If you’ve been looking for a self care practice that provides a space where your mind gets a break, your stress takes a backseat, and your mental health takes priority, welcome to the world of yoga and mental health. Yoga is not just about striking poses that look good on Instagram (although, that’s a bonus). It’s your personal ticket to a calmer, more centered you. It’s an excellent practice that allows you to hit the pause button on life’s chaos and find a little zen in the midst of the madness. So, grab your yoga mat, ditch the stress, and let’s dive into a journey how to practice yoga for anxiety and depression, and for your improving overall mental health.
What is Yoga?
In order to understand the importance and value of practicing yoga for treating anxiety and depression, you need to first know what it is.
Yoga is a holistic exercise of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that originated in ancient India. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means to yoke or unite, symbolizing the union of body and mind.
The practice of yoga typically involves physical postures (asanas), breathwork (pranayama), meditation, and ethical principles. It is designed to promote physical strength, flexibility, and balance while also cultivating mental clarity, relaxation, and a sense of inner peace.
There are various types of yoga that you can practice, with each offering its own style and benefits (more on this below).
The Benefits of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
You can use yoga for anxiety and depression, when in a mental health crisis or to simply achieve better physical, emotional and mental health. When practiced regularly, yoga teaches you how to remain calm and relaxed in your daily life. Each type of yoga is infused with breathing techniques and body movements that help you control feelings of discomfort. It’s a type of exercise designed to strengthen your mind, emotions, body, and spirit. As such, when you feel anxiety or depression seeping in, you have the strength, breathing techniques and tools to calm yourself down naturally.
Yoga often incorporates mindful breathing and meditation techniques, which can help activate the body’s relaxation response. This can counteract the physiological effects of stress and promote a sense of calm.
The practice of yoga involves the integration of physical postures with breath awareness. This connection between the body and mind can promote a heightened sense of self-awareness and present-moment focus, reducing rumination and worry.
Regular physical activity, such as the movement involved in yoga, has been shown to release endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers. Engaging in physical exercise can contribute to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression.
Breath Control (Pranayama)
Many yoga practices emphasize controlled breathing exercises, known as pranayama. Deep and intentional breathing can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, reducing the physiological symptoms of anxiety and promoting relaxation.
Yoga often includes mindfulness practices and meditation, which have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness encourages you to be present in the moment without judgment, fostering a non-reactive awareness of thoughts and emotions.
Anxiety and depression can often disrupt sleep patterns. The relaxation and stress-reducing aspects of yoga may contribute to improved sleep quality, which, in turn, can positively impact mood and overall well-being.
Best Types of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
Various types of yoga can be beneficial for managing anxiety and depression, and the best type may vary from person to person based on individual preferences and needs. However, some styles are often recommended as the best types of yoga for mental health, due to their emphasis on relaxation, mindfulness, and stress reduction.
Here are some of the most popular forms of yoga for mental health:
Ashtanga yoga can be beneficial for dealing with anxiety and depression due to its structured sequence of postures, focus on breath synchronization, and mindfulness aspects. The physically demanding nature of the practice helps build strength, flexibility, and endurance, releasing endorphins that contribute to improved mood and reduced depression symptoms.
The emphasis on coordinating breath with movement (vinyasa) fosters awareness of the breath, further promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. The practice also encourages mindfulness and a meditative state, redirecting attention away from excessive worry, offering stability for those dealing with anxiety.
Ashtanga yoga’s combination of physical exertion, breath control, and mindfulness activates the body’s relaxation response, reducing physiological stress symptoms and making it a top style of yoga for mental health.
Hatha yoga is a traditional form of yoga that focuses on physical postures and breath control. This type of yoga for mental health offers a gentle introduction to yoga, emphasizing the connection between body and mind.
Through relaxation techniques and gentle movements, Hatha yoga activates the body’s relaxation response, reducing overall stress levels and promoting a sense of calm. The practice encourages a mindful connection between physical postures and breath awareness, fostering self-awareness and present-moment focus to alleviate excessive worry.
The deliberate physical movements of hatha yoga contribute to increased flexibility, strength, and balance. Regular physical activity, as seen in hatha yoga, releases endorphins, improving mood and alleviating symptoms of depression. The emphasis on breath control techniques, such as deep, conscious breathing, helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms.
Hatha yoga often includes relaxation and restorative poses, promoting deep relaxation and calming effects on the nervous system. It is generally accessible for people of all fitness levels and ages, adaptable to various physical and mental health conditions.
Gentle yoga is a mild and accessible form of yoga that prioritizes ease and relaxation over intensity. In this practice, you engage in slow and deliberate movements that may include seated postures, gentle stretches, and breathing exercises.
The slow and intentional nature of the movements promotes mindfulness, encouraging you to focus on the present moment. This mindfulness practice can be particularly helpful in redirecting thoughts away from anxious or depressive patterns.
The emphasis on breath awareness in gentle yoga further contributes to stress reduction. The incorporation of conscious breathing exercises, known as pranayama, can activate the body’s relaxation response, leading to a sense of calm and centeredness. This aspect of the practice aligns with research indicating the positive impact of mindful breathing on mental well-being.
Gentle yoga provides an opportunity for you to connect with your body in a gentle and non-judgmental way. The focus on self-care and self-compassion inherent in gentle yoga can be empowering for those navigating the challenges of anxiety and depression.
Kundalini yoga is a spiritual and dynamic form of yoga that aims to awaken and channel the dormant spiritual energy, often referred to as Kundalini, located at the base of the spine. This practice incorporates physical postures, breath control (pranayama), meditation, and chanting to stimulate the flow of energy through the body’s energy centers, or chakras.
Kundalini yoga uses a combination of physical movement, breathwork, and meditation is believed to release stagnant energy and promote a sense of balance and vitality. The practice’s emphasis on the spiritual dimension helps you gain a broader perspective on your experiences and foster a deeper connection with yourself.
The dynamic and rhythmic nature of Kundalini yoga can also help alleviate physical tension and stress. The intentional and repetitive movements, often accompanied by chanting and music, create a meditative and uplifting environment. This may contribute to a shift in mood and a reduction in symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
Kundalini yoga also incorporates specific breath techniques, such as Breath of Fire, which are thought to energize the body and calm the mind. These practices may help regulate the nervous system, reducing physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety, making it a popular type of yoga for mental health.
Additionally, Kundalini yoga often includes meditation and mantra chanting. Meditation can cultivate a sense of inner peace and mental clarity, while chanting mantras is believed to have a vibrational effect on the mind and body, influencing mood and promoting emotional well-being.
Anusara yoga is a modern style of yoga for mental health that places a strong emphasis on alignment, heart-opening practices, and a philosophy of intrinsic goodness. The practice incorporates physical postures, breathwork, and a commitment to mindful awareness.
The alignment principles in Anusara focus on optimal body positioning, which may enhance physical comfort and reduce the risk of injury. The deliberate attention to alignment can create a sense of stability, both physically and mentally, fostering a grounded and centered experience.
Anusara’s heart-opening practices, both physical and metaphorical, encourage you to approach life with an open heart. This can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with emotional challenges, as heart-opening poses and intentions may promote a sense of vulnerability, self-compassion, and emotional release.
Additionally, the philosophy of intrinsic goodness in Anusara emphasizes the belief that everyone possess innate goodness. For those navigating anxiety and depression, this philosophical foundation can offer a positive and affirming perspective, fostering self-acceptance and self-love.
Breathwork is an integral part of Anusara yoga as well, with conscious breathing techniques incorporated into the practice. Mindful breathing can help regulate the nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing symptoms associated with anxiety. The synchronization of breath and movement further encourages a focused and meditative state of mind.
Bikram yoga, created by Bikram Choudhury, is a specific form of hot yoga practiced in a room heated to a high temperature, usually around 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 degrees Celsius). The practice consists of a set sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, each performed twice during a 90-minute session.
The intense heat in the practice space is believed to increase flexibility and promote detoxification through sweating, providing a physical release that may contribute to a sense of relaxation and well-being.
The structured sequence of postures in Bikram yoga allows you to develop a familiar routine, which can be comforting and grounding. The repetition of the same sequence may offer a sense of predictability, helping you feel more at ease during the practice.
The combination of physical postures and controlled breathing in the heated environment can enhance mindfulness and focus. Concentrating on the breath and the present moment may divert attention away from anxious thoughts and promote mental clarity.
Bikram yoga is a physically challenging practice that can contribute to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood-enhancing chemicals. This physical exertion, combined with the heat, can lead to a sense of accomplishment and improved mood.
Kaivalya yoga, also known as Kaivalya Dharma, is a form of yoga for mental health that emphasizes the path of self-realization and spiritual liberation. The term “Kaivalya” in Sanskrit refers to the state of absolute independence, detachment, and transcendence. This yoga philosophy is rooted in the teachings of ancient Indian scriptures and the concept of moksha, which is liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
The practice involves self-inquiry, introspection, and meditation, guiding you toward a deeper understanding of your true nature and the nature of existence. Kaivalya yoga encourages you to go beyond the fluctuations of the mind and connect with the eternal and unchanging aspect of the self. Through meditation and contemplation, you can develop a greater sense of inner peace, self-awareness, and acceptance.
The philosophy of Kaivalya yoga views the mind as a tool rather than the true self. By recognizing the transient nature of thoughts and emotions, you can experience a shift in perspective, reducing the impact of anxiety and depression on your sense of self.
The practice also emphasizes the importance of ethical living and self-discipline as foundational elements on the path to liberation. Cultivating positive virtues and embracing a sense of purpose can contribute to a more balanced and harmonious mental state.
Kaivalya yoga often encourages a detachment from external circumstances and a focus on inner stillness. This shift in attention from external stressors to internal peace can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with anxiety, providing a sense of refuge and tranquility.
Iyengar yoga is a style of yoga that places a strong emphasis on precision, alignment, and the use of props. This practice involves holding poses for longer durations, allowing you to focus on refining you alignment and gaining a deeper understanding of each posture.
The emphasis of this type of yoga for mental health is on precise alignment that promotes physical stability and balance, providing a sense of grounding and support. This meticulous attention to alignment extends beyond the physical body, encouraging mental focus and concentration, which can be helpful in managing anxious thoughts.
The practice involves a deliberate sequencing of poses, promoting a gradual and systematic progression. This mindful approach encourages you to be present in the moment, redirecting attention away from past or future concerns that may contribute to anxiety and depression.
Iyengar yoga often incorporates breath awareness as an integral part of the practice. Conscious breathing, combined with the precision of movement, can have a calming effect on the nervous system. This intentional breathwork contributes to stress reduction and promotes relaxation.
The sustained holds in Iyengar yoga also facilitate a meditative quality, encouraging a sense of introspection and inner stillness. This meditative aspect can be beneficial for anyone seeking relief from the restless thoughts associated with anxiety and depression.
Restorative yoga is a gentle and therapeutic style of yoga that prioritizes relaxation and rejuvenation. In this practice, you engage in a series of passive, supported poses using props such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks. The aim is to create a comfortable and nurturing environment that allows the body and mind to release tension and stress.
This form of yoga is particularly beneficial for anxiety and depression due to its emphasis on deep relaxation. Restorative yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the “fight or flight” response associated with anxiety. By holding poses for an extended period (usually 5 to 20 minutes), you can experience a profound sense of physical and mental release.
The use of props in restorative yoga promotes a feeling of support and comfort, which can be especially therapeutic for people dealing with emotional challenges. This sense of security allows you to surrender into each pose, facilitating a state of profound relaxation and quieting the mind.
The slow-paced and mindful nature of restorative yoga encourages you to be present in the moment, fostering mindfulness and reducing anxiety related to future uncertainties or past experiences. The focus on conscious breathing during the poses further contributes to a calm and centered state of being.
Regular practice of restorative yoga can also improve sleep quality, which is often disrupted in people with anxiety and depression. The relaxation response elicited by this practice can positively impact overall mood and contribute to a sense of well-being.
Yin yoga is a slow-paced and introspective style of yoga that involves holding passive poses for an extended period, typically ranging from 3 to 5 minutes or even longer. Unlike more dynamic forms of yoga, Yin yoga targets the deep connective tissues of the body, including ligaments, tendons, and fascia, with an emphasis on promoting flexibility and joint mobility.
The prolonged holding of poses allows you to explore a meditative and mindful state, fostering a sense of inner stillness and presence. This contemplative aspect of the practice can be particularly valuable in reducing mental chatter and promoting a calmer mental space.
The emphasis on deep stretching and release in Yin yoga can help alleviate physical tension, which is often associated with stress and emotional distress. By focusing on the breath and surrendering into each pose, you can experience a gradual release of physical and mental tightness, contributing to a sense of ease and relaxation.
Yin yoga also encourages you to embrace discomfort in a controlled and supported environment. This process of acceptance and patience can translate into increased resilience and coping mechanisms when facing challenges outside the yoga practice.
Additionally, the calming effects of Yin yoga on the nervous system may contribute to a reduction in overall anxiety levels. The practice’s meditative qualities, combined with conscious breathing, can promote a state of mental calmness and emotional balance.
Sivananda Yoga is a traditional and holistic approach to yoga that is rooted in the teachings of classical hatha yoga and emphasizes a balanced practice that includes physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), relaxation (savasana), diet, and positive thinking. As such, Sivananda Yoga aims to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
It offers a comprehensive approach to support overall mental health. The practice incorporates a series of 12 core asanas, each designed to work on different aspects of the body and promote flexibility, strength, and balance. The emphasis on physical postures helps release tension and stress stored in the body, contributing to a sense of physical ease and relaxation.
Pranayama, or breath control, is a key component of Sivananda Yoga. The practice includes various breathing techniques that can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Mindful breathwork can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by promoting relaxation and creating a connection between the body and mind.
Savananda Yoga places significance on relaxation, particularly in the form of Savasana (corpse pose). This pose, practiced at the end of each session, allows you to surrender into a state of deep relaxation. Regular practice of Savasana can contribute to stress reduction and provide you with tools to cultivate a sense of inner peace.
The incorporation of positive thinking and meditation in Sivananda Yoga further addresses the mental and emotional aspects of mental health and wellbeing. Cultivating a positive mindset and practicing meditation can be beneficial for managing anxious thoughts and promoting a more balanced mental state.
Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic and flowing style of yoga that synchronizes movement with breath. In this practice, a series of poses are linked together in a continuous and seamless sequence, creating a rhythmic and meditative flow. Vinyasa, which means “breath synchronized movement” in Sanskrit, encourages a fluid and mindful connection between breath and motion.
The dynamic nature of the practice provides an opportunity for physical expression and release of tension, making it an incredible type of yoga for mental health. The intentional linking of breath and movement helps to create a moving meditation, redirecting the mind’s focus away from anxious thoughts and promoting a sense of present-moment awareness.
The rhythmic and flowing sequences in Vinyasa yoga can have a soothing effect on the nervous system. The practice emphasizes controlled, conscious breathing, which can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a reduction in stress levels and anxiety symptoms.
The physicality of Vinyasa yoga contributes to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers. Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to positively impact mood and reduce symptoms of depression.
Vinyasa yoga encourages you to explore and express themselves through movement, fostering a sense of creativity and self-discovery. This exploration can be empowering for people navigating the challenges of anxiety and depression, providing an avenue for self-expression and self-acceptance.
Tips For Starting a Yoga Practice from Home
Starting a yoga practice at home, especially with a subscription, can be a convenient and effective way to incorporate this beneficial activity into your routine. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Choose the Right Platform
Explore various online platforms that offer yoga subscriptions. Consider factors such as the variety of classes, instructors, and the style of yoga offered when selecting a platform. Our favourite choices include platforms like Yoga Download and Yoga Burn.
Set Realistic Goals
Begin with realistic expectations. Start with shorter sessions if you’re new to yoga and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your comfort and fitness levels improve.
Create a Dedicated Space
Designate a specific area in your home for your yoga practice. Keep it clutter-free and create a calming atmosphere with items like a yoga mat, props, and perhaps some soothing music or candles.
Invest in Essential Equipment
While not mandatory, having a good-quality yoga mat and any necessary props (blocks, straps, etc.) can enhance your practice and provide added comfort and support.
Explore Different Styles
Try various styles of yoga to find what resonates with you. Platforms like Yoga Download offer a wide range of classes, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, and more. Experimenting with different styles can help keep your practice interesting and enjoyable.
Follow a Schedule
Establish a consistent schedule for your practice. Having a regular routine can help create a sense of discipline and make it easier to incorporate yoga into your daily life.
Start with Beginner Classes
If you’re new to yoga, begin with beginner or foundational classes. This will help you build a strong foundation and understand proper alignment and breathing techniques.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to your body and practice at your own pace. Avoid pushing yourself too hard, especially in the beginning. Yoga is about cultivating self-awareness and self-compassion.
Track Your Progress
Keep a yoga journal to track your progress. Note how you feel before and after each session, and celebrate small achievements along the way.
Remember, consistency is key when establishing a home yoga practice. Enjoy the journey and allow your practice to evolve over time as you discover what works best for you.
Adding yoga to your life is like giving your mind a cozy blanket and a warm cup of tea. It’s not just about getting your stretch on – although that part is awesome – but it’s this cool combo of breath, movement, and zen vibes that can totally boost your mental health. Whether you’re into the chill vibes of restorative yoga or the energetic flow of Vinyasa, there’s a yoga flavor for everyone. It’s like a self-discovery adventure where you’re the main character, battling stress, anxiety, and those gloomy days with your trusty yoga mat. With each pose, you’re leveling up your balance, resilience, and inner peace. Yoga isn’t just a workout; it’s a friend that’s got your back on this wild mental health journey, making it a fun and fantastic addition to your daily routine!