To quell anxiety, try this short meditation followed by a seated yoga sequence from Lynn Stoller, a Boston-based Hatha Yoga teacher and occupational therapist who teaches trauma-sensitive yoga to veterans and their families. These poses can be practiced anywhere with a chair.
Read more How Yoga Calms Anxiety Holistically
“One of the best meditations for anxious people is open monitoring—sitting and noticing things that are happening in their environment, from physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions to external sounds,” says Steve Hickman, PsyD, executive director of the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness. “People with anxiety tend to feel their thoughts are coming at them like a waterfall. Open monitoring allows you to stand in the quiet space behind the waterfall and watch your thoughts but not be pummeled by them.” Try this open-monitoring meditation for 5 minutes a few days in a row and gradually increase the time you sit as you become familiar with the practice:
Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and for a minute or two gently allow your mind to rest on your breath, following the inflow and outflow through your nostrils. Then expand your awareness and notice your present-moment experience—tension in your neck, racing thoughts, sounds around you. When something comes up, whether it’s a thought, sensation, or emotion, name it without judging—“Thinking is happening,” “Worry is happening,” “Planning is happening”—and allow it to pass freely. “The dispassionate phrasing allows you to distance yourself from the experience so you can see it as nothing more than a random nerve firing instead of a fact or imperative,” says Hickman. “It trains your mind to allow anxious thoughts to be born, hover, and pass away without having a big emotional impact.”
Sit in a chair with your feet planted on the floor directly under your knees and arms down by your sides. Press your sitting bones into the seat as you lengthen up through your spine. Turn your palms upward, and take a slow inhale as you circle your arms out to the sides and overhead, connecting your palms. On an exhale, slowly lower your connected palms behind your neck while lifting your elbows toward the ceiling. On an inhale, bring your palms back up over your head. As you exhale, separate your palms and turn them downward as you slowly lower your arms back to your sides.
Why it works: This dynamic stretch lifts the rib cage, allowing for a deeper breath. It also stretches the chest, which is typically contracted into a protective posture when anxiety is present. The postural change may reduce worry and fear since the physical sensations we feel in the body can affect our emotions.
Knee Bend to Cobra
On an inhale, press your sitting bones into the seat surface as you lengthen up through your spine. As you exhale, tilt your pelvis backward, rounding your back and tucking your chin as you lift one knee toward your forehead. Stay here until the last drop of your exhale. As you inhale, lower your leg back to the floor as you lift your “tail” out from under you, lengthen your spine, and expand your chest while grasping the sides of the chair. Switch sides; repeat 4 times on each side.
Why it works: This powerful cousin to Cat–Cow helps to loosen the spine, massage and squeeze out tension in the abdominal area, modulate the breath, and facilitate a deeper exhale that calms the nervous system.
Sun Breath Twist
On an inhale, bring your arms out to your sides and overhead. On an exhale, maintain length in your spine as you twist your torso to the right, placing your left hand on the outside of the right knee, and your right arm to the chair. On an inhale, bring your arms back up overhead as you untwist back to center. Switch sides; repeat for three reps. On a fourth rep, hold the twist for three breaths on each side; slowly unwind and feel the effects.
Why it works: Twists squeeze out tension in the abdominal area; stretching overhead lifts the rib cage, allowing for a deeper, calming breath.
On an inhale, sweep your arms out to your sides and overhead. On an exhale, turn your palms down and swan-dive forward, hinging at the hips. As you come into a fold, place your palms on your lower thighs to protect your back. On an inhale, press your palms against your thighs to assist in lifting back up, and finish the inhale by lifting your arms back out to the sides and overhead. Repeat six times, moving slowly and rhythmically with your breath. On your sixth fold, release your hands to the floor, allowing your head to hang between your legs for 30 seconds. Bring your forearms to your thighs for a few breaths, then press your palms against your thighs as you inhale back to an upright position.
Why it works: The rhythmic movement calms the amygdala—the brain structure that can be hyperalert to potential threats.
Finish the practice with your hands in Murti Mudra for 1–2 minutes: Clasp your hands together and extend the little fingers, pressing them together and pointing them forward, while resting the clasped hands in front of your belly or on your lap.
Why it works: This mudra from the tradition of Integrative Yoga Therapy draws the energy of the breath downward, extending the exhalation, which is grounding and calming.