While much of the research about yoga and anxiety is anecdotal, research suggests that a 60-minute yoga session can have a positive impact on reducing anxiety (Ratey, 2008). Most yoga routines for anxiety focus on maximizing the calming influence of yoga by focusing on breathing, mindfulness, and gentle flows. Those routine are wonderful, but after reading John Ratey’s Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, I started trying a new yoga routine to see if one that required deliberate focus and effort could also have an impact on pausing an anxiety spiral (where I can’t stop thinking/worrying about something). In Spark, Ratey described research that suggested that physical movement that requires complete concentration to complete can also work to combat something like an anxiety spiral because it takes the mind off of the thing someone is worrying about. That research suggests that 20 minutes of vigorous or complicated exercise can also help to reduce anxiety levels. In that vein, I created a yoga sequence that can take just 20-30 minutes to finish. Because it is complicated and focuses on balance, it requires one’s complete attention until the final shavasana. I’ve been trying this sequence when my anxiety levels skyrocket; it’s short enough to fit into the middle of a writing session but rejuvenating enough to get me back to baseline so I can focus again.
Anxiety is a serious medical concern, and the best treatment decisions are made in conjunction with a medical team. This routine is not intended to replace medicine, therapy, or another trained professional’s advice and consultation. Further, I do not suggest that any mental disorder, anxiety included, should be treated with exercise. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and you should always consult a doctor before beginning any physical routine. I share this routine as one that has helped me, and it should not be taken or treated as medical or scientific advice.
1. Start in mountain pose. Gently ease into ujjayi breathing.
2. Move into a moon flow.
Throughout this sequence, inhale and move in each new pose on your exhale.
3. Start by stepping or jumping back into plank.
4. Move into side plank on the right side.
5. Bring your left hand back down to the ground so that you are in regular plank with the left leg raised off of the ground. Bring your left leg through your body and rotate your body so that you are resting on your left hand and your left leg is kicked out (in essence, this is left wide plank except that you are resting on your right left and your left leg is extended in front of your body). See this article for visual cues.
6. Keeping your left leg elevated, rotate your body back to center, then rotate your body to reverse plank, stepping your left leg down and extending your right arm behind you.
7. Return to front plank and repeat on the other side.
8. Come back to mountain pose and complete one full moon salutation.
9. Complete the full plank series again, followed by a moon salutation. Return to mountain pose.
Standing Series Flow
10. Start by bringing your left knee into your chest, then reaching down to grasp your foot and extend it in front of you (as far as you can). (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose, modified)
11. While breathing and maintaining focus, bring your left leg to your side, as fully extended as you can. (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose)
12. Bring it back to center, then slowly bring your knee back to your chest. Grasping the top of your foot, extend your leg behind you. (Lord of the Dance Pose)
13. Bring your knee back in and replace it gently on the floor. Repeat on the other side.
14. Complete a moon salutation, then repeat the standing series again.
15. Step back into plank, and let yourself sink to the floor before pushing back into child’s pose. Rest as needed, before completing 4-6 rounds of cat-cow breathing.
16. Move gently into camel pose, then roll onto your back, rolling from side to side.
17. Stretch out your legs in front of you for savasana. Move out of ujjayi breath, and focus on your breathing for at least five minutes.
18. And then, get on with your day!