Yes, yoga helps for anxiety. Of the 35 studies looking at yoga and the effect on stress and anxiety, the majority of the studies show that yoga is associated with a significant reduction of stress and anxiety (Li and Goldsmith, 2012). Yoga helps you to be mindful of posture, balance, muscle tone, relationship of body parts to one another, and breathing. This helps to distract you from distressing thoughts and removes you from your stressful environment, engaging in a helpful activity that decreases anxiety.
Yoga entails going into a particular pose, stretching the involved muscles, and then holding that pose. While holding the pose, you focus on the pleasant sensation of your tense muscles being stretched out…it actually feels like someone is pulling out and ironing out all the kinks and knots in your muscles which have contributed to anxiety-induced muscular tension. In the pose, you are asked to stretch the involved muscles even more. This has a pleasant sensation associated with it, as it feels like your muscles are going back to a more relaxed state, relieving the tension build-up. And while you are in the pose, you focus on balance, so as to not break the pose. You also notice your breathing, and as you stretch your muscles, the pleasant sensation helps to slow down your rate of breathing. At this point, you are like a cat purring when relaxed and in their happy place. Finally, yoga helps you with mindfulness, as your focus is on your pose and breathing. You are focusing on the here and now, without any worries about the future, without any regrets about the past. With yoga, your body is in a state of stillness and slow rhythms, and your mind soon follows suit. Yoga is helpful for flexibility, strength, posture, and balance, which ultimately leads to relaxation through mindfulness. In other words, a session of yoga will give you a sense of well-being, both physically and mentally, and will help to decrease anxiety.
After a session of yoga, you will have a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure…this is associated with an overall decrease in anxiety levels due to your body and mind being in a state of relaxation. Physical exercise is also associated with lower heart rate and lower blood pressure. When you have anxiety, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, and this in turn causes the skeletal muscles to become tense. Yoga helps to relieve the muscular tension associated with adrenaline release from anxiety. The stretching in the different poses helps to decrease muscular tension with yoga, and also helps to discharge the pent-up nervous energy associated with the muscle tension. As previously mentioned, yoga helps to slow down your breathing rate, and you are able to take deeper, oxygen-filled breaths. The effects of yoga counteract the detrimental effects of anxiety. Anxiety is associated with increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, and muscle tension, whereas yoga is associated with opposite effects. What matters in yoga are posture and mindfulness: are you in the pose and are you aware of your breaths?
For more information on yoga and anxiety, read my book on anxiety, Anxiety Protocol. Different techniques and coping skills for anxiety, like yoga, are detailed in the book. Anxiety Protocol will help you eradicate anxiety from your life. So take out your yoga mat, put on your yoga gear, join a yoga group, and strike a pose…a yoga pose! You will find yourself more relaxed and less anxious. Namaste.