Does yoga help with anxiety?
As a certified yoga instructor and holistic therapist for a decade, I am a huge advocate of yoga for anxiety management. Clearly, I’m a little biased but for good reason! Yoga has been the subject of various research studies examining its effects on anxiety and stress management. While the results can vary depending on the specific population studied, the type of yoga practiced, and the research methodology, many studies have reported positive outcomes for mental health.
In this post we dive into the benefits of yoga for anxiety, what types of yoga are best for anxiety, specific yoga postures for anxiety, yoga breathing exercises for anxiety, and even a yoga sequence to help decrease anxiety. My hope is you will find some helpful new strategies to help ease stress and anxiety. As with anything I share, take what you need and leave the rest.
What are the benefits of yoga for anxiety?
Reduction in anxiety symptoms: Numerous studies have shown that regular yoga practice can help manage anxiety and other mood disorders. The combination of physical movement, breath work, and relaxation techniques during a yoga session has been shown to have a positive impact on the nervous system, promoting relaxation and decreased feelings of anxiety.
Lowered stress response: Yoga has been found to reduce the body’s stress response by decreasing cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress, and lower cortisol levels have been associated with reduced anxiety.
Enhanced GABA activity: Some studies suggest that yoga may increase the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate anxiety and stress responses. Higher GABA levels are associated with a calmer state of mind.
Increased mindfulness practice: Mindfulness-based yoga practices, which emphasize being present in the moment and non-judgmental awareness, have been particularly effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.
Improved psychological well-being: Beyond anxiety reduction, yoga has been associated with improvements in overall psychological well-being, including increased feelings of calmness, improved mood, and enhanced self-awareness.
Which type of yoga is best for anxiety?
The best type of yoga for anxiety can vary depending on individual preferences and needs. Different styles of yoga offer various benefits, and what works for one person may not be the ideal choice for another. However, certain styles of yoga are often recommended for anxiety due to their focus on relaxation, mindfulness, and breathwork.Yoga practices that incorporate mindfulness techniques, such as paying attention to the breath and physical sensations in the present moment, can be especially effective for anxiety reduction. Here are some yoga styles that are commonly considered helpful for anxiety relief:
Hatha yoga is a gentle and slow-paced practice that involves holding yoga poses for a longer duration. It often includes breathing exercises and meditation, which can be beneficial for calming the mind and reducing anxiety.
Restorative yoga is probably my favorite type of yoga. It is a deeply relaxing practice that involves holding supportive poses with the help of props for extended periods (anywhere from 5-20 minutes or longer). The yoga poses are usually seated or lying down so you can do this no matter how tired you are. It can promote deep relaxation and helps shift your body from the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight or freeze) to the parasympathetic nervous system(rest and digest). This is an amazing practice to incorporate at the end of the day before bed if you struggle with sleep or experience chronic anxiety.
Yin yoga is a passive practice that involves holding poses for several minutes. In yin yoga we focus on stretching and releasing connective tissues. This slow-paced practice is typically done sitting or lying down and can encourage a meditative state and help calm the nervous system.
Vinyasa or Flow Yoga:
Vinyasa yoga is what I recommend for people who struggle to sit still or are afraid to be with their thoughts. Since it’s a more dynamic and active style of yoga, it can help bring your awareness to the breath and body instead of whatever thoughts are running through your mind. In vinyasa yoga, there is a huge emphasis on linking the breath to movement, promoting a sense of focus and complete relaxation.
Kundalini yoga combines physical postures, breathing techniques, chanting, and meditation. The emphasis on breath work and energy can help with stress relief, releasing tension and promote a sense of overall well-being.
Bikram or Hot Yoga:
Practicing yoga in a heated room can promote sweating and relaxation, which may be helpful for some individuals dealing with an anxiety disorder.
Also known as “yogic sleep,” is a guided meditation practice that encourages deep relaxation and can be especially helpful for anxiety and stress reduction.
What type of yoga should I do to help my anxiety?
Ultimately, the best type of yoga for anxiety is the one that you enjoy and can practice regularly. It’s essential to find a style that suits your physical abilities and resonates with your personality and preferences. Attending a few classes of different styles or exploring online videos can help you discover which type of yoga brings you the most relief and comfort.
Yoga sequence for anxiety
I designed the following sequence to help reduce stress and anxiety while promoting relaxation. These are all amazing yoga poses for anxiety and you can do them all together in a sequence or pick and choose which yoga postures you want to do. It’s an amazing practice to do anytime you’re feeling anxious. Remember to move mindfully and focus on your breath throughout the practice. If you have any physical limitations or health concerns, modify the poses as needed and consult with a healthcare professional or yoga instructor before starting any new exercise routine:
Child’s Pose (Balasana):
Child’s pose can help release tension in the back and shoulders, inducing a sense of calm and grounding. The gentle pressure on the forehead can also stimulate the “third eye” area, which is associated with the nervous system and relaxation.
- Start in a kneeling position with your big toes touching and knees hip-width apart.
- Lower your hips toward your heels and reach your arms forward, resting your forehead on the mat.
- Take slow, deep breaths, and allow yourself to release tension and relax in this calming pose.
Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana):
Cat pose and cow pose are two poses that typically go hand and hand. The dynamic movement of Cat-Cow Pose can stimulate the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system systems, promoting a harmonious balance between the two. This balance can lead to a calmer state of mind and improved emotional regulation.
- Come to a tabletop position with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Inhale, arch your back, lift your head and tailbone, and look up (Cow Pose).
- Exhale, round your back, tuck your chin, and draw your belly button toward your spine (Cat Pose).
- Repeat this gentle flow for several rounds, coordinating movement with your breath.
Hanging Forward Fold (Uttanasana):
This gentle forward bending pose can help calm the mind and relieve anxiety by allowing the head to hang freely, encouraging a feeling of surrender. I like to do a forward bend and imagine the stress rolling down my back onto my head and dropping onto the mat beneath me.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hinge at your hips to fold forward.
- Let your upper body relax, and hold onto your elbows or allow your arms to dangle.
- Breathe deeply and let go of any tension in your neck, shoulders, and back.
Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana):
This gentle and accessible pose can help release tension on the upper body and create a sense of vulnerability and openness. The forward extension of the spine in this pose can have a calming effect on the nervous system and help reduce feelings of anxiety, restlessness and overwhelm.
- Return to a tabletop position with your wrists under your shoulders.
- Walk your hands forward and lower your chest toward the mat, keeping your hips above your knees.
- Rest your forehead on the mat and stretch your arms forward.
- Focus on your breath and feel the stretch in your spine and shoulders.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana):
Bridge pose is an amazing backbend that helps open the chest, shoulders, and heart, which can be beneficial for reducing anxiety and boosting your mood.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
- Press your feet into the floor and lift your hips, creating a bridge shape with your body.
- For a deeper stretch, you can shimmy your shoulder blades so they’re hugging your spine and interlace your hands beneath your hips while pressing your arms into the mat.
- When you’re ready to come out of the pose, slowly one vertebrae at a time lower your spine straight down onto the mat.
Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana):
This pose is deeply grounding and restorative. It’s another gentle chest, heart and hip opener that can evoke a sense of vulnerability and emotional release.
- Lie on your back and bring the soles of your feet together, letting your knees fall open.
- You can place pillows or bolsters under your knees for support if needed.
- Place your hands on your belly or rest them beside you.
- Close your eyes, relax your body, and focus on your breath.
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani):
This restorative pose can promote relaxation and help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress by reversing the blood flow and calming the nervous system.
- Find a clear wall space. Make sure you have enough room to lie down with your legs extended up the wall.
- You might want to use a folded blanket or a cushion to support your lower back and hips. Place it on the floor against the wall.
- Sit on the floor with one hip against the wall. Your side body should be parallel to the wall.
- As you lie back, gently swing your legs up the wall. Your buttocks should be close to or against the wall, and your legs should be extended vertically, resting against the wall.
- You can adjust your position by scooting closer or farther away from the wall to find a comfortable distance. Play around with the distance until you find the right balance of comfort and stretch.
- Relax your arms alongside your body, with your palms facing up. You can also place your arms in any comfortable position, such as resting them on your belly or placing your hands on your chest.
- To come out of the pose, gently bend your knees and roll to one side. Take a few breaths in this side-lying position before using your hands to press yourself up to a seated position.
Corpse Pose (Savasana):
Corpse pose is the final relaxation pose at the end of your yoga practice. It allows the whole body, and mind to fully relax and integrate the benefits of the practice you just completed.
- Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and arms alongside your body, palms facing up.
- Allow your heels to fall in and your toes to fall out.
- Allow your body to completely relax and release any tension.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath, letting go of thoughts and worries.
- Hold each pose for several breaths or as long as it feels comfortable. The entire sequence can take around 15-20 minutes, but feel free to spend more time in the poses if you wish or you can do any of these poses on their own. As you move through the sequence, focus your attention on the breath.
Practice this sequence regularly to cultivate a sense of peace and tranquility, and remember that yoga is a tool that can complement other anxiety management techniques. Always listen to your body, and if any yoga pose ever feels uncomfortable or causes pain, adjust or skip it as needed. If you’re new to yoga, it could be helpful to go to an in person class or work with a yoga instructor to ensure proper alignment and reduce risk of injury.
When practicing yoga for anxiety or doing any yoga poses for anxiety, it’s important to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself beyond your limits. If certain poses or practices feel uncomfortable or trigger anxiety, modify them or skip them altogether. Always listen to your body. Consistent and gentle yoga practice over time can contribute to a reduction in anxiety symptoms, but remember that yoga is just one tool in your anxiety tool belt. When looking to overcome anxiety, its important to incorporate other anxiety management strategies, such as therapy, relaxation techniques, and lifestyle changes. Always consult with a healthcare professional if you have any health concerns or underlying medical conditions before starting a yoga practice.
As a holistic therapist and yoga instructor for a decade, I love incorporating yoga into my work with clients when appropriate. If you found this post interesting and want to learn more about holistic practices to incorporate in your daily life, I have a couple of holistic ebooks that incorporate yoga, mindfulness, and nutrition to support your mental health.
Long, R., & Macivor, C. (2008). The key poses of yoga. Bandha Yoga Publications.
Bridges L, et al. (2017). The efficacy of yoga as a form of treatment for depression. DOI: