrates self-compassion. When we're stressed and busy, it's easy to stop doing things that are good for us, like exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating well. When we take 20 or 30 minutes to do something kind for ourselves like yoga, we treat ourselves as someone who's worth taking care of. As challenging as yoga can be, the practice is grounded in an acceptance of where we are, to accept our bodies, abilities, and limits just as they are, fostering self - acceptance.

Yoga trains us to accept discomfort. We often move reflexively away from discomfort, and at times this retreat can lead us away from what we value. For example, avoiding activities that cause us anxiety will bleed the life out of our experience.

You may be someone who's heard of the benefits of yoga but you don't feel like it's for you. Maybe you're not very flexible, or you've never done it before, or you did it before and weren't that into it. While yoga isn't for everyone, it is for anyone. Maybe it's worth giving yoga a try, or coming back to it. What we learn from regular practice may benefit us when we're least expecting it. 

While a single session of yoga or meditation can lower your anxiety in the moment, if you want to reduce your tendency to worry and fret for good, consider making these practices a habit.

Have a great day and be kind to yourself!