A Yoga Sequence to Help Control Anxiety and Depression
Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. According to beyondblue, 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around one million Aussie adults have depression, while over 2 million have anxiety. And that’s in a normal year. This crazy year will certainly see an increase in both stats.
Anxiety and depression do not discriminate – they affect men, women, the young, the old, the frail and the physically healthy. Medication has been a lifesaver for many people, but there are also a variety of complementary therapies that can make a huge difference. Yoga, in particular, has proven to alleviate symptoms in people who have experienced depression or anxiety for both long- and short-term periods. Here is a 10-15 minute personal home practices for people experiencing anxiety or depression.
Before you begin: Get settled
Your 10-15 minute yoga practice is a sacred routine that will help bring you into wholeness. You can begin your transition into relaxation simply by creating a sacred space for your practice that is free from everyday stressors and triggers. If space is an issue, another symbolic gesture can be useful to subconsciously tell your senses that your yoga practice is beginning and that now is the time for your mind and body to unwind. This could involve playing specific music, lighting a candle or burning incense.
Tt might be good to practice outdoors, weather permitting. Connecting to nature – whether it’s the sun, the ocean, the grass – or practising outdoors has an incredible effect on our energy. When possible, I encourage you to place your yoga mat outside and feel the immediate nourishing effect of the natural environment.
Your practice begins by being mindful in setting up your space and getting comfortable in your seated position on the floor or in a chair. This means being present and focusing on each action you’re taking, as though each moment is a precious gift to be grateful for. And it is. This time is just for you. Mindfulness will begin to silence the thoughts passing through your mind and allow you to sink deeply into feeling the inner parts of your being.
Invocation, intention or mantra
I now recommend starting your session with an invocation or an intention (sankalpa – the word “kalpa” directly translates as “a vow”) for what you’d like to get out of your session. For example – “I will practise meditation as part of my daily living as it helps me feel connected and calm”.
A mantra, which you can take with you through your day, may also be helpful. Mantras are like medicine for the soul. When we select a word or series of words to repeat in the form of a mantra, we’re affirming it to ourselves and allowing its meaning to seep below the surface, into our subconscious, helping to shift our negative habits and patterns into positive ones. Mantras can also be used during or after your yoga practice, but they’re useful whenever you find your mind is being unruly. There are many potent Sanskrit mantras, however I recommend that beginners start with a positive affirmation that resonates for them.
Examples could be:
Mantra for releasing nervousness, stress and anxiety:
“I am centred, calm and grounded”
“My body and mind are relaxed, clear and present”
“I feel excess energy flow through me”(visualisation of energy leaving
my body and blessing the earth)
Mantra for lifting low moods:
“I feel positive, uplifted and fulfilled”
“My life has purpose, value
“I feel vibrant energy filling me up”
(visualisation of energy coming inwards)
Your practice starts with conscious breathing, or pranayama. When we re-learn how to breathe we can transform unconscious shallow breathing (which is widespread among people experiencing anxiety and depression) into a healthier and fuller nourishing breath. Regulation of our breathing gives us direct access to our central nervous system, so we can reverse the accumulated effects of stress on our whole system.
One of the most powerful and appropriate breathing techniques for both depression and anxiety is alternate nostril breathing, otherwise known as nadi shodhana (nadi = subtle energy channel; shodhan = cleaning, purification). Nadi shodhana helps balance and clear out blocked energy channels in the body. This in turn calms the central nervous system and the mind. After only a few minutes you’ll likely notice your mind become quieter, calmer and clearer. You may also feel a peaceful harmonious state of relaxation and perhaps a “nothingness” in your thoughts.
A few minutes of nadi shodhana pranayama each day is a great way to de-stress the mind and release accumulated tension and fatigue. I recommend you practise this technique each day, for four or five minutes to start with. It can be done first thing in the morning or before your 10-15 minute yoga practice. When you can sit comfortably for five minutes then slowly build up to 10 minutes.
Allow your body to be comfortable by sitting in a chair, lounge or the floor. Your spine is the most important part of your skeletal structure and is the central point of the nervous system. Notice if the spine is tall and active and that you are not slouching in your posture.
To begin, block your right nostril with your right thumb, inhale through the left nostril, pause for a moment, block off left nostril with pinkie finger and exhale through right, and so on. As you begin to familiarise yourself with this practice you can make a count of inhaling for four to five, holding for four to five and exhaling for four to five. Allow the pause to be comfortable and steady.
Practice for releasing nervousness, stress and depression
This 10-15 minute home practice has been chosen in this sequence to relax, ground and settle the central nervous system.
Holding Child’s Pose relaxes the spine and softens the thoughts
in the mind. Hold for one minute.
Start with a neutral spine. Inhale, look up, drop belly. Exhale, curl spine upwards and tuck chin into chest. Repeat for two minutes.
Do six full inhales and exhales up. Chin to chest, curling spine vertebrae by vertebrae, shoulders relaxed, holding opposite elbows. Hold for five to seven full breaths. Allow the head to be soft, mouth and brow relaxed. Spinal rolls assist in connecting to the parasympathetic part of the body (the non-flight self). You’ll experience a calming effect which prepares the body to rest efficiently.
Do two tree poses on each side, holding for five breaths, grounding and balancing mind and body.
Warrior I to Warrior II
Arms wide, holding for four to eight breaths on each side. Repeat. Warrior I and Warrior II improve focus, balance and stability, and encourage good circulation and respiration.
Seated forward bend
Extend your torso forward over the legs, and catch the feet or ankles with your hands. Rest your forehead on the blanket and your abdomen on the bolster for three minutes.
Bridge Pose and Shoulder stand
Do three easy back-bends, peeling the spine off the floor, holding for three to five breaths. Repeat three times. Follow with Shoulder-stand. Allow the posture to be steady and comfortable. Hold eight to 15 breaths.
Lie on the floor with a supported neck. Relax by tensing and relaxing muscle groups. Start with tensing the face for five seconds then letting go. Follow with the arms, hands, legs and toes. Lastly, hold the whole body tense then let go. Come into Corpse Pose.
To finish: Legs up the wall
Feeling grounded into the earth for complete support and surrender.
Meditation is a wonderful tool to take the pressure off the thinking mind. It allows the body to still itself to a place of harmony, relaxation and clarity. Meditation can initially be very difficult for some people, but you should notice that it gets much easier after your asana practice. It also becomes easier and more enjoyable over a committed time period, with the positive effects becoming ever more noticeable.
Meditation for lifting low moods
- Breathe out with three sounds of “AAA” in lower belly and rib cage.
- Breathe out with three sounds of “UUU” into the heart space and middle rib area.
- Breathe out with three sounds of “MMM” (mouth closed) into throat, brow and crown and upper ribs area.
- Breathe out with one AUM using all three sounds together.
- Feel the effect between each round. Allow the mouth, tongue and lips to be soft.
- When one really “listens” to this silent sound, this unstruck vibration, one comes inevitably to stillness, to pure and open existence.
Alex Ivetic is a qualified yoga teacher and yoga therapist who has practised and studied yoga for 15 years, both in Australia and internationally. Her business, InnerSense Yoga, offers yoga and yoga therapy to both individuals and groups. innersenseyoga.com.au
More: Finding Balance