When you have too much to do and too little time, stress can feel inevitable. And when your stress fest is in full force (for whatever the reason), sleep and breathing become more difficult, which in turn creates more anxiety—it’s a vicious cycle! Naturally, I prescribe yoga as the fix. (Here, a few other strategies to reduce anxiety.) The poses below are geared toward grounding and stilling the mind. (You can also try a breathing technique—like alternate nostril breathing—to ease anxiety and calm a busy brain that doesn’t want to stop bouncing around). Try all seven in order as a flow, or pick a few of your favorites to keep on hand whenever your anxiety starts to climb.
Why: While these are technically two poses, one is not often done without the other to counter. Alternating between these several times in a row solidly links your breath to your movement and calms the mind. (Cat/cow repetitions also relieve any abdominal cramping caused by anxiety, making it a great pose to help with PMS cramps, too.)
How to do it: Come to all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. As you inhale, look up and arch spine, rolling shoulders away from ears for cow. As you exhale, press the floor away with hands and knees, and round your spine. Do at least five complete breath cycles (five inhales/cats and five exhales/cows).
Why: This pose opens both the hips and shoulders—two places that tighten when we’re anxious—and helps improve focus.
How to do it: From down dog, step the right foot forward, spin your back heel down, and inhale arms up to frame head in Warrior I. Then allow hands to fall behind you, clasp them behind sacrum, take a big inhale to open chest, using your exhale to fold yourself inside of your right knee. Stay here for at least five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold
Why: This introspective pose helps to generate self-reflection.
How to do it: From a seated position, bring legs together and extlong in front of you, keeping them together. Keeping knees soft, take a deep breath to fill yourself with space, and use your exhale to lean forward into the space you just created. If you have a tight lower back, sit on a block or blanket. Take at least five deep breaths here.
Why: Backbends across the board open the chest and increase the size of your breath. However, active backbends can be very exhilarating, and that can increase anxiety. In this supported variation, the chest area is able to expand without any of the effort needed for an active backbend, leading to relaxation.
How to do it: While sitting, place a medium-height block behind you beneath where your shoulder blades will lay (you can also use another block as a pillow for your head). Allow your body to gently rest on the block, adjusting placement until you are comfortable, with arms resting behind your head. Stay here for at least five deep breaths.
Why: Erase any negative energy or unwanted thoughts with twists. With each exhale, picture yourself wringing out like a sponge, getting rid of what you don’t want or need in your body or mind.
How to do it: Lying on the ground, hug left knee into chest, “T” arms out to either side, and allow left knee to fall to the right. You can stay with a neutral neck or, if it feels good, look to the left. You can also take right hand to left thigh to allow the weight of your hand to ground your twisted leg. Stay here for at least five deep breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
Legs Up the Wall
Why: This pose allows your nervous system to chill, reroutes circulation, grounds you, and brings you back to the present.
How to do it: Sit sideways next to a wall and then lie down on side, facing away from the wall with butt touching it. Using arms, lift legs up the wall as you roll over onto back. Allow arms to fall on either side of you. (Palms can face up for openness or face down for an extra level of grounding.) Stay here for at least five breaths or, if you feel good, as long as you like.
Why: Headstand increases the circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain, calming the mind. As it is not safe for all necks to do headstand, I recommend this supported variation against the wall.
How to do it: Measure a leg’s distance away from the wall to determine where to put elbows. Face away from the wall on all fours. Place forearms on the ground, make a basket with hands, and gently rest head on the ground, lightly pressing back of head into hands. From there, walk feet up the wall until body is in an “L” position. If you have a sensitive neck, press firmly into forearms so that head is just above the ground. Stay here for at least five deep breaths, then come down and take a child’s pose for at least five deep breaths to counterbalance the headstand, normalize circulation, and calm the mind even more.