Yes, Yoga Can Help With Anxiety and Depression—Here's Exactly How
Claire Fountain—celebrity yoga teacher, personal trainer, and wellness expert—founded #TrillYoga with her unorthodox approach to break stigmas and stereotypes in the yoga and wellness space. After getting into yoga for depression and anxiety, she has always been a mental health advocate beyond all her fitness endeavors. She also has an ebook series called Built and Bendy that promotes strength training and flexibility, mindfulness, and leading your health goals from a positive place.
Since May is Mental Health Month, it's both timely and important to note that the reason I got into yoga to begin with was because of depression and anxiety that had manifested into a pretty serious eating disorder. Once my health was stabilized, and even in the process, yoga and meditation became constants. I started yoga knowing it was good for me but not really knowing how or why. Over the next few years, I don’t know if yoga saved me or if yoga gave me the tools to save myself, but I started seeing all the ways the practice was helping me with my depression and anxiety.
I think many people know yoga is good for mental health issues but aren’t sure how or why or even where to start. One in five Americans struggles with mental health conditions, and women are more likely to suffer from these than men. Women are even 40% more likely to develop depression. Even if you or those you love are not affected by things such as depression and anxiety, there’s a chance you have encountered stress, worry, and some not-so-positive feelings.
How does yoga help then? Yoga is a mind-body exercise or series of poses that focus the attention inward. Some might call it a moving meditation that centers the thoughts and can create a sense of calm and wholeness. Yoga forces us to be present and control our breathing. Consciously working on our breathing can slow the heart rate, reduce stress, and quiet the mind. This type of breathing can be used anytime and anywhere you need to recenter or calm yourself. You might also gain a bit more clarity or even patience.
Below are some poses that can help with releasing stress and getting through anxiety and depression. Combine them into a flow if you’d like, making sure to repeat on the left and right sides. The most important part of yoga for anxiety or depression is to focus on the breathing and stay consistent. It’s not a one-practice or one-pose fix-all, but with continued practice, yoga can help ease depression and anxiety, and support mental health overall.
This is a time to begin to focus on your breathing, deep in and out of the nose, all the way to fill up your belly. Allow your ribs to go wide as you fill your body with air. Exhale fully.
Tip: Sit on a block or find a variation that allows you to relax here. Starting in an uncomfortable, tense position will not help you get into a peaceful meditative state for yoga.
Stand upright with your palms open at your sides. This full-body pose grounds and stabilizes you. Feel free to close your eyes as you open your palms and keep your entire body strong.
Tip: Slightly tuck your tailbone under as you keep your ribs down, shoulders back, neck long, and core right.
Consider this a resting pose that is soothing and safe.
Tip: Bring your big-toe ball mounts together, knees wide, and press your hips back and over your heels. Extend your arms outward, or if you have tight shoulders, create a pillow with your crossed forearms.
Lying on your mat, bring your heels toward your hips, and press through your inner feet on an exhale, lifting your hips. Keep your thighs and feet parallel. Stay on the tops of your shoulders by clasping your hands under your pelvis (under your body). Roll your spine down gently to exit the pose.
For strengthening and focus, this pose integrates the upper and lower body, and builds strength in the legs, knees, and ankles.
This pose stretches the hips deeply while opening the chest and shoulders, and requires focus. Interlace your fingers at your tailbone or behind your back in Warrior One. Lift your chest and widen your collarbones. Maintain your balance as you fold forward and allow your arms to come overhead, or lift as much as comfortably possible. Release your head and neck. Come out of this pose the same way you got into it with strength and balance.
This pose stretches the chest, abdomen, and shoulders—a heart opener. It's said to illuminate our insights.
Tip: Keep your toes tucked under and hands on your low back to modify, pushing your hips forward as you lift up, and then start to open your chest/heart.
This pose is balancing and calming. It creates an opposite stretch for Camel through the upper back, shoulders, and neck. Keep your gaze inward as you're starting the pose, and grab your heels with your hands. Bring your forehead as close your knees as you're able to. Roll forward onto the crown of your head as your hips come off your heels.
Supported Corpse Pose/Relaxation
This is a favorite for relaxation but one that can be modified. Feel free to support your body with blankets or props. You can also bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides in a reclined Cobbler's Pose (like a butterfly stretch).
Lie on your back, close your eyes, and move your attention back to your breath. Try to make your exhales twice as long as your inhales. Relax the muscles of your face and body, and allow yourself to “melt” into the floor that is supporting you. Stay here a few minutes.
Always remember to take Savasana. Final relaxation might be the highest form of practice and the most rewarding bit of meditation you give yourself.
Click here to see the best yoga poses to help soothe your cramps.