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Yoga 101: Self-Care for Stress & Anxiety

Stress, burnout, anxiety, depression—these words have all become commonplace today. While many people turn to illicit drugs, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals to cope, finding holistic ways to relieve stress and deal with its byproducts is essential.

The pandemic, inflation, conflicts, mass layoffs, deadlines, and the constant pressure to meet our expectations and those of our families and friends have left behind a global mental health crisis. It is showing up as anxiety, panic, chronic stress, and burnout in the workplace. According to NIH, 19.1 percent of US adults have suffered from anxiety in the past year. Among those, 33.7 percent experienced moderate impairment, and 22.8 percent suffered severely.

Of course, most people experience anxiety at some point in their life; some amount of it is built into our system for self-preservation. But, persistent stress triggers can snowball into panic attacks, irrational fears, numbness, lack of focus, and chronic anxiety—a condition that plagues 36 million Americans and keeps people from sleeping well, being productive, and staying healthy.

So, what can you do when changing your current stressful and tiring situation is not possible? A powerful evidence-based tool proven to play a role in healing scores of mental health conditions is yoga.

Yoga is not just about physical postures; it is a lifestyle that helps you align with nature, relax, and steady your mind despite what goes on around you. More than 85 percent of American adults who practice yoga report that it reduces their stress. In addition, 82 percent say that yoga improved their health and made them feel better.

How do stress and anxiety affect our bodies?

According to scientists, anxiety primarily impacts the brain’s ability to generate appropriate emotional responses. When stress is triggered, the neurotransmitters let the nervous system know there is a danger around, which kicks up the heart rate, breathing rate, muscular tension, and quicker blood circulation from the gut to the brain. The response puts the body in a state of tension, leading to stress headaches, nausea, and diarrhea. Much like tightening a chain linkage beyond its capacity can cause the links to break, being in a constant stress response cycle can significantly impact the body negatively.

Stress—and resulting anxiety—impacts our digestive tract and can lead to conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and dyspepsia. Studies at Harvard Medical School and Lown Cardiovascular Research Institute found that men and women with heart diseases are more likely to suffer stress-induced heart attacks.

With 60–80 percent of all primary care visits in the US related to stress, it’s clear that there is a need for an intervention like yoga to help people deal with stress using non-invasive, sustainable, and spiritually uplifting practices.

How does yoga help with anxiety?

Research also shows the practice of yoga helps counter symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder by reducing irrational worrying. Regular yoga practice can increase self-awareness and help bring about calm and relaxation during stressful situations. This awareness assists people in differentiating between the real and unreal, the truth from the imagined. When you witness anxiety symptoms, you feel detached, letting you heal better. Yoga includes asanas (body postures), pranayama (deep breathing tools), meditation, and a deeper understanding of the essence of yoga as a union of mind, body, and spirit.

Why is yoga a cumulative solution for mental health?

Yoga helps eliminate stress—usually a precursor to chronic anxiety—from the body and mind. This has a positive trickle-down effect on

  • Body’s neurological response to stress
  • Regulating cortisol levels (stress hormone)
  • Reducing heart rate and activating the body’s parasympathetic nervous system (body’s rest mode)
  • Activating the vagus nerve, improving vagal tone, and directly associating with our mental well-being.

Yoga Practices to Incorporate Into Your Life

Yoga brings about better mental, physical, and spiritual health. Its well-being practices stave off the building of stress and anxiety and the consequent burnout caused by them.

Postures. Here’s a set of asanas you can practice for calming the mind and lowering stress and anxiety, with detailed instructions on how to do them. To get the most out of them, synchronize your breath with the postures.

  1. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) Bending forward brings instant calmness and releases stress by completely stretching the spine, hamstrings, and shoulders.
  2. Warrior (Virabhadrasana II) This posture invokes bravery in you to deal with your day-to-day challenges. When your mind grows stronger, more peaceful, and more confident, it is better positioned to handle stressful situations without getting too worked up. Expanding your body brings you confidence and power and is shown to reduce cortisol levels.
  3. Eagle Pose (Garudasana) This pose grounds you and brings clarity to your mind, better circulation, and better focus.
  4. Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana) When it comes to relieving stress, what could be better than embodying the energy of a happy baby? This pose is deeply relaxing when the big worries occupy your mind. It brings you back to your innocence.
  5. Boat Pose (Navasana) Boat pose builds strength and steadiness in your core, giving you the power and stability necessary to overcome life stress. While it can be a bit challenging initially, you’ll be performing boat pose like a pro with enough practice.

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY)

SKY is a powerful, evidence-based rhythmic breathing technique practiced by millions worldwide. It uses specific cyclical, rhythmic breath patterns to bring the mind and body into a relaxed yet wakeful state. Ten minutes of SKY breathing instantly calms the restless and anxious mind.

Cognized by Art of Living founder and spiritual leader Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the practice concludes with an effortless meditative state where practitioners report clarity of mind, prolonged moments of thoughtlessness, slower and steadier heart rate, and calmness of being.

Benefits of SKY

Regular SKY practice activates the vagus nerve, and

  • Improves the release of Prolactin, the well-being hormone, by 50 percent
  • Increases time spent in deep sleep by 218 percent
  • Reduces Blood lactate levels
  • EEG Alpha waves increase.

SKY intervention is a recommended non-steroidal aid for reducing cardiovascular risks in patients with anxiety and depression.


Pranayamas (diaphragmatic breathing tools) such as Bhastrika (bellows breath), alternate-nostril breathing, or humming bee may expand your lung capacity, remove stress toxins, release happy hormones, produce relaxation, and calm the mind. Pranayamas are also important for preparing the mind and body for a deeper meditative experience.


Meditation, or dhyana (one of the eight limbs of yoga), can increase energy levels; lower stress; and revive your enthusiasm and creativity. Studies suggest that meditating regularly can

  • Regulate how we respond to stress physically
  • Help reduce blood sugar levels
  • Reduce biochemical stress markers such as cortisol, corticotrophin, blood lactate, ACTH, and plasma MDA
  • Relax and de-stress the mind
  • Give you inner strength and courage to accept difficult situations, increases resilience
  • Increase productivity.

Sun Salutations

A powerful and relaxing sequence of 12 poses, Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations is a must among the self-care rituals to practice every day. Besides being a great cardiovascular workout, Surya Namaskar reduces stress triggers and increases awareness. Some of its benefits include

  • Good for your heart health
  • Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Stretching and toning muscles and improving flexibility
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Improving cognition.

Here are 11 essential tips for performing sun salutations more effectively.

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