Breathing Practices – Yoga & Anxiety: Yoga & Anxiety – Practices to Consider
- Breathing practices may ease anxiety symptoms by shifting the breath from short, choppy, and constricted to smooth and rhythmic.
- Breathing practices are also effective in triggering the Relaxation Response. (See more in Why Yoga Works: Yoga’s Impact on the Nervous System & Stress.)
- The benefits of yogic breathing can be both immediate and long term, since practice can make calm breathing a habit.
- Please note that beginners and those prone to anxiety may experience agitation when attempting to manipulate the breath. This is counterproductive and an indication to stop the practice. In such cases, consider practices that encourage Natural Breathing and other tools such as mantra or asana.
- Most formal pranayama techniques were designed for healthy individuals pursuing advanced goals around energy management. Thus, when working with any conditions, do not utilize formal pranayama techniques. Instead, focus on overcoming restricted breathing patterns and utilizing breath practices to help students eventually become proficient in Yogic Breathing.
Study & Teaching Tools
- For an excellent step-by-step approach to thinking about and teaching breath practices, please see Pranayama & The Breath Hub.
Breathing practices for consideration when experiencing symptoms of anxiety tend to focus on the exhalation.
- The exhalation is known as the calming and soothing aspect of the breath.
- It is associated with cooling, grounding and centeredness.
- Focusing on the exhalation and gently lengthening it is known for soothing anxiety.
- In yoga philosophy, the exhalation is said to be controlled by apana, the downward flowing energy. This is said to be a “downward rooting flow, which contracts, or tones, into a seed point at the center of the pelvic floor. This small area in the perineum is also known as the mula, or root, in yoga.” (Richard Freeman)
See more: Pranayama Terminology & Foundational Teachings
Specific practice considerations include:
- Focus on the exhalation.
- Gradually lengthen exhales.
- Softly make sound on the exhale.
- Pause briefly after exhalation, resting peacefully until inhale arises.