If you suffer from acute anxiety, try a gentle restorative class with plenty of focus on breathing, suggests San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher and physician Baxter Bell. Viniyoga, in which poses are synchronized with the breath, is a good option; even better would be to find a teacher who stresses Pranayama, the science of yogic breathing. One breath pattern Bell recommends calls for adding one second to each exhalation, so your exhalations grow increasingly longer than your inhalations. "This is a quieting, calming breath pattern that combats stress," Bell says.
My favorite poses are backbends and chest openers such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), simply because they make me feel free and open. And these are among the poses yoga teachers most often recommend.
Go Upside Down
Other favorites are supported inversions because they give you the relaxation benefits of going upside down without the hard work—and stress—of a challenging pose such as Handstand. "When the blood rushes to your head, your body interprets it as a rise in blood pressure and reacts to calm you down," Bell says. Your heart rate and breathing slow and your blood vessels dilate. However, if inversions scare you, they may trigger the fight-or-flight response, which in turn boosts anxiety. If that's the case, you should practice Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) or Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) as the perfect compromise. Lastly, Bell recommends sitting and standing twists to release emotional tension.
Melanie Haiken is a freelance writer in San Rafael, California.