Has Britney Spears got it right? Yoga and Anxiety
Everyone gets anxious. Even Britney Spears, who probably has 10 assistants at her beck and call. Stress and anxiety have reached epidemic proportions all over the world. In the U.S., about 18 percent of adults suffer from medically diagnosed anxiety. Imagine how many others suffer in silence? Studies show about 44 percent percent of us suffer from one form of stress or another.
So it’s not just Britney. Lucky for us, she’s found a solution. A recent issue of Shape Magazine featured the star in a series of yoga postures, a practice she does for anxiety relief. While one might hesitate to take tips on balanced living from the much-gossiped about star, this time she may just have hit the hammer right on the nail.
Yoga is indeed far more than an exercise routine, though many of us treat it this way (which is just fine since it’s great for the body and most people experience the spiritual benefits anyway, if only as a by-product of daily practice). But traditionally yoga is a very spiritual practice, bringing the mind and body into deep, delicious union.
By bringing the mind back into the present moment, yoga is an excellent remedy for anxiety, stress and depression. Anxiety happens when the mind, body and spirit are out of balance. Yoga is extremely helpful in bringing them back into sync.
Any bit of yoga helps, but certain postures are especially powerful for alleviating depression and anxiety.
Best Yoga Postures for Anxiety Relief
1. Grounding or calming postures
Meditation is excellent for grounding and calming. Try sitting in sukhasana or lotus pose and breathing deeply from the belly. (That’s the old-fashioned cross-legged meditation pose, FYI. Sitting on a pillow or two helps keep the spine aligned, which will allow you to maintain this posture a few minutes longer). Sukhasana helps to bring awareness back into the present and allows the body to calm itself.
Savasana (corpse pose aka lying down) and balasana (child’s pose) are excellent postures for producing that same meditative state of awareness, especially if you’re not comfortable sitting cross-legged for more than a few minutes as a time, which many of us aren’t. Both poses are also excellent for groundedness and humility since they help turn the mind inward, quieting the thoughts and creating peace in the silence of the moment.
2. Posture for breathing
In moments where anxiety is building to unmanageable levels, savasana (corpse pose) is excellent for calming and grounding, even if you’ve only got 10 minutes. (A wise yogi once said we should always meditate 10 minutes a day. He added that on days when you haven’t got 10 minutes to meditate, you should meditate for an hour).
Close the eyes and focus on the breath, breathing deeply into the belly. Let the body sink into the ground. Let each muscle group relax, starting with the feet and toes, moving up to the ankles, calves, knees, thighs, etc. Consciously relaxing one section at a time keeps you from falling asleep, which many do in this pose.
Marjariasana (cat and cow pose) is excellent when you feel yourself beginning to get stressed. It brings awareness to the breath and slows down the process of becoming anxious.
3. Postures for opening the heart
Postures that open the heart are excellent for relieving whatever pressures and anxieties are being stored there. Matsyasana (fish pose) is a good one for creating a release of energy, opening the heart, expanding the rib cage and making breathing a little easier, since it allows the lungs plenty of space to breath deeply.
Fish pose will unclog any nasty tension buried in your chest so prepared. Try sitting in child’s pose for a few minutes afterward to calm the body down after this release.
Viparita kapani (legs against the wall) is wonderful since it can be done from the comfort of a big soft bed. Simply place the legs up against the wall and shimmy the body as close to the wall as possible. This posture reroutes circulation and helps with grounding the body and mind, bringing a deeper awareness of the present moment. It’s great for beginners since it doesn’t require much flexibility or strength, only mild determination. This is a great mid-day stress buster for calming the nervous system.
Salamba sarvasgasana (shoulder stand) is good for the more intermediate yogi, as it involves turning most of the body upside down – and the mind in consequence. Stress and anxiety are more a perception of danger, and bringing the mind back to the present often relieves this unnecessary tension.
Sirsasana (tripod headstand) – or any headstand really – is recommended for relieving stress in the more advanced yogi. This pose reverses the blood flow completely, improving circulation and decreasing anxiety, and it may not be as difficult as you think. An intermediate student can learn with the help of a teacher. Try starting against a wall, which feels a little safer. If that’s too difficult, the standing forward bend is also another great inversion that can be done anytime, anywhere.
Let’s applaud Britney for preaching the gospel of yoga to a wider audience. Like anything, it’s important to practice as regularly as possible, since the benefits and positive experience of yoga greatly increase over time. Check out Yoga Journal’s chart of postures for anxiety.
Our bodies have an incredible power to heal themselves, but stress and anxiety act as a big barrier to our natural ability. Slowing down the body and mind is a great way to give the body the time it needs to relax and heal itself.