Originally posted on Real Yoga Toronto with permission to repost.
Feeling tense, anxious, or stressed? Try out these yoga exercises and breathing techniques the next time these feelings arise!
We’ve all been there: a moment of intense anxiety or stress, or that heated feeling when anger starts to bubble up inside of us. Pranayama (yoga breathing) and asana (yoga poses) can give us an anchor for our feelings so that we are in control of them and not vice versa.
Today we’re going to take a look at a few breathing techniques as well as some complimentary practices that can help us manage these difficult emotions.
Just a reminder that any information that we share here is based on our own personal experience and success. Results may vary.
Now, let’s get started!
#1: Nadi Shodhana Pranayama – A Breathing Exercise to Calm Anxiety and Stress
This technique is also commonly known as alternate-nostril breathing. It helps balance both sides of the brain and creates calm when we’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
The best times to practice nadi shodhana are in the morning when you wake up and at night before going to bed. In my personal experience, I’ve found that doing it before going to sleep really helps me to disconnect from a stressful day.
You can also practice nadi shodhana during the day whenever you feel like you need to ground yourself. I will sometimes practice this several times during an overwhelming workday and it helps me get though some tough situations.
We don’t recommend that you do this exercise if you have a stuffy nose (as it’s very hard to breathe properly and sort of defeats the purpose of the exercise).
Here is a video to guide you through the breathing technique.
Nadi shodhana is great after a few yoga poses to relax the body.
Here are a few restorative yoga poses to help calm a stressed-out body and mind for you to try out at home.
To practice the following poses, you’ll need a yoga bolster, a pillow, or a thick rolled up blanket. You may also need two chairs if sitting on the floor is not accessible to you and would like to practice a variation.
You can stay in these poses anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes.
#2 Balasana – Supported Child’s Pose
Sit on your heels with the bolster in front of you. Grow tall in your spine and take a deep breath in. As you exhale begin to walk your hands forwards on either side of the bolster as you bring your torso and cheek to rest on top of it.
If sitting on your heels is not available to you, then take a seated variation. Place two chairs with their seats facing each other. Sit in one chair and place a bolster or a few pillows on top of the second chair in front of you. You can add or take away pillows as per your own comfort. Take a deep inhale to grow tall in your seat and as you exhale start to fold forward.
Balasana helps calm the nervous system and creates a sense of security when life gets overwhelming.
#3 Paschimottanasana – Supported Seated Forward Fold
Take a seat on your mat. Place the bolster underneath your knees so that they are bent and supported. Inhale deeply as you grow tall in your spine and exhale to walk your torso forwards.
You can place a blanket underneath your sit bones for extra support as well as a pillow or blanket on your knees if your torso does not fold far enough to rest comfortably on your legs.
While in the pose, try to breathe deeply, imagine that you’re filling up your lower back with each inhale and take your time exhaling all of the air out.
Paschimottanasana’s calming effect comes from the deep stretch that it creates on the entire backside of the body. It calms the nervous system and can help soothe a stressed-out mind.
You can also take this pose while seated in a chair if getting down to the floor is tricky. You’ll need a second chair to rest your legs on in front of you but the principles of the pose stay the same. Place the chairs with their seats facing each other and very close together. Sit on the first chair and place a bolster on the second chair. Then lift your legs and place your knees on top of the bolster.
You can place pillows and blankets to your liking on top of your knees to help you fold forward comfortably.
#4 Makarasana – Crocodile Pose & Breathing Technique
I discovered this pose one day while I was practicing at home. I was feeling upset and frustrated and looked to my yoga practice to calm me.
I found the following video through Yoga with Adrienne that really helped me settle down. It will take you through a very short yoga sequence and finally to makarasana and “crocodile breathing.” Basically, you will be laying on your front and taking very deep inhales and exhales.
Anger and anxiety are usually good friends, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by either one, this video may help you get through a difficult moment with the dynamic duo.
#5 Viparita Karani – Legs Up the Wall
Personally, I love this pose after a long day of being on my feet, or when I’m feeling like my legs are a bit swollen from sitting at a desk for too long. This pose is also extremely calming and comforting when the mind is running on over time.
We recommend that you speak with a trusted physician to see if this pose is right for you, especially if you have any serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, or blood pressure issues. We also do not recommend this pose for women during their menses.
To practice this pose, take a seat on the floor next to a wall and make sure that one of your hips is flush with the wall. Next, get down on your back and lift your legs up the wall, and start to pivot your torso so that your glutes are now flush with the wall. You might have to wiggle yourself closer so that your legs are close enough to the wall.
You can either stay like this or take a folded blanket underneath your low back for extra support like in the above image.
If getting your legs up the wall is tricky for you, then you can try the following variation with a chair.
Place a chair in front of you and lay down on your back with your feet facing the chair. Be close enough to the chair so that with your knees bent your toes are directly underneath the seat.
Next, take your calves to the seat of the chair and relax your legs. You may also want to add extra padding with a folded blanket on the chair for comfort.
This is a great option if having your legs straight up a wall is stressful for your low back.
Now, if getting down to the floor is difficult, you can practice this while you’re in bed by placing a few pillows underneath your calves while you lay on your back. The important thing here is to elevate your legs in order to calm the body and mind.
More Techniques to Try
There are also aromas that you can incorporate into your practice to help you feel more relaxed. Try diffusing a few drops of our favourite essential oils like lavender, chamomile, melissa, and ylang ylang. You can find these oils in most health foods stores in Toronto, or you can order them online.
You can also try mixing a few drops of the essential oil into a carrier oil like sesame or coconut oil and giving yourself a calming abhyanga massage. Click here and scroll down the page to learn this easy, soothing technique.
A warm cup of tea about an hour before bed is also a cozy way to wind down after a stressful day. We of course recommend only herbal teas around bedtime and would recommend infusions like chamomile, valerian root, lavender, rose, and peppermint. Again, we always suggest that you speak to your family doctor if it’s the first time that you’re trying any of these teas and if you think that you may have a previous condition that could be affected by drinking any of the abovementioned teas.
Mindfulness is another great complimentary practice to help manage anxiety. Since anxiety usually launches us into fears of the future based on past traumatic experiences, mindfulness is that beautiful friend that holds our hand in the present.
Here are a few guided mindfulness meditations for you to try out:
Also be sure to check out the Canadian Mindfulness Centre’s website for more support.
Although yoga is a wonderful complementary tool for helping us get through hard times, it is not a substitute for professional support. If you feel like anger and anxiety are becoming too much for you and you’re having a hard time coping, we strongly and lovingly suggest that you speak with a trusted physician about what options are best for you. Psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy are just some techniques that can help us cope with anger and anxiety.
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