This Saturday is the first day of autumn, a time when I feel anxiety levels rising as we shift from the easy, relaxed schedule of summer to the more rigid days of school and work. Whatever the reason for the stress fest, as this happens, sleep and breathing become more difficult, which in turn creates more anxiety—it’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken!
Naturally, I prescribe yoga as the fix. You can try alternate nostril breathing to ease anxiety and calm a busy brain that doesn’t want to stop bouncing around. There are also a bunch of poses geared toward grounding and stilling the mind. Here are a few of my favorites. I recommend doing them all if you have time, or picking a few of your favorites whenever your thoughts won’t stop running around or your anxiety starts to climb.
While these are technically two poses, one is not often done without the other to counter. Alternating between these several times in a row solidly links your breath to your movement and calms the mind. Cat/cow repetitions also relieve any abdominal cramping caused by anxiety.
Come to all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. On an inhale, look up and arch spine, rolling shoulders away from ears for cow. As you exhale, press the floor away with hands and knees, and round your spine (like an angry Halloween cat; see this cat pose image). Do at least five complete breath cycles (five inhales/cats and five exhales/cows).
Open both the hips and shoulders—two places that tighten when we’re anxious—and improve focus with this pose.
From down dog, step right foot forward, spin back heel down, and inhale arms up to frame head in warrior one. Then allow hands to fall behind you, clasp them behind sacrum, take a big inhale to open chest, and use your exhale to fold yourself inside of your right knee. Stay here for at least five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold
Do this introspective pose when you want to generate self-reflection.
From a seated position, extend legs long in front of you and together. Keeping knees soft, take a deep breath to fill yourself with space, and use your exhale to lean forward into the space you just created. If you have a tight lower back, sit on a block or blanket. Take at least five deep breaths here.
Backbends across the board open the chest and increase the size of your breath. However, active backbends can be very exhilarating, and that can increase anxiety. In this supported variation, the chest area is able to expand without any of the effort needed for an active backbend, leading to relaxation.
While sitting, place a medium-height block behind you vertically beneath where your shoulder blades will lay and place another block behind that one vertically to use as a pillow for your head. (Use lower blocks if this height doesn’t feel great on your back.) Allow your body to gently rest on the blocks, adjusting their placement until you are comfortable, with arms resting on either side. If you would like to lower the head block down a level (as shown), that will open your chest and back even more. Stay here for at least five deep breaths.
Erase any negative energy or unwanted thoughts with twists. With each exhale, picture yourself wringing out like a sponge, getting rid of what you don’t want or need in your body or mind.
Lying on the ground, hug right knee into chest, “T” arms out to either side, and allow right knee to fall to the left. You can stay with a neutral neck or, if it feels good, look to the right. You can also take left hand to right thigh to allow the weight of your hand to ground your twisted leg. Stay here for at least five deep breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
Legs up the Wall
This pose allows your nervous system to chill, reroutes circulation, grounds you, and brings you back to the present.
Sit sideways next to a wall and then lie down on side, facing away from the wall with butt touching it. Using arms, lift legs up the wall as you roll over onto back. Allow arms to fall on either side of you. Palms can face up for openness or face down for an extra level of grounding. Stay here for at least five breaths or, if you feel good, as long as you like.
Headstand increases the circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain, calming the mind. As it is not safe for all necks to do headstand, I recommend this supported variation against the wall.
Measure a leg’s distance away from the wall to determine where to put elbows. Face away from the wall on all fours. Place forearms on the ground, make a basket with hands, and gently rest head on the ground, lightly pressing back of head into hands. From there, walk feet up the wall until body is in an “L” position. If you have a sensitive neck, press firmly into forearms so that head is just above the ground. Stay here for at least five deep breaths, then come down and take a child’s pose for at least five deep breaths to counterbalance the headstand, normalize circulation, and calm the mind even more.
Photos: Vera Boykewich