Although anxiety and depression are common, they can still be debilitating. Yoga is a powerful way to help quiet your mind, while also moving some of that stuck energy out of your body. It is scientifically proven to significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression as well as help you channel your inner strength.
These stress-relieving yoga poses are useful in the moment that you are struggling but can also be done daily. Having a daily routine helps improve your mood, reduce anxiety, and manage stress. Including these relaxing yoga poses in a morning or nighttime ritual can set you up for being in a mindful head space for your day or improve your sleep at night. It is essential for your mental and physical health to put some time aside to take care of your mind, body, and soul. These calming yoga techniques are a powerful addition to your self-care.
Never force any of these poses. Always do what you feel comfortable doing and use modifications if they are available. Remember, you are doing this for yourself, and are not in competition with anyone else! Feel free to do just one of these poses, choose a few of them, or put them all together into a yoga flow.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Not only does Child’s Pose offer a gentle stretch for your neck, back, hips, thighs, ankles, and even your internal organs, it helps to alleviate anxiety. Getting grounded is essential for being in a calm state. Laying on the floor (or your bed) and focusing on your breathing is the quickest and easiest way to ground yourself. This pose also feels doable even when you are stressed or upset, which is important while doing calming yoga for anxiety and depression
- Kneel on the floor, sitting on your heels, with your knees hip-width apart, and your big toes touching.
- Inhale and lengthen your spine.
- As you exhale, bring your torso down to rest on your thighs, while walking your arms in front of you, palms down.
- Rest your forehead (third eye) on the mat. Release any tension from your head, shoulders, and spine. You can place your hands or a blanket under your forehead if that feels more comfortable.
- You can also rest your arms at your sides with palms up for a different stretch.
- Take deep, mindful breaths for as long as you feel is needed.
- When ready, inhale while slowly walking your hands back up, and return to sitting on your heels.
Cat-Cow Pose (Bitilasana Marjaryasana)
Cat-Cow pose is incredible for stretching your back if it is aching from being in one position for too long. If you have been working long hours or have been sitting or lying down for extended periods of time due to struggling with depression or anxiety, this calming yoga pose will help ease that pain. It can improve your posture and balance, as well as relieve stress. The focus on your breath with each movement makes you focus on the current moment, leaving you feeling calmer.
- Get into a tabletop position by placing your knees directly underneath your hips, and your hands directly under your shoulders with your fingers spread and pointing forward. Relax your neck and look slightly downward.
- Moving into Cat Pose. As you exhale, round your spine towards the ceiling. Drop your tailbone and crown of your head. Draw your belly in and up. Pressing down firmly through your hands while spreading your shoulder blades.
- Moving into Cow Pose. As you inhale, lower your belly, tilt your tailbone up, lift your chin and chest, and look up to the sky. Pressing down through your hands, draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- While exhaling return to Cat Pose and then return to Cow Pose while inhaling.
- Repeat 5-20 times, focusing on your breath. Return to sitting back on your heels with your torso upright.
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
This relaxing pose can be done anywhere! It helps calm your mind and relaxes your central nervous system, as well as strengthening and stretching your body, and improving balance. You naturally become more mindful when you are focusing on finding your balance.
- Stand up straight in Mountain Pose while focusing your gaze on a spot in front of you in the distance. Shift your weight to your left foot and bring your right foot to the inside of your left leg, toes pointing towards the ground.
- Depending on where you feel comfortable, your foot can touch your ankle, calf, or inner thigh. Avoid placing your foot directly on your knee.
- Press your right foot and left leg into each other.
- When you feel sturdy, place your hands at your heart’s center or stretch your arms up and out like branches.
- Hold for several breaths, bring your right foot back down to the ground into Mountain Pose, and repeat on the other side.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Easy pose allows you to feel grounded and at peace. Although it may seem simple, it has great benefits. It opens the hips, groin, and outer thigh muscles and stretches your knees and ankles. Sitting up straight with the spine aligned strengthens your back and is known to calm your mind and reduce stress. This is also an amazing yoga for anxiety pose to do while focusing on breathwork techniques. You must be comfortable in this position, so use modifications to feel supported if needed.
- Sit on a firm floor with your legs in front of you. Feel free to sit on a folded blanket or yoga block if that is more comfortable. Cross your legs at your shins.
- With your knees wide, place each foot under the opposite knee.
- Place your hands on your knees, palms facing down.
- Align your head, neck, and spine. Lengthen your spine, while also relaxing your neck, shoulders, feet, and thighs.
- Look straight ahead. Feel free to close your eyes.
- At this time, you can do some hand variations. You can put them palm side up, you can bring them to your heart’s center, you can put one hand on your heart and one on your belly or do a mudra that you are practicing.
- This is a great time to meditate or focus on breathing techniques. I enjoy Box Breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama) while in this pose. It is great at helping to clear your mind, relax, and focus.
Box Breathing Technique
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold it for a count of 4.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath again for a count of 4.
- Repeat for 1-4 minutes until you feel calm and centered.
- Release the pose, change the cross of your legs, and repeat.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhsana)
This yoga for stress and anxiety pose strengthens and stretches your core, hips, back, and hamstrings, but it is also restorative. The head and neck are lower than the heart, which suppresses your nervous system’s fight or flight response.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor hip distance apart.
- Lay your arms on the floor at your sides reaching towards your heels, palms facing down. Your fingertips should just barely touch the back of your heels.
- On an inhale, press down into the soles of your feet while slowly rolling your spine upwards as you lift your hips to the sky. Feel free to use a yoga block or folded blanket between your tailbone and lower back as a modification.
- Squeeze your glutes to keep your hips lifted and to make sure your legs stay parallel and do not splay outwards.
- Hold the pose for 3 to 5 mindful breaths.
- On an exhale, slowly roll your back down to the ground, one vertebra at a time.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Savasana may seem simple, but it is one of the most important calming yoga poses. It is the time to integrate everything you did in your practice. It is an extremely calming yoga pose for most people, but others struggle with the stillness. If it is difficult for you at first, be gentle with yourself, and don’t force it. You will be able to do it longer and longer with practice. Do not fight any thoughts that come up, just let them float by like clouds. The body scan that I suggest below is great to bring your awareness into your body and give your mind a break from those anxious thoughts. You want to be warm and comfortable in this pose, so feel free to cover yourself with a blanket.
- Lay down flat on your back with your legs down and slightly separated. Your arms will be along your sides with your palms facing up. If it is more comfortable, feel free to place a blanket or pillow under your knees. Tuck your shoulder blades under your back for more support.
- Release any effort of holding your arms or legs in position. Let them rest naturally. Let your feet fall open to either side, let your hands relax and your fingers curl in if they want to.
- Close your eyes, staying as still as you can. Breathe naturally. You can imagine that the floor is soft and it is allowing your body to sink in. Let your body feel heavy.
- Here, you can add in a full body scan for complete relaxation of the body and mind. Bringing your attention to the top of your head, start to scan the body from the crown down to the toes. Releasing any tension or tightness. Relax your head, your eyes, your jaw. Relax your neck, your shoulders, and your upper back. Relax your chest, your upper arms, your forearms, your wrists, your hands, and your fingers. Relax your abdomen and your lower back. Relax your hips, your thighs, and your calves. Relax your ankles, your feet, and your toes. You can do this in reverse and start from the bottom going back to the top of your head if you wish.
- Stay here for 5-15 minutes.
- When you are ready to get up, start by gently wiggling your fingers and toes.
- Raise your arms over your head for a good stretch.
- Bring your knees to your chest and roll over onto your side. You can place your bottom arm under your head. Stay here for a few moments.
- Use your hands to slowly bring yourself into a sitting position.
The combination of body movements (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and mindfulness makes yoga a fantastic addition to improving your overall happiness and quality of life. Make yourself a priority and set some time aside to take care of your mind, body, and soul with these stress relieving yoga poses!