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Why I Use Yoga for Anxiety

August 16, 2020 George Abitante

Have you ever noticed that movement, whether through running, walking, or yoga, reduces your anxiety? Exercise is known to improve our health, but I've benefitted immensely, particularly from yoga in times of stress. For me, yoga is the perfect synthesis of meditation and exercise.

I find my mind is more amenable to meditation when I'm exercising, and the gentle progression of poses in yoga provides a uniquely calming, yet physically demanding, exercise. In a recent yoga session, I found myself in a state of tranquility by the end that I had not been able to achieve through cognitive techniques alone, which made me realize how important providing my body with an attentional focal point can be.

What do I mean by this? Well, typically, when I feel anxious, my mind reaches for any potential threat it can find, and while allowing this to happen without resistance can help, it is also very taxing. Yoga provides both an opportunity for non-resistance to anxiety and requires enough effort that my mind must be drawn to the physical poses I'm doing, otherwise, I simply can't complete the yoga session. This dual ability to clear the mind and provide a focal point is part of what I consider magical about yoga. 

Discovering the Power of Yoga for Anxiety

I've been thinking lately about what precisely it is about yoga that I find helpful. One part is definitely the combination of breath manipulation in tandem with relatively strenuous movement. That combination leaves me feeling both drained and invigorated, which ends up being a great combination for meditating or resting afterward.

I've also found that just following another person's instructions for 30 minutes can be really beneficial. We have to use cognitive resources to make decisions hundreds or thousands of times a day, and a yoga practice provides an opportunity to let go of that demand and simply follow along. This is a truly powerful experience for me because it lets my mind relax and shifts the demands of the day from my mind to my muscles.

I've also found that my body just feels really good once I've finished a yoga session. The combination of gentle stretches and more demanding poses makes me feel fresh and limber, which makes it easier for me to enter a state of relaxation afterward.

I believe these potential benefits of yoga, especially for anxiety, can be increased further when you participate with someone else you know. I've heard from friends who say they've begun morning yoga routines for their health during COVID-19, and when I walk through parks I've begun to see socially-distant groups holding yoga sessions. Yoga can be more than a facilitator of exercise and meditation -- it can be the impetus for social interaction, even during a pandemic. Even if you are living alone, video yoga sessions can be a great way to feel closer to the friends or family we're not able to see in person. The process of stretching and breathing along with someone else is a powerful way to form connections with others, and finding a common activity in yoga can provide further opportunities to engage with others in the future. 

The benefits I've experienced from yoga for anxiety have been significant for me, and I am still working towards a regular yoga schedule. If you're feeling apprehensive about starting a yoga practice, I'd recommend just beginning with very light stretches that will not push you to injury or pain. If you follow a video lesson, try completing the first minute or two, and see how you feel afterward. I tend to find that I benefit most from sessions that are longer than this, probably 15 or 20 minutes at least, but beginning with any amount of yoga can be a great start. 

Thanks for reading. I hope this provides you with at least a few good reasons to try yoga for your anxiety. And if you've already developed a yoga practice, please share your experiences below.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2020, August 16). Why I Use Yoga for Anxiety , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2020/8/why-i-use-yoga-for-anxiety



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

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