How yoga helps anxiety

The mind is a funny thing. Buddha describes it as being filled with drunken monkeys, endlessly chattering, jumping from one branch to another. One thought can trigger another, and another, and it can sometimes feel as if the mind is spiralling out of control into a pit of worry. Just like fretting about not being able to sleep keeps you up forever, trying to stop thinking is counterproductive – after all, what we resist persists.


From a physiological perspective, yoga practice is a unique exercise. Even as we are physically exerting ourselves, the deep steady breathing throughout each movement in our practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – our “rest and digest” system, responsible for putting the brakes on, telling the body to relax.


Instead of battling with the mind, trying to get the monkeys to stop chattering, yoga strikes right at the physical symptoms of stress – shallow, rapid breath, increased heart rate and tense muscles. The breathing is consciously slowed. Slower breathing triggers neurotransmitters which then slow the heart rate. And it’s virtually impossible to hold your muscles tense on a long, slow exhalation – don’t believe me, try it!


The thing about thoughts is that they’re verbal and conceptual. When you practice yoga, you focus on the movement of your breath, of your body, and the sensations that arise from doing so. These very real, physical sensations give the mind something non-verbal to focus on – “distracting” the monkeys’ clamouring for branches of thoughts, judgments and regrets, allowing you to simply be.


Have you noticed any difference in the way you handle your day-to-day stresses, since you’ve started practising yoga? Leave a comment and let us know!


Photo credit: Jon Supnik