Yoga for Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety. Whether we’re working on a big project at work or in school, find ourselves running late, or have more chronic anxiety due to other elements in our lives – stress is a part of everyday life. Thankfully, anxiety doesn’t have to control you – and studies have found yoga can help!

Yoga requires focus and it teaches us to slow down, shut out the external world, and to be completely present in that moment. It occupies your mind, exerts your body, and soothes your soul. It allows space from your troubles, the never-ending to do list, eventually you may start to notice that your anxiety and worry begins to fade into the background until it completely evaporates. For me, personally, once I return to the world around me, everything seems a little bit brighter. And lighter. More manageable. And some days I really, really need that. (Read more about my relationship with anxiety here.)

These asanas, or poses, to help decrease anxiety by encouraging you to regulate your breath and relax your body by releasing muscular tension, providing your body and brain with fresh blood, oxygen, and other nutrients, and boosting those happy little sunshine endorphins. Plus, some of these poses can be challenging. They get you out of your own head. Who has time to worry about tomorrow’s presentation when you’re balancing on one leg trying not to crash in half moon?


Extended Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana) – Begin in a tabletop position with the wrists below shoulders and knees hip-width distance apart. Walk the fingertips forward, and allow your chest to melt towards the ground while leaving the hips in the air, directly over the knees. Your forehead can come down to the floor, or you can gaze forward, past your fingertips. Stay here for 5 rounds of breath.


Locust Pose (Salabhasana) – Lay on your belly with your forehead to the mat, palms beneath the shoulders with elbows hugged into the ribs, and legs together with big toes touching. On an inhale peel your upper body off the floor a few inches (you should be able to float the hands from the ground) with your gaze a few inches in front of you. Squeeze the lefts together and lift the legs, big toes still together and reaching the legs behind you. Hands can stay where they are, reach behind you (bound, as shown, or unbound), or overhead. Gaze should be on the floor a few inches in front of you to avoid compressing the back of the neck. Stay here for 3-5 breaths.


Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) – Begin in locust pose (shown above) with arms reaching behind you. Bend the knees and if your fingertips can easily brush the ankles, hold onto the outside your feet or the ankles and kick into the hands. Remain here for 5 breaths.


Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – Begin in a tabletop position with the wrists below shoulders and knees hip-width distance apart. Spread the fingers wide apart, tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your hips into the air. Press the mat away from you with your hands, and rotate the triceps towards one another so that the “eyes” of your elbows are reaching towards the top of your mat. Shoulders press away from the ears, and drop the crown of your head towards the earth as you gaze past your knees. Keep a slight bend in the knees, lift the sitz bones towards the ceiling, and make sure that the outer edges of your feet are parallel. Eventually, the heels may begin to stretch towards the ground. Take 5-10 breaths in this pose.

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) – Stand with arms reaching out like a “t,” and feet about wrist distance apart (or a little closer together). The outer edges of the feet should be parallel. Bring the left hand to the hip and turn the right toes towards the front of the mat. Reach the rib cage over the right leg, and when you cannot extend any further, bring the right hand to rest on a block, the leg, or the floor. The torso should stay flat instead of twisting down towards the floor, so that if you did this pose against a wall (which you totally can!) the torso, both arms, legs, shoulders, and hips would be flat against it. Eventually read the left fingertips towards the sky and gaze can be directed towards the floor, straight ahead, or past the left fingertips. Remain here for 5 breaths and repeat on the left side.


Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) – Stand with arms reaching out like a “t,” and feet about wrist distance apart (or a little closer together). The outer edges of the feet should be parallel. Bring the left hand to the hip and turn the right toes towards the front of the mat. Bend your right knee (Warrior II) and reach the rib cage over the right leg. When you cannot extend any further, bring the right hand to rest on a block, the leg, or the floor 6-12 inches in front of the right foot. Begin to straighten the right leg and lift your left leg from the mat so that it’s parallel to the floor. The left shoulder should be stacked over the right, and the right hand should be directly under the shoulders. The left leg is reaching through the heel towards the wall behind you with the left toes flexed towards the wall that you’re facing. The left hip is stacked over the right. Eventually the left fingertips can reach towards the ceiling. Gaze can be towards the floor, straight ahead, or past the left fingertips. Remain here for 5-10 breaths and repeat on the left side.

Eagle Pose
(Garudasana) – Begin standing, and slightly bend the knees. Transfer your weight onto the left foot and cross the right thigh over the right. Point your right toes towards the floor and wrap the right foot behind the left calf muscle, hooking the right toes around the left ankle.

Reach your arms out like a “t” and bend the elbows so that your fingertips are reaching towards the ceiling. Cross the arms in front of your chest (left over right) with the left elbow tucked into the crook of the right elbow. Leaving the elbows as they are,  wrap the wrists and press the palms into one another (the right wrist should be closest to your chest).

Hold for 5 breaths and repeat, balancing on the right foot.


Camel Pose (Ustrasana) – Begin kneeling with the knees hip-width distance apart (knees should be directly under the hip points), toes tucked or untucked. Bring the hands to the low back/hips with fingers reaching towards the floor. Lengthen the tailbone towards the floor and draw the elbows towards one another behind you. On an inhale lift the ribcage and on an exhale take a slight backbend. Hands can stay at the hips, or they can move to the heels. Press into the feet and think of sending the hips towards the top of the mat. Gaze can be towards the ceiling, or you can drop the crown of the head towards the floor if it isn’t uncomfortable for the neck. Remain here for 5 breaths.

Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) – Begin seated. Bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet together. Eventually begin to draw the feet towards your groin and press into the outter edges of the feet, opening your feet like a book so that you can see the soles. On an inhale sit as tall as possible, and on an exhale start to fold forward, leading with your sternum. Keep the back as flat as possible. Stay here for 5-10 breaths.


Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) – Start laying on your back with hands by your side, palms down. Bend your knees and plant your feet hip-width distance apart with the heels drawn in close towards your glutes. On an inhale press into the hands and feet and lift the hips from the mat while drawing the inner thighs towards one another to ensure the knees remain over your heels. Scoop your tailbone under and shift your weight into your feet to take pressure off of the low back. For more opening in the chest, begin to draw the shoulders beneath you, maybe even interlacing your fingers behind your back and pressing your fist into the mat. Remain here for 5 breaths.

Fish Pose (Matsyasana) – Begin seated with knees bent and feet planted hip-width distance apart. Keeping the legs where they are, lower to the elbows which are beneath your shoulders and hands reaching towards your feet (forearms should be parallel and hugged closely in towards your body. On an inhale, press into the palms and lift your ribcage towards the sky. Gaze can be focused towards the ceiling, and if it isn’t uncomfortable for your neck, begin to drop the crown of the head towards the floor. Eventually the crown of your head might actually rest on the ground. Variations include squeezing the legs together and floating the feet and arms, or with legs in padmasana (lotus pose). Stay here for 5 breaths.


Undue Pressure

A few months ago I upgraded my iPhone. While listing an old phone on Craigslist today, I found that there was an imperfection in the screen. I asked a friend what this specific issue is called and he said it looked like “undue pressure,” and that I should get the screen replaced.

Undue pressure.

Unwarranted, extreme, excessive pressure.

Suffocating, debilitating pressure.

This is my headspace today.

The past week, month(s) have been turbulent. Overwhelming. I have a billion thoughts, ideas, challenges, and projects racing through my mind, but it’s difficult to sit down and map it all out – to control the chaos. Sitting down to organize my thoughts usually helps to calm the internal hurricane, but this week I don’t know where to start.

My life feels like a mess.

I’m bouncing all over the place, but can’t seem to find solid ground.

How did I get here? How do I get back on track?

This is how my anxiety manifests itself.

I’ve been so underwater with this undue pressure, that I can’t find space to breathe. And this crushing weight? It’s all on me, and it’s all from me.

My anxiety often stems from worries, but more often than not, it’s the expectations I place upon myself. I give the people in my life so much wiggle room for mistakes, and manage to forgive, accept, and love them through their challenging moments, but for me it’s unacceptable.

I sometimes spend hours, even days, agonizing over things I could have done better. The things I shouldn’t (or should) have said. Chastising myself for allowing my emotions to hijack rational thinking. Criticizing myself for not having the strength to avoid being irritable and confrontational. And on the off chance my actions actually were justifiable, I torment myself for not handling them in a more healthy and productive manner.

I obsess over employing tools that can help me to change my negative behavior patterns, rectify past grievances, and avoid making the same mistakes in the future. I become completely engrossed and enmeshed in finding ways to be better. To be more. To be a better person. A better teacher, dancer, yogini, daughter, sister, friend, lover. To be better at taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Practice more, meditate more, research more, be more organized and prepared. I set more goals and expectations for myself.

More. More. More.

The weight of all the intention is incapacitating.

Usually, I go through the motions until the anxiety and panic evaporates. Sleep, walk puppy, coffee, shower, eat, yoga, dog park, dance, yoga, walk puppy, eat, sleep. I surround myself with people I love. Eventually, I feel like myself again.

But today? It’s one of those rare days that nothing seems to work. Maybe it’s exhaustion from two weeks with no breaks, added classes, a few days on some gnarly antibiotics, and hormones… but today is paralyzing.

For a long time this afternoon I sat on my living room floor and cried. I cried twice while walking Mr. Darcy through neighborhoods and the streets of downtown. When I got home, I pulled out my first set of mala beads and chanted “I am enough,” one hundred and eight times. Today instead of fighting to keep the anxiety at bay, I’m surrendering. I’ve cleared my dance card, and I’m going to sit with it. Stare it straight in the eye.

We get lost sometimes. Derailed. But simply acknowledging the anxiety gives it a tiny bit less power. Little by little the fog eventually begins to lift, giving way to reality in a more clear and present way.