Feeling Anxious? Try This Calming Yoga Sequence
When life becomes overwhelming, yoga practice can be a free alternative to the pricey services of a professional therapist. An intentional yoga sequence, practiced consistently, can help relieve anxiety and restore a sense of inner peace. Yoga is as much a preventive treatment as it is curative. Seek a quiet, private place for this 20-minute sequence of movements followed by 5 minutes of still, deep breathing.
Begin by lying flat on a mat. (If you don't have a mat, use a bath towel.) Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Close your eyes and take five slow, deep breaths. Try to make the exhales longer than the inhales. This will help release tension by breathing it out of the body. Slow deep breathing also helps calm the nervous system so you can settle the mind right there on the mat.
After five breaths, bend the knees and hug them to your chest. Rock on your lower back side to side and come to rest on one side. Bring the body to a fetal position, cradling your head in your bottom arm and positioning the top arm wherever comfortable. Notice how you are nurturing your own body.
With top hand placed on the floor, press in and sit up, then turn to face the front of the mat. Move into a table-top position by placing hands underneath the shoulders and knees under hips. The tops of your feet should be face down on the mat.
Inhale deeply and arch your spine by sticking seat and chest into the air and lifting your gaze upwards. As you exhale, round spine and tuck chin toward your navel --think of one of those Halloween cat images to find the stretch across your back. On the inhale repeat the arching of the spine and the lifting of the chin and the seat. On the exhale find your cat-arched spine. Repeat for five slow, deep breaths.
Keeping your hands planted, step the right foot and then the left foot to the back of the mat, hip width apart, and come into a high plank position. Use the muscles of the back of your thighs (quadriceps) to lift knees higher while keeping hips where they are. The plank is meant to engage every part of the body and asks that you stay strong for yourself. Take five slow, full breaths in high plank.
From plank, bring hips up to the ceiling for downward facing dog. Open the fingers wide and slightly bend elbows and knees to be gentle on the joints. Take five long, deep breaths.
Gaze at the top of the mat and walk feet to the front, keeping them hip width apart and folding torso over legs. Grab opposite elbows and sway hips side to side. Come to stillness and bend knees deeply, sending hips and seat low behind you. Lift up torso and extend arms up into the air bringing biceps by ears and fingers reaching towards the ceiling. In this position, it is as if you were sitting down into a chair with arms raised over your head. Hold for five full and slow breaths.
Stand up and keep arms raised above the head. Send hips forward and reach fingers back behind you, and imagine making an arc in the air with the hands as you bend back. Come to standing tall and bring hands to hips. Take a quarter turn to the left to face the side edge of the mat. Separate feet as wide as possible and turn heels out and toes in so that the feet are slightly pigeon-toed. With hands on hips and back as straight and flat as possible, hinge at the hips to fold down to the ground and release hands to the floor. If they do not reach the floor, grip the outsides of the legs with your hands for support. Let the head hang heavy and take 10 deep, slow breaths.
Bring hands to hips and pull navel up into your spine to engage the core. With a flat back lift the torso up to stand straight. Turn to face the front of the mat and stand with feet hip width apart. Bring the sole of the right foot onto the inside of the left leg, either at the inner thigh, the calf, or resting like a kickstand on the floor. Bring the palms together in front of your heart and focus eyes on one thing in front of you that isn't moving. Breathe five full breaths and then release the right foot and repeat on the opposite side, balancing on the right leg this time and taking five long breaths to complete the pose.
Stand with feet hip width apart and arms extended long by your sides, palms open. Bring shoulder blades up to your ears, and then relax them down. Close your eyes and perform a mental body scan, starting from the feet. Name each body part as you pass over it. When reaching your head, feel it stretch up towards the ceiling to make you taller. Remain in mountain pose after the body scan for five deep, slow breaths.
Make your way onto your back and bend your knees leaving feet flat on the floor, approximately hip width apart. Press into your heels and lift hips into the air. Interlace your fingers underneath the lower back, palms together, and bring shoulder blades closer together. Press into the fist and heels to lift everything higher. Take five long breaths before releasing the grip of your hands and lowering your body. Repeat this pose twice more, holding each for five slow, deep breaths.
Move the mat so that a shorter end is flush against the wall. Sit upright and sideways against the wall (as close as possible) with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Spin around and put your legs up the wall, with back and head flat on the ground and arms extended down by hips, leaving as little space as possible between your seat and the wall. (Getting into this pose is never pretty, so don't worry if it initially feels awkward.) If you feel any pain in the low back, place a pillow underneath the hips. Close your eyes and take 15 long, slow breaths.
Bring legs down from the wall and lay your body flat on the mat. Return to the original starting position, placing one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Close your eyes and take 10 full breaths. When your mind starts to wander, bring your attention and focus back on your inhale and exhale.
After these 10 breaths, come to a comfortable seated position. Set a timer for 5 minutes and close your eyes. Take the deepest breaths possible until the timer goes off. Again, when the mind starts to wander, bring it back to the inhale and exhale. Notice the echoes of stillness as you stand up and leave the mat, feeling more internal clarity and softness.