Yoga and Relaxation to Reduce Anxiety and StressMarch 16th, 2020
The world seems a little surreal right now, doesn’t it? What with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) causing countries to be on lock down, events being cancelled and a heightened sense of the unknown, it’s only natural that there is a slightly higher than normal level of anxiety and stress looming.
We can feel stressed out or anxious because we are concerned for the welfare of ourselves (if in a high-risk group), our loved ones, friends and just generally others. Maybe it’s stressful with the anticipation of being locked in the house with the children, or even on your own. Maybe your job is at risk, or if self employed there is a worry that no work will come in. I did not list these things to increase your own personal stress, but to highlight that these things we currently have very little or no control about. What we have control with at the moment is our own personal health and hygiene, we can control spreading illness by staying away from others when we are ill, and we can look out for our loved ones, friends, co-workers, team mates, every one around us.
We should be doing all this anyway, and why does it take a contagious virus and essentially a ‘crisis’ to make people act with empathy and care? Of course we know that some people are panic buying essential items, and although this can be seen as selfish behavior, and in some cases it most definitely is, but perhaps for some this is their survival instinct kicking in to protect their family. The truth is, there are so many different types of people out there, and if there wasn’t our world would be too predictable, too boring, it would lack discovery and excitement. The mistake we make is to judge people and this opinion we form is far too often stemming from things that we have seen on social media, essentially other people’s opinions. Make your own opinion, do what is right for you and your family, and trust that if you ever need help, there will always be someone around in your life that is willing to help you, that wants to help you. Regardless of what happens over the next few months, or even years, you will find a way to come out the other end. We always find a way to survive. I can’t say that everything will be okay because I have no idea of the future, but I do know that there are things that you can do to cope, to survive, to enjoy your life, to have happiness and contentment. One way be can help ourselves is with yoga.
It’s not just my opinion, as you can tell I am a little biased towards this as I live and breath yoga, but there are research studies that also back this up.
Li and Goldsmith (2012) studied the effects of yoga on anxiety and stress, finding that levels were reduced in 25 out of 35 trials that were conducted. What we can take from this is that we cannot say that a yoga practice will definitely reduce anxiety and stress levels as every individual case is different, but it may help and there is certainly no harm in trying.
Smith, Hancock, Mortimer and Eckert (2007) conducted an experiment on 131 subjects over a 10 week period where the subjects participated in 1 hour sessions of relaxation or hatha yoga. Scores from stress, anxiety and quality of life questionnaires completed at the beginning and end of the 10 week trial, showed improvements. This scores were the same 6 weeks after the experiment finished. They also found that yoga was as effective as relaxation in reducing stress, anxiety and improving health status on seven aspects in the questionnaire. Vitality, social function and mental health scores were higher in the relaxation group during the follow up period. Yoga was more effective than relaxation in improving overall mental health. What we can take from this is that both yoga and relaxation are hugely beneficial in improving and maintaining mental health, which is just amazing because they are both easily accessible for everyone.
Are there particular yoga poses that are more beneficial than others for reducing stress and anxiety? Well, there are many poses suggested by many different styles of yoga, but in my opinion it doesn’t really matter. The poses that are going to de-stress you is personal to you, every body and every mind is different. Try different things to find out what works for you, what makes you feel good. Classes are amazing places to practice yoga because you do not have to think about what you are going to do, you can immerse yourself in what you are doing, you can focus fully, and you will be challenged.
A breathing exercise you can do anywhere and at any time (within reason), is to close your eyes, placing one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Focus on breathing in to feel your belly rise before your chest. On the exhalation focus on felling your body let go. If you struggle to focus, try counting each inhalation starting at 50 and working backwards to 1. If you lose where you are, start again. You can set a timer so that you can control how long you are doing it, and remove any worry about losing track of time. Or do it in bed before you drift off.
Going back to COVID-19, remember that change leads to new and exciting opportunities. That can be something like realizing that in a crisis you are a decent human being, or that you are great at organizing or being prepared, or maybe you will come up with a creative new business venture that means you can have more time with your loved ones. You have the control to make the situation the best it can be for yourself in that moment in time. Another great thing about yoga is that it teaches you to be present and to enjoy where you are and who you are. Anxiety often comes when we are worrying about something that has happened in the past, or that we are fearful of happening in the future, why don’t we just teach ourselves to enjoy the moment and celebrate our ability to have that moment? Lets do our best to have fun, regardless of what happens around us.
The Effects of Yoga on Anxiety and Stress (2012). Li, Amber W.; Goldsmith, Carroll-Ann W. Alternate Medicine Review. Mar2012, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p21-35. 15p. 7 Charts.
A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety (2007). Caroline Smith, Heather Hancock, Jane Blake-Mortimer, Kerena Eckert. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Volume 15, Issue 2. June 2007, Pages 77-83 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2006.05.001