By Dr. Celeste Holder
Managing your stress level can be a serious challenge even in the best of times. Add in the isolation and general weirdness of social distancing, and it becomes even more difficult. If you’re having trouble coping with your emotions right now, you should know that many resources are available to you. Thankfully, you can take immediate action to address your anxiety or depression from the safety of your home. You can schedule a virtual video visit with your healthcare provider, for example, if you feel you need professional help. And you can also engage in a number of effective self-care practices, from mindfulness-based stress reduction exercises to at-home fitness routines. There’s even a practice that offers the benefits of mindfulness meditation and physical exercise, and that’s yoga. Here, I’ll explain some of the great benefits of yoga and walk you through some poses to improve your mood.
Practicing yoga on a regular basis is a great way to get into better physical shape. (Ask anyone who takes weekly studio classes!) But it’s an amazing way to bust through some of your anxiety and depression, too. That’s because it’s an opportunity to breathe deeply, calm your mind, and enter a more meditative state. Mental health professionals agree: the available evidence strongly suggests that yoga can help improve your overall mood.
If you’ve never practiced yoga before, you’ll want to ease into it, particularly if you’re doing it at home. Don’t try to do too much too quickly, especially without an instructor there in person to guide you. You might start with a basic hatha yoga routine, which focuses on asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathing). It’s generally slower and gentler than practices like vinyasa flow and bikram yoga, making it ideal for beginners. Check out this simple thirty-minute introductory hatha routine:
Don’t worry if you’re unable to do everything perfectly at first. You don’t have to be a mega-flexible master yogi to reap the benefits of hatha. Just stretch and breathe! Your ability will improve with time and frequent practice. You can try more challenging poses and classes when you feel ready.
Let’s break down some common asanas for beginners. These poses don’t require advanced technique and are great stress reducers. Even if you’re just starting out, you’ll see benefits from these yoga poses. You can work through them at your own pace to stretch, relax, and recharge. Use a mat, or simply practice on a carpeted area of your home. (Check out the B Yoga Mat for one great option!)
This is a simple seated pose that resembles “criss-cross applesauce” with a straight back. You can lean against a wall for support if needed.
Another seated yoga pose, benefits include stretching out your hips, especially if you’ve been sitting in a desk chair all day. If you’re working from home, it’s a good idea to take five quick minutes to do this pose every few hours.
This pose allows you to stretch your shoulders and open your rib cage for deeper breathing overall. If you can’t reach all the way to your toes, that’s okay; don’t strain.
If you’ve been hunched over your work station all day, this is an excellent stretch for your spine and back—and it feels so awesome!
This resting pose helps relieve the tension in your shoulders, where many of us carry it. Stay there for a few minutes so that you can really enjoy the sensation.
If you want a yoga pose that benefits breathing, posture, and flexibility, then this pose is perfect for you. Breathe deeply into your expanded ribs.
Once you get past its name, this can be one of the most meditative resting poses. Be still, inhale, and exhale. Try to concentrate entirely on your breathing, keeping your mind clear of anything else. (This takes work!)
This pose helps to stretch the entire front of your body. Again, if you can’t quite do it at first, don’t hurt yourself trying. Do the best you can, and enjoy the stretch from where you’re at.
While a decrease in anxiety and depression is certainly reason enough to practice yoga, it improves your well-being in many other ways. It’s often the case that what’s good for your mind is good for your body, and vice-versa, and that’s true here. For example, in addition to increased flexibility, you’ll find that yoga helps you build strength. It’s also good for your heart and can help lower your blood pressure. And, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, yoga can be especially helpful. Not only will you burn calories during your practice, you may also become a more mindful eater. When you’re more conscious of both what and how much you’re eating, you’re less likely to overeat or stress-eat.
Another benefit of yoga? It’s something you can share with the people in your life: family, friends, and colleagues. If you and your coworkers meet on Zoom for regular “virtual happy hours” and other team-building activities, you might lead a video yoga class. And if you’re looking for a fun bonding experience or a few new friends, give laughter yoga a try. Laughter yoga is exactly what it sounds like—combining yoga with voluntary laughter to get all the great benefits that laughter is known to produce. After all, some say laughter is the best medicine. Adding it to yoga can only result in an amazing, stress-busting activity.
Now that you have some helpful ideas, the rest is really up to you. Experiment with different poses to see what feels best to you and helps you to knock out some stress. Try a handful of pre-recorded yoga videos to see which ones you prefer, or sign up for a class. If there isn’t a studio local to you, don’t despair. You can check out some of the great at-home live-streaming class options available to see what you like. Grab your mat and get ready for a happier, healthier, and more balanced you!