Yoga for Stress, Anxiety and Depression

We live in a world where most of us are in a constant state of “fight or flight”. We are rushing from one thing to the next, whether it be dropping the kids off to school or daycare, travelling to work, going to the gym, visiting the shops, caring for loved ones, doing housework and chores. We are caught up in whirlwind of daily events, leaving most people feeling like they are on a hamster wheel with no idea how to step off it.

The “fight or flight” response is the primary role of our sympathetic nervous system, this is one part of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for priming the body for action. Sympathetic nervous system stimulation causes vasoconstriction of most blood vessels, including many of those in the skin, the digestive tract, and the kidneys. This is an essential part of our nervous system and is not only responsible for keeping us alert and away of threatening situations but it also keeps us motivated and active, enabling us to ‘get things done’. The problem arises when we don’t counter this part of the autonomic nervous system with the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and digest” activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion and defecation. Its action is described as being complementary to that of the sympathetic nervous system. It is essential that we revert back to the parasympathetic nervous system to give our physical bodies, minds and emotions a rest. The problem most people have is that they are in prolonged periods of “fight or flight” response and experience reduced periods of “rest and digest”. Over time to body starts to adjust to these habits and eventually we are unable to switch from the sympathetic nervous system back to the parasympathetic nervous system. Just coming home and sleeping before starting all over again isn’t enough. We need to be in a conscious state of “rest and digest” for it to benefit our minds and bodies. If we don’t take control of this we are likely to become stressed, anxious and may start suffering with depression.

Yoga is an incredible way of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga requires you to focus on the movement of your breath and body. You learn to ‘get out of your head’ and back into your body. In a typical yoga class you will spend time meditating – don’t be freaked out by this, meditation is literally just about sitting still and focusing on your breath; you’ll then learn pranayama (breath control) this will teach you how to use your breath correctly, giving you skills to use the breath in stressful situations to help you calm the mind and body; you’ll also learn asanas (physical postures), these will not only strengthen the body, build flexibility and balance but they also help to calm the mind as they become a moving meditation, this is a great way to release stress and anxiety as you are giving the mind something positive to focus on and you will over time start to let go some of your worries and tension; and most importantly you’ll learn the art of relaxation, a good yoga teacher will get you to come into relaxation at the start of your session to help you calm your mind and set your intentions for your class, it’s always great practice to consider what you want to get out of your yoga practice that day, you should also always finish your yoga session in relaxation to allow your body and mind to absorb the benefits of your practice.

The following postures are recommended to help reduce the systems of stress, anxiety and depression;

Savasana/Corpse Pose

Calms the brain/mind
Relieves stress
Relaxes the physical body
Reduces the effects of fatigue
Lowers blood pressure
Connects the mind and body to the breath
Reduces adrenaline hormone
Reduces headaches
Helps insomnia
Relieves mild stress and anxiety

Uttanasana/Standing Forward Bend

Warms muscles
Increases flexibility
Stretches and strengthens the spine
Links mind, body and breath
Calms, relaxes and irons out tensions of the day

Trikonasana/Triangle Pose

Increases circulation
Lengthens the spine
Stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees and ankles
Stretches the hips, groin, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest
Stimulates abdominal organs


Expands the chest
Increases lung capacity
Strengthens and revitalises the arms, wrists and shoulders
Stretches the upper body
Improves concentration
Aids stamina
Relieves insomnia
Improves emotional wellbeing – this is an exciting pose to achieve!
Tones the abdominal organs
Lifts the hips above the heart
Builds confidence

Paschimottanasana/West Pose

Stimulates the heart and respiratory system
Stimulates liver and kidneys
Helps high blood pressure
Assists with insomnia
Stimulates and facilitates digestion
Eases and lengthens the muscles of the spine
Stimulates the Mooladhara Chakra
Stretches the groin, hamstrings, upper gluteal muscles
Supports Ilio Sacral joint
Massages abdominal organs
Relieves: fatigue, sciatica, backache, menstrual discomfort opens up the rear facing chakras

Ardha Matsyendrasana/Seated Spinal Twist

Stimulates the liver and kidneys
Stretches the shoulders, hips, and neck
Stretches and energises the spine
Stimulates the digestive fire in the belly and eliminates waste
Relieves menstrual discomfort, fatigue, sciatica, and backache
Therapeutic for asthma and infertility
Traditional texts say that Ardha Matsyendrasana increases appetite, destroys most deadly diseases, and awakens kundalini
Tones and strengthens abs and obliques
Open the shoulders, neck, and hips
Increases flexibility, especially in hips and spine
Cleanses the internal organs
Stimulates liver, heart, lungs, kidneys and spleen
Releases excess heat and toxins from organs and tissues


Aids circulation
Aids digestion
Strengthens the muscles of the spine, the glutes, triceps and quadriceps
Tones the abdominal muscles
Increases flexibility
Stretches the shoulders, chest, throat, belly, and hamstrings
Improves posture
Reduces stress
Lead by the heart centre


Stimulates the abdominal organs
Aids digestion
Strengthens the spine and lower back
Firms the buttocks
Improves flexibility of the spine
Stretches and opens the throat, chest, lungs and abdomen
Opens the heart and lungs
Heart Centre leads the pose
Strengthens the legs
Reduces stress and fatigue
Soothes sciatica
Aids asthma due to expanded lung and throat
Supports Kundalini energy to rise through the body


Encourages circulation of blood and oxygen
Stimulates the abdominal organs, kidneys and adrenal glands
Prepares the body for fight or flight response
Strengthens muscles of the back, glutes, triceps and hamstrings
Strengthens the abdominal cavity
Encourages full body flexibility
Stretches the entire front body: throat, chest, shoulders, abdomen, quadriceps, hip flexors, psoas and calves
Reduces stress
Massages the solar plexus
Opens up the front facing chakras
Allows us to look forward

Sirsasana/Headstand or Dolphin Pose

Oxygenated blood flow to the head
Good for eye sight
Builds muscles of the neck, spine, shoulders, arms and chest
Works against gravity
Gives a huge sense of personal achievement
Works the endocrine system
Works the lymphatic system
Stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands
Aids the respiratory system
Stimulates the chakras
Creates Agni
Aids circulation
Helps varicose veins
Energises body and mind
Helps memory problems
Stimulates the hair follicles

Sarvangasana/Shoulder Stand

Stimulates the endocrine system
Stimulates the lymphatic system
Stimulates the nervous system (especially plough pose)
Improves memory and concentration
Improves blood circulation
Relieves varicose veins
Repositions vital organs of the body
Strengthens neck, arm, shoulder and abdominal muscles
Aids scoliosis (though balance may be more difficult) and general alignment of the spine
Opens the mind
Halasana/Plough Calms the brain
Stimulates: Lymphatic system, Thyroid & Parathyroid, Abdominal organs
Relieves Tension: Shoulder, Back
Improves Blood circulation
Reduces Stress
Improves Digestion
Helps with Insomnia
Stretches: Shoulders, Neck, Spine
Reduces Fatigue
Helps Sinusitis


Expands chest and thoracic spine
Increases lung capacity
Stretches: Deep hip flexors (psoas), Intercostal
Stretches and Stimulates:
Belly muscles
Front and back muscles
Abdominal organs
Throat organs
Strengthens: Upper back muscles, Back of neck muscles
Improves posture

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