There’s nothing like the serenity, bliss, and relaxation that can come following a good yoga session. In fact, many first-time yoga practitioners are surprised by how elevated their mood is after a yoga class.
One of the primary reasons for this sense of upliftment is that exercise naturally increases serotonin levels in our brains. Seratonin is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. Unfortunately, it’s often deficient in people who suffer from depressive disorders.
However, yoga isn’t like other forms of exercise. In fact, it takes a unique, relaxed approach to fitness that comes in contrast to many upbeat, intense, modern workout classes. As such, yoga not only gets our blood pumping to elevate our mood, it also simultaneously soothes us into a state of relaxation through meditation and breathing techniques. This approach makes yoga an excellent option for those with anxiety as well.
Although there are hundreds of yoga poses, some are particularly good for dealing with anxiety and depression. Here, we will discuss some postures that you can incorporate into your own practice to invite greater mental health into your life.
As you practice these, be sure to breathe steadily and deeply, even when your body feels strained. Ideally, you should maintain ujjayi breath throughout your practice. Doing this will help you remain calm in states of adversity, a skill that can help you stay grounded in many of life’s challenging moments!
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Easy pose is the classic position that you see people meditating in, sitting on the floor with crossed legs and a straight spine. Although many might not think of it as a yoga pose, easy pose can actually be a powerful tool for regaining the confidence you need to deal with anxiety, depression, and chronic stress.
Here, the base of your spine connects to the earth, helping you feel deeply grounded. The symmetry of this posture also centers you. These two factors combined aid you in overcoming anxiety as you feel that nothing can uproot you or knock you off balance.
Furthermore, this pose helps to ward off depression as well. Sitting tall with perfect posture, you can experience a sense of clarity, confidence, and strength.
Here’s how to do easy pose:
- Sit on the floor or a yoga mat with your legs crossed.
- Align your torso with your hips, making your spine straight and firm.
- Lengthen your tailbone.
- Move your shoulders back and down.
- Rest your arms on your knees.
- Close your eyes and take deep, relaxed breaths.
- Focus your attention on your heart.
- Remain here for as long as you’d like.
As you sit in easy pose, you can recite a mantra or watch your breath. Both of these are great methods for keeping your mind clear.
Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
If you’ve explored yoga at all, you’re probably familiar with downward-facing dog pose. It’s for a good reason that this posture is quite common. In addition to lengthening your spine and strengthing your arms, shoulders, and legs, it also increases blood flow to your brain. By amping up our circulation to this area, we can experience greater energy and mental clarity, helping us deal with issues that cause us stress or anxiety.
To do downward-facing dog pose, follow these steps:
- Come to all four on your hands and knees with a flat back.
- Lift your hips up by pushing against the ground with your toes.
- Straighten your legs and arms.
- Push against the ground with your hands to all your hips to rise up.
- Your body should come to an inverted v-shape.
- If you feel tightness in your legs, it’s OK to bend your knees.
- After taking a few breaths here, gently release the pose.
Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Ūrdhva Mukha Svānāsana)
Another excellent pose for handling anxiety and depression is upward-facing dog pose. This position opens your heart, helping you remove any pent-up emotions in your chest. It also works to regulate the respiratory system, bringing clarity to your heart and mind.
To do upward facing dog pose, follow these steps:
- Lie flat on your stomach on your yoga mat.
- Keep the balls of your feet facing upward, with your toes pointing down.
- Place your palms facing down on the mat near your shoulder blades.
- Push into your palms to elevate your upper body, smoothly curving the spine.
- Lift your chest and head while keeping your shoulders back.
- Lengthen your body from head to toe.
- Take a few deep breaths here before gently releasing the posture.
Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Shoulderstand is yet another excellent yoga pose for relieving anxiety and depression. Like downward-facing dog pose, shoulderstand increases blood flow to your brain, thus increasing your mental clarity and balancing your emotions.
It’s important to note that you should not do this pose if you have neck or shoulder problems, high blood pressure, or are menstruating.
With that said, here’s how to do shoulderstand:
- Lie down on your yoga mat with your arms outstretched alongside your body.
- Bend your knees, raising your legs towards your chest.
- Press your hands into the floor to raise your bent legs over your head.
- Move your hands onto your back to support yourself as you move your hips farther towards your head, straighten your legs as you do so.
- Keep pressing your palms into your back; feel your body long and straight.
- Take several relaxing breaths here before gently releasing the pose.
Standing Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)
You’re probably familiar with standing forward fold pose even if you don’t realize it. Another good way to describe it is simply touching your toes. This pose works wonders for removing tension in the neck, shoulders, and back, while also directing blood flow to your brain. All in all, regularly practicing standing forward fold pose can make you feel great.
Here’s how to do it:
- Stand up straight with your hands by your side.
- Place your hands by your hips and slightly bend your knees as you bend forward.
- Your chest should touch your thighs; if it doesn’t, try bending your knees further.
- Take your hands down and grab your ankles.
- Remain here for a few breaths before gently standing back up.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is among yoga’s most restorative and comforting postures. Here, you enjoy the immense comfort that comes with being totally grounded. The sense of being supported by the earth can provide great emotional comfort in times of anxiety and depression.
In addition to being comforting, child’s pose also works to release tension in the spine, thus calming your nerves.
To perform child’s pose, follow these steps:
- Kneel on your mat with your big toes touching and your knees slightly wider than your hips.
- Bend forward, stretching your arms and chest forward.
- Rest your head on your mat or a blanket with your arms stretched above your head.
- Breathe deeply here for as long as you’d like before gently sitting back up.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Don’t let the name fool you, corpse pose is actually one of the most gentle, easy, and comforting postures that yoga has to offer. This meditative pose is excellent for controlling your mind, freeing you from stress, anxiety, and depression while inviting clarity into your experience.
Although the physical side of things is quite easy, mastering the mental aspect of this pose can be a challenge. However, with a continued focus on your breath or a mantra, you’ll ultimately unlock deep states of calmness and bliss.
This pose is typically performed at the end of each yoga session, allowing you to integrate all the energy and revelations that may have been cultivated during your practice.
To perform corpse pose, follow these steps:
- Lie flat on your back on your mat.
- Rest your arms on the ground a few inches away from your body.
- Face your palms upwards.
- Keep your knees slightly spread and your toes pointing outwards.
- Close your eyes and consciously relax every part of your body, including your toes, ankles, shins, calves, left knee, right knee, and so on until you’ve relaxed each body part.
- After you’re fully relaxed, keep breathing slowly and deeply from your belly.
- Remain here for as long as you’d like.
- When you’re finished, gently roll onto your right side for a moment before getting up.
In addition to these yoga poses, there are countless others that can have profound benefits on your mental health. If you struggle with mental health issues, we recommend finding a studio that is best for you and attending as often as possible. Not only will the yoga make you feel great, but the sense of community that studios cultivate can give you the social support you need to feel better.
We wish you all the best on your healing journey!