Excerpted from "Motivational Yoga: 100 Practices for Strength, Energy, and Transformation" by Nancy Gerstein
Intention: To accept, embrace, and release anxiety.
The first step to easing anxiety is to become aware of how it manifests in your body. Feel the physical sensation, then instead of resisting the anxiety, use the following practices to accept, embrace, and release it.
1. Seated Lion’s Breath
This technique is a fast and effective way to expel tension and dark matter.
In a seated position, stretch your arms out as you take a deep breath in. Exhale while sticking out your tongue, and roar like a lion with a HA! sound. Repeat the sequence for 10 to 15 breaths.
2. Mindful Meditation
Meditation helps you become aware of the space between anxiety triggers and your reactions to them. With a dedicated practice, meditation produces the clarity to see things for what they are, instead of worse than they are. Because anxiety is caused by fear of the future, many practitioners find the Be here now approach to meditation quite grounding, helping them prevent panic attacks before they start.
Find a comfortable spot in your home that you can claim for your meditation practice. Start with 5 minutes a day, gradually lengthening the time of your meditation.
Close your eyes. Notice the weight of your body and its points of contact with the ground. Listen to the sounds around you, then bring attention inside your body and do a quick scan, pausing to observe how your physical body feels. Bring your attention to your breath. Where is the breath moving as you inhale and exhale? How quickly or slowly are you breathing? Take the next few moments in stillness to observe, feel, and listen to your breath and feel the now experience.
If your meditation is unsuccessful as a result of a scattered mind, stay with it by dedicating your practice to a loved one who needs your full and loving attention. If being better for yourself isn’t enough, do it for someone else.
3. Restorative Reclining Butterfly
Deep-rooted lingering anxiety can stem from unspoken feelings of sadness which forge a barricade around the heart center. Relaxing into passive heart-opening poses unlocks these deep-rooted feelings, inviting them to rise to the surface and leave.
Sit in front of a bolster placed vertically along the spine. Slowly lie back onto the bolster with the arms relaxed next to you, palms facing up. Place a block under each knee for support. If your head is not on the bolster, use a blanket or block under your head. Bring the soles of the feet together in butterfly. Close and rest your eyes for 5 to 10 minutes breathing in and out through the heart center.
Become aware of the emotions that rise to the surface. Greet them with gratitude as if you’ve finally discovered the cause of your melancholy. Thank the emotions for emerging, then ask them to leave your heart center; their purpose for being there has come to an end. Say goodbye, closing the door to the pain they’ve caused, choosing peace over anxiety and freeing yourself from the weight of your own thoughts.
4. Anxiety Rescue Breath
If you’re in the middle of a panic attack, try this simple breath technique to bring you back to center. (Learn this breath before you have a panic attack to ensure you understand the instructions.)
Begin in a seated position. Be aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. If the inhale is strained or you can’t take a complete breath, concentrate on the exhalation to induce a relaxation response.
Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
Take a deep breath in for a count of 4.
Hold the breath in for a count of 3.
Exhale for a count of 4.
Count to 10 uninterrupted breaths.
Open and move your body. You don’t have to have a full hour of asana practice to reap the benefits, you simply want to be aware where you physically hold stress, and relieve the body of that lingering muscle tension. Any mindful movements will help you get out of your head and into your body.
Stand up. Get your body and blood moving! In a loving way, hit and slap your legs, arms, torso, and face. Then stomp your feet and a few twists or dance moves for fun.
Forward fold with hands interlaced behind the back. Relax the head and neck.
Sun Salutes. Practice any variation of sun salutation to open the heart and lengthen the breath. For example:
Low lunge with cactus arms
(repeat on the opposite side)
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”