Anxiety and Yoga

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It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression. Stress, anxiety and depression causes a fight or flight response in our bodies which, when present for too long, can result in many other health problems including persistent pain and gut troubles

Yoga is an amazing form of exercise and lifestyle as it encompasses both the mind and the body as a whole. Practicing yoga is suggested to help correct the imbalance of your autonomic nervous system.  Improving the balance of the fight/flight response (sympathetic nervous system) and the rest/digest response (parasympathetic nervous system).  Through physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation, yoga can be used for wide range of ailments or as a preventative and maintenance of good overall health and wellbeing. It is in fact often used as a complementary form of treatment for conditions such as chronic pain and IBS, and is frequently used in research for stress, anxiety and physical ailments.

By bringing attention to your breath and the movement of your body, as are encouraged during a yoga class, you are practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness brings you to the present where you are currently safe and there is no need for your brain to protect you from past or potential danger. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which allows our muscles to relax, our inflammatory levels to lower and our gut to digest our food more efficiently.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, try this simple breathing exercise to help calm the nervous system and restore balance in the body and mind.

Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, with the eyes closed and a straight spine.  Inhale from the base of your stomach feeling the stomach rise like you’re blowing up a balloon. Keep inhaling, sending the breath upwards through the chest, feeling the ribs moving outwards, sideways and backwards. Finally send the breath all the way to the collarbones, filling the lungs as full as they will go. Exhale slowly, feeling the body release all the way down to the base of the stomach. Aim for each inhale and exhale to be as slow as possible (4-8 counts or longer).  Focus on your breath, noticing the sensations and parts of the body which move as you breathe. Don’t feel disheartened if your mind wonders time and time again. Being aware of this and then coming back to the breath IS mindfulness.  Repeat 10 times and check in with how you feel afterwards.

Please remember you are not alone. If you are struggling to control anxiety or depression, or feel overwhelmed with stress can self-refer to your local mental health service https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/.  I did and it’s the best thing I could have done.  They are here to help.

Hannah Barrett’s e-book Strength Through Yoga is available for £39.99 at www.yogagirllondon.com 

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