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5 Ways Yoga Helps with Anxiety

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life…
live in the moment; live in the breath.” – Amit Ray

One out of four Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lives.  Such disorders are sometimes accompanied by panic attacks – intense feelings of panic that often come out of nowhere.  Panic attacks can include a pounding heart, sudden sweating, dizziness, and shallow breathing.  Living with anxiety and panic attacks is difficult, but there are a variety of techniques that can help to ease symptoms.  Yoga is an excellent way to reduce anxiety (and stress).  Here are five ways that yoga helps with anxiety.

  1. Yoga forces you to focus on your breathing.                    

When someone has an anxiety attack, they make short, shallow breaths.  This can actually make a panic attack worse because this type of breathing can cause a lightheaded, faint feeling.  The most important aspect of yoga is focusing on the breath.  When you’re feeling tired or a pose is particularly difficult, focusing on taking deep, slow breaths makes all the difference.

Training yourself to follow your breathing during yoga class is a useful skill that can be applied to other areas of life.  Whenever you’re feeling anxious or stressed, remember to take deep, slow breaths until you start to feel more relaxed.

  1. Exercise gives you endorphins.                                                              

Like other forms of exercise, yoga gives you endorphins.  Endorphins are neurotransmitters in the brain that have been shown to improve mood, reduce symptoms of depression, and relieve stress and anxiety.  Endorphins are essentially an all-natural antidepressant.  Additionally, flexibility and strength gained from yoga can help to prevent injuries and reduce chronic pain.  Who isn’t happier when they aren’t in pain all the time?

  1. Yoga reduces muscle tension.                                           

When we’re feeling anxious or stressed, we often tighten certain areas of our bodies without even realizing it.  Prolonged stress or anxiety can lead to pain and muscle tension in the back, head, neck, shoulders, and other areas.  Yoga helps relieve muscle tension by strengthening, lengthening, and relaxing sore muscles.  Over time, yoga can also improve posture, which aids in reducing muscle tension.

  1. Yoga is hard.                                                                                   

Yoga is challenging – even if you’re a more experienced yogi, you will probably have certain poses that are still tough for you.  Engaging in something that is challenging – and sticking with it even when it’s hard – will give you more confidence and faith in yourself.

During a particularly tough pose, an instructor may say “This is probably getting pretty uncomfortable.  Breathe through it.  Just breathe.”  This is a good metaphor for life with anxiety.  When you’re feeling uncomfortable, accept the discomfort.  You have survived feeling uncomfortably anxious before, and you will get through it again.  Accept the discomfort instead of trying to fight it.  Breathe.

  1. Yoga classes emphasize community and faith.                           

When you’re suffering from anxiety, you may feel like no one else “gets” it.  This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  Yoga classes can be a way to meet new people and develop a sense of community.  During the resting poses, instructors often offer suggestions for relaxing and being more present.  They tend to emphasize finding peace and strength within yourself or a higher power.  Having faith in something greater than yourself can be helpful when trying to cope with anxiety.

 

A Final Note

Yoga is one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety and stress.  Yoga can help you to focus on your breathing, release endorphins, relieve muscle tension, gain confidence, and be a part of a community.  If you haven’t tried yoga before, I highly encourage you to try it out!

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jen Hayes, a frugal lifestyle blogger and freelance writer. 

 

 

5 Relaxing Yoga Exercises for a Good Night Sleep

Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together – Thomas Dekker

Sleep is the best meditation – Dalai Lama

How yoga can help you unwind?

A very common cause of sleeping disorders is stress. Stress prevents the body and the mind from relaxing and keeps thousands of people awake at night. And this is where yoga can make the difference. A gentle, restorative yoga practice can help to calm down the mind and to release physical tension. This type of yoga practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the bodies “rest-and-digest” system, which helps to counteract physical and mental stress.

Below you can find five yoga poses to help relieve tension in the body and the mind. Ideally they are practiced one hour to 30 minutes before going to sleep, or you can even do them in bed. They are easy poses to be held three to five minutes for maximum effect.

  1. Savasana – Corpse Pose

1-savasana-corpse-pose

Savasana or Corpse Pose is a very beneficial pose to calm down the mind and to relieve stress. It is commonly the starting and ending pose of any yoga practice.

  • Lie down on your back
  • Feet are mat width apart, toes dropping out
  • Arms are relaxed by your side, palms facing up
  • Shoulders are away from the ears, relaxing on the mat
  • Back of the neck is long, chin slightly tucked in

People with lower back pain might like to place a cushion under their knees to relieve tension in the lower back. If you feel tension in the neck you can also place a blanket or a low cushion under the head to keep the back of the neck long. As you lie in this pose, bring your focus to your breath, observing each inhalation and exhalation. Feel the expansion of your belly as you inhale and observe your belly relax as you exhale.

  1. Anuloma Viloma – Alternate Nostril Breathing2-anuloma-viloma-alt-ernate-nostril-breathing

Anulom Vilom or Alternate Nostril Breathing is an excellent breathing exercise to balance the right and left side of the brain and to calm down you77r thoughts.

  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Place your left hand in Chin Mudra (tip of the thumb and index finger touching)
  • Place  your right hand in Vishnu Mudra (bending the index and middle finger)
  • Place your right thumb on your right nostril and breathe in through your left nostril for four counts
  • Close both nostrils using your right thumb and your right ring finger and little finger and hold your breath for eight counts
  • Release your thumb and breathe out through your right nostril for eight counts
  • Breathe in again through your right nostril for four counts
  • Close both nostrils using your right thumb and your right ring finger and little finger and hold your breath for eight counts
  • Breathe out through your left nostril for eight counts

This is one round. Continue this breathing exercise for five minutes. Once you feel comfortable with this ratio, you can hold your breath for 16 counts. While practicing Anulom Vilom, keep your focus on your breath, following each movement of your breath. This breathing exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slows down the breath and the heart beat. Because you breathe in and out separately through each nostril for the same count, both hemispheres receive an equal amount of oxygen. The hemispheres are balanced and the mind is calmed down.

  1. Shashankasana – Child’s Pose

3-shashankasana-childs-pose

The following pose in this sequence for a good night sleep is Child’s Pose or Shashankasana (also called Balasana).

  • Sit on your knees in Diamond Pose, back straight
  • Keep your hips on your ankles and bend forward until your forehead touches the floor
  • Arms are relaxed by your side, palms of the hands facing up

When you are in this pose the hips should be resting on your heels and the head should be resting on the floor. If this is difficult you can make two fists and place your forehead on your fists or place your forehead on a cushion. If required you can also open the knees apart or place a cushion in between your hips and heels. Make sure you feel comfortable. With each exhalation let go of any tension in your body.

  1. Supta Baddhakonasana – Lying Butterfly Pose

4-supta-baddhakonasana-lying-butterfly-pose

Baddhakon asana is a very good yoga pose to increase hip flexibility. It is said that emotions such as tension, stress, anger, etc. are stored in the pelvis. By working on hip flexibility, the tensions in the hip joint and as a consequence also emotional tensions are relieved.

  • Place the souls of your feet together and let your knees drop out
  • Gently lean back and lie down on your back, keeping the souls of your feet together
  • Arms are relaxed by your side, palms facing up

If you can’t lie down completely on your back, you can use a bolster and lie on the bolster. Make sure your head and back are properly supported. If you feel tension in your knees you can place a cushion under your thighs to reduce the tension in the knees. Once you are comfortably in the pose, bring your focus to your pelvis. Use each exhalation to release the tension in your hip joints, and try to relax completely.

  1. Legs-up-the-wall pose

5-legs-up-the-wall-pose

The legs-up-the-wall pose is a very gentle inversion which improves blood circulation in your lower limbs. It is a very relaxing pose after a long day of standing on your feet.

  • Lie down on your back, hips touching the wall
  • Place your legs straight against the wall so your legs and upper body form a 90 degree angle
  • You can keep your legs together or open your legs wide for an extra stretch of the inner thighs
  • You can place your hands on your belly or relax your arms by your side, palms facing up

 

Tips and tricks for optimal sleep

Sleeping disorders can also be caused by improper sleeping habits or routines before sleeping. The activities you do prior to going to bed as well as the environment have a very big effect on your sleeping pattern. Therefore it is advisable to develop a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. This informs your body that it is almost bed time and gives it the chance to prepare. Here are some do’s and don’ts which might help you for a good night sleep:

  • Avoid watching TV or using the computer right before going to bed
  • Avoid coffee, chocolate or any other stimulating substance in the evening
  • Keep negative emotions such as worry and stress outside the bedroom
  • Avoid taking naps during the day
  • Avoid heavy workouts close to your bedtime
  • Take out 7-9 hours of sleeping time
  • Make your bedroom a cool, dark and quiet space
  • Use your bedroom for sleeping and relaxing only
  • Keep a notebook nearby to write down ideas and reminders for the next day

Developing a bedtime routine is very important to help you deal with insomnia for many reasons. It helps to calm the mind before bed, and it helps to condition your body and your mind in realizing that it is almost time to go to sleep. The yoga sequence in this article is a very gentle sequence suited for people of all ages and of all practice levels. You can play some relaxing background music and if you like you can also use some essential oils such as lavender to stimulate a relaxing and calming atmosphere. While practicing these yoga poses, avoid getting distracted with thoughts by bringing your focus to your breath, using each exhalation to release any tension.

Enjoy the relaxing yoga poses and… Sweet dreams!

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Yogi Ram, a renowned Yoga and philosophy teacher from India. He is the founding director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams in India and The Netherlands.