8 Yoga Poses to Manage Anxiety

Anyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks knows that these conditions can literally stop you in your tracks. Anxiety and panic attacks take over our breath, heartbeat and can leave us feeling helpless.

I’ve been there many, many times and while there is no instant relief to take it away with the snap of a finger; there are a few yoga poses that will dilute it and bring us away from the mindset of fear and back into the light. 

Here are my top 8 yoga poses for managing anxiety:

1. Legs Up the Wall

This pose is a basic inversion, but it's my go-to for anxiety and panic attacks. Inversions help to calm the body and switch the flow of blood and energy to relieve tension. You can do this pose against an actual wall, or just freestyle on your mat.

  • Lay on your back with legs straight up in the air over your hips with your glutes and hamstrings against the wall. You can place a towel, mat or blanket under your hips.
  • Relax your neck, shoulders and belly and place your hands on your belly or to your sides with palms facing up. Focus on your breathing and with each breath release any stress or anxiety, starting from your feet and down through your body.
  • Close your eyes and practice calm breathing - stay in this pose for several minutes if you can. 
  • Exit slowly and mindfully by making sure you support your legs until they reach the ground as you roll left or right to get out of the pose. Stay on the ground for a few seconds until sitting up so as to avoid lightheadedness.

Stay between 10 and 20 minutes.

2. Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Puppy pose changes the direction of blood flow , releases chronic stress, alleviates tension, helps with insomnia and opens the heart beautifully. Opening your heart is key to finding calmness during chaos - try to visit this pose as often as you can to continue to keep your heart open and you may find that you have less panic or anxiety attacks. 

This pose can be done in a few different ways: against the wall, on blocks or on the ground.

To get into puppy pose, start from the table top position with your hips stacked over you knees (hip-distance apart) and shoulders over your wrists (shoulder-distance apart). Slowly walk your hands out as you drop your chest towards the floor. You may want to place a bolster under your forehead for support.

Press down through the hands and stretch the arms while pulling your hips back toward the heels (keeping a slight curve in your lower back). Make sure your elbows are not touching the ground, but keep your arms active by pressing the palms into the earth. 

Hold this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. 

3. Uttanasana (Forward fold) with Wall Support

Forward fold is a wonderful way to empty out negative energy through the crown of the head while reversing the blood flow and releasing tension in the back of the legs. 

To start, face the wall a half arm distance away. Start to fold into the wall with slightly bent knees while grabbing opposite elbows (allowing them to hang heavy). Release the neck and head, letting go of tension. With each deep exhale, you want to work on inching your back down the wall - creating a deeper forward fold and eventually allowing the legs to straighten if possible.

Hold here for 1 - 2 minutes.   

4. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)

Warrior III will help to calm the mind by shifting your attention away from your thoughts of fear and anxiety.

With your feet hip-distance apart, shift your body weight onto all four corners of your right foot, finding balance. Start to engage your left foot by flexing it while keeping the entire left leg activated and strong. 

Raise your arms overhead and press your weight onto your right foot. Start lifting your left leg as you lower your torso forward, making your body parallel to the ground. Reach out through the heel of your left foot, keeping both legs actively engaged. Your arms will now be reaching forward, creating a straight line from your foot to your hands. Straighten your right leg and shift your gaze toward the ground a few feet in front of you and hold for 2-3 breaths. Slowly bend into your right knee and lower your leg back to the floor and repeat on the other side.

3 - 5 breaths. 

5 & 6. Marjaryasana/ Bitilasana (Cat/Cow)

The tension that usually accompanies anxiety can create stiffness, so moving in a fluid way in sync with the breath can help to relax the body.

Begin this posture in table top position. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look straight forward.

On the exhale move into Cat by protracting through the shoulders and creating a dome at the upper back, while engaging the core and pushing your hips forward, chin to chest. 

Always be unhurried in your movements and take slow deep inhales and exhales to feel as if you’re moving through water.

5 - 10 rounds. 

7. Samakonasana (Center Split)

A lot of the time we carry and store our unfinished emotions in our hips. If you’ve ever been in a yoga class when the teacher guided you into pigeon and experienced some serious emotions – that’s totally normal, and good! It a sign that you are releasing negative or unfinished emotions that you have stored within your body. Center split is a phenomenal way to release these emotions. 

Extend both legs out until you feel sensation running through them. Start to relax the feet, legs and hips as you lean forward with a straight spine. Maybe place a block or bolster in front of your body for support. Relax the face muscles and channel the breath to go deep within the body. Focus on completely filling up and completely emptying out your inhales and exhales. 

Hold for 3 - 5 minutes. 

8. Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)

One of the best actions you can do for an anxiety or panic attack is to get upside down and reverse your energy. Reversing the blood flow will make you feel happy, centered and reenergized!

If you’re new to headstand, please use a wall and use caution. 

Hold 30 seconds – 2 minutes.

May these poses bring you energy, good health and easy breathing!

Alexzandra PetersComment