Friday, March 9, 2012

Yoga for Anxiety and Stress

        Recently I attended and reviewed the Iyengar Yoga School of Toronto's anxiety workshop which turned out to offer excellent yoga postures but very poor insight into mental health. I've scoured the internet to find accurate mental health information related to yoga that is accessible. This means I'm not going to cover any of the clinical research I've used in my thesis, no studies that require an undergraduate research course just to figure out what they're trying to say. Instead, I wanted to find what the yoga community and fellow bloggers were writing. I found well written articles with very good information.

The Daily Cup of Yoga's guest post Stressed? 10 De-Stress Yoga Tips written by Lindsey Lewis is well written and itemized with ten pointers that embrace a mindful, holistic lifestyle. Although at surface value the article doesn't seem to have too much "yoga" content, look to the wellness and lifestyle pointers to find what is at the heart of the Yoga Sūtras, a philosophy of living and living well.

Yoga Journal frequently publishes articles that expound on the benefits of yoga, sometimes those claims are less than legitimate but many times they're written by qualified professionals. Timothy McCall's article, Yoga for Anxiety and Panic Attacks. The article is short but talks about "nervous energy" and burning it off via an asana practice - presumably sun salutations although this is not specifically prescribed by the article. McCall notes in the last page of the article how useful anxiety can be, after reading this article I started noticing where many of the yoga teachers I have encountered who used their errant approach to anxiety in classes from, I presume this article. Let us be clear that anxiety is not good. Anxiety is not fear, anxiety occurs without identifiable stimulus, it's psychologically rooted in emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses as well as in physiological responses through the nervous system, racing heart, hot flash, etc. The "good" anxiety is not anxiety, it is fear. For further reader and avoiding confusion on this subject I recommend Gavin Becker's (1997) The Gift of Fear; a brilliantly written psychology classic that analyzes the cases of many people who escaped danger through trusting their fear.

Yoga Journal preceded the above article with Yoga for Stress and Burnout a somewhat less practical insight into mental health relies heavily on using philosophy, claiming that using yogic philosophy and practicing skills such as looking inward to induce a temporary sensory deprivation, a break from our highly sensory stimulated lives. I'm not sure how accurate this is, however, the article explains breathing ratios and how changing the ratio of inhale and exhale may affect your mental state. In a nutshell, rapid breathing could cause mental agitation whereas slow, deep breathing has a calming effect, increasing blood levels of carbon dioxide, dilating cerebral blood vessels, increasing the blood oxygen.

So, with all of these lifestyle tips and our new understanding of breathing and how it may affect our mood, where does our practice take us?

Yoga prescribes that the next step is meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a world renowned mindfulness meditation author and researcher. I frequently reference his academic writing in my studies but I highly recommend this simple article that he wrote on his own personal experience with meditation and yoga. This article really touches on a subject that speaks volumes to me, yoga is more than the physical practice. I know this isn't news to many yogins who are reading this but it may open up others who haven't really thought of yoga in a multidimensional way before.

Please share with me any of your recommendations for blogs, articles, etc. on Yoga for Anxiety and Stress.



  1. pigeon pose is the great relief to anxiety and stress, practice one week you will definitely see the changes.

    Yoga Guide

  2. Does Yoga really work to overcome Anxiety & stress? Psychotherapy is effective. Herbal medicine like relaxv does work as well. Hope next time we'll get elaborate write up here. Thanks for sharing. | Natural Remedies for Anxiety Treatment