6 Yoga Poses to Lower Anxiety

Turn to your body and breath to feel more relaxed in the midst of a stressful time.

childs pose yoga

From work deadlines to mounting bills, modern life hands us a variety of stressors on a daily basis. Yet this year has presented us with more reasons to feel stressed and anxious than ever before, including a global pandemic, economic instability and, oh yes, a contentious election. (Feel like you have crisis fatigue? Read this.)

At THE WELL, we believe in an integrated and personalized approach to health — which means there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Yoga, however, is one practice that we wholeheartedly believe can help anyone by reducing stress, improving resilience and calming down the nervous system — no matter what's happening outside in the world. (Learn about our Mindful Movement drop-in classes here.)

Science agrees: Research on a range of yoga practices has shown that they can lower stress responses and reduce perceived anxiety, in turn helping to lower the heart rate, blood pressure and ease breathing. A recent study also found that practicing yoga is more beneficial for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) than stress management education (though not as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy). Yet another recent review confirmed that yoga can improve a range of mental health conditions, and the more you practice, the greater the effects.

Below, Raj Barker, a yoga instructor and Health Coach at THE WELL, shares six simple yoga poses that can help you deal with stress and anxiety — in election season and beyond.

RELATED: Download Our Free Guide to Less Stress!

1. Child's Pose (Balasana)

How To: 

  • Sit on shins with your seat resting on your heals and your knees mid-width-distance apart. 
  • Fold at the waist and lay your torso down toward the earth with your arms outstretched forward and elbows resting on the mat.
  • Let your head rest heavy on the mat or on a block for extra support.

Why It Works:

Forward folds like this help to calm the nervous system by folding into the self and creating a safe space. It also stretches the back of the body, creating space for deeper, calming breaths.

2. Mountain Pose (Tadasana) 

How To: 

  • Stand on your mat with feet hips-width-distance apart. Root the energy of the legs firmly down to the mat.
  • Lift up out of the waist and feel the ribs lift off the pelvis. 
  • Soften the shoulders away from the ears, keeping arms by your side.

Why It Works:

With both feet firmly on the floor, mountain pose creates a grounded feeling in the body and a strong sense of self.

3. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

How To:

  • Stand on your mat with feet hips-width-distance apart.
  • Hinge from your hips and fold over your legs. Bend your knees as much as you need to to prevent any pulling in the lower back.
  • Hold opposite elbows and allow the crown of the head to rest parallel to the mat.

Why It Works:

This pose stretches the sides of the torso, creating space in the diaphragm for bigger, deeper breaths. It also helps to melt tension from the shoulders, and calm the mind.

yoga forward fold
Forward folds help to calm the nervous system and make room for deeper breaths.

4. Butterfly Pose Variation (Tarasana)

How To: 

  1. Sit on your mat and release your legs in front of you, pressing the soles of the feet together. Then slide them away from your body.
  2. Softly fold forward, allowing your spine to round.
  3. Drop your head towards the heels or a stacked block if you feel strain on your neck.

Why It Works: 

Poses done on the floor create a deeper feeling of being held by the earth. Butterfly pose releases tension in the neck as you melt your body weight forward and let the weight of your head drop.

5. Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)

How To: 

  1. Lie on your back and pull your knees into your chest. Plug the tail bone, the upper back and the back of the skull down towards the mat.
  2. Without compromising the connection of all that is listed above, reach for the outer soles of your feet (or ankles or calves) and parallel the soles of your feet to the ceiling.
  3. You can choose to be still or gently rock from side to side to massage across the low back and the back of the hips.

Why It Works:

Happy baby pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress. The gentle rocking soothes the spirit while opening up the hips and bringing attention to the lower back — easily neglected areas that often hold a lot of tension.  

6. Corpse Pose (Savasana)

How To:

  1. Lay on the floor with your hands framing your body, palms facing up.
  2. Stretch your legs away from you and separate the feet to about six inches wide.
  3. Heavy the skull down to the mat.
  4. Close your eyes or soften your gaze on one still point.

Why It Works:

Savasana is a classic resting pose that allows your whole body to melt into the supportive earth beneath you. This simple pose encourages you to let go of any control or resistance and to fully surrender, often leading to a meditative state.

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