Yoga for Anxiety

Many people come to yoga for help with anxiety, but often this comes with additional fears. For example, fears about being a beginner, the unknown, what other students in class will be like, what the teacher will be like, what will happen if you want to leave early, etc. Most people who are new to yoga share these fears, but for those already suffering from anxiety issues, this may feel even more intense.
At Heartland Yoga, all teachers are well equipped to help all students, including those with anxious tendencies, to feel comfortable during class. Of course, yoga is not a substitute for other mental health care resources, but research has shown that there are many powerful benefits of yoga for anxiety in particular. Below is a brief review of the literature relevant to yoga and anxiety. For additional information, see Dr. Betsy Rippentrop’s tips for anxiety below.
If you have specific questions or concerns about how Heartland Yoga can help you manage your anxiety, please contact us at

Betsy’s Tips for Anxiety

• If sedentary, increase movement first, followed by restorative poses.
• If body is tense and anxious, move directly into restorative poses.
• Ground the system using standing poses, and/or visualizing energy moving from the heart to the root.
• Forward bends, hip openers, and restorative poses are recommended.
• Breathe deeply on a 1:2 ratio of inhalation to exhalation
• Focus on blowing out stress, tension, fear, and anxiety
• Focus on blowing out stress, tension, fear, and anxiety
All yoga classes offered at Heartland are great for anxiety. Listed below are a few classes that may be especially beneficial. For more details see our class schedule.
·      Alignment Flow

Research on Yoga and Anxiety

Decreases in anxiety symptoms
Yoga has been shown to be effective for reducing anxiety symptoms in specific populations, including the elderly (Allen & Steinkohl, 1987), AIDS and HIV patients (Bonadies, 2004), individuals with asthma (Goyeche, Abo, & Ikemi, 1982), organ- transplant recipients (Kreitzer, Gross, Ye, Russas, & Treesak, 2005) psychiatric patients (Lavey, Sherman, Mueser, Osborne, Currier, & Wolfe, 2005), individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (Taneja, Deepak, Poojary, Acharya, Pandey, & Sharma 2004), children with ADHD (Harrison, Manocha, & Rubia, 2004), and individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Kirkwood, Rampes, Tuffrey, & Pilkington). Research has also shown that yoga reduces examination anxiety. Yoga may be effective in reducing anxiety because of its capacity to lower excitability and increase concentration and self-control (Sharma, Yadava, & Hooda, 2005).
Allen, K. S., & Steinkohl, R. P. (1987). Yoga in a geriatric mental clinic. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 9, 61-68.
Bonadies, V. (2004). A yoga therapy program for AIDS-related pain and anxiety: Implications for therapeutic recreation. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 38, 148-166.
Goyeche, J. R., Abo, Y., & Ikemi, Y. (1982). Asthma: The yoga perspective: II. Yoga therapy in the treatment of asthma. Journal of Asthma, 19, 189-201.
Kreitzer, M.J., Gross, C.R., Ye, X., Russas, V., & Treesak, C. (2005). Longitudinal impact of mindfulness meditation on illness burden in solid- organ transplant recipients. Progress in Transplantation, 15, 166-172.
Lavey, R., Sherman, T., Mueser, K. T., Osborne, D. D., Currier, M., & Wolfe, R. (2005). The effects of yoga on mood in psychiatric inpatients. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 28, 399-402.
Taneja, I., Deepak, K. K., Poojary, G., Acharya, I. N., Pandey, R. M., & Sharma, M. P. (2004). Yogic versus conventional treatment in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized control study. Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback, 29, 19-33.
Harrison, L. J., Manocha, R., & Rubia, K. (2004). Sahaja yoga meditation as a family treatment program for children with attention deficit- hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 9, 479-497.
Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J., & Pilkington, K. (2005). Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review of the research evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 884 – 891.
Sharma, N. R., Yadava, A., & Hooda, D. (2005). Effect of yoga on psycho-physical functions. Journal of Indian Psychology, 23, 37-42.
Increases calmness by increasing peripheral nervous system activity.
The peripheral nervous system includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system excites the body, alerting heart rate, blood pressure, clotting mechanisms, blood sugar level, respiration, and voluntary muscles to prepare for action. The parasympathetic nervous system promotes rest and regeneration. Both systems are necessary for our survival and well-being. Deep breathing stimulates the relaxation response (activated by the parasympathetic nervous system), instead of the fight-or-flight response (activated by the sympathetic nervous system). Practicing yoga can create changes in these areas of the peripheral nervous system. Voluntary changes in breathing patterns can account for 40% of the variance in emotions (i.e. feelings of anger, fear, joy, and sadness). Practicing yogic breathing can increase activity in the peripheral nervous system, which works to calm our bodies. (Streeter, Gerbarg, Saper, Ciraulo, & Brown, 2012).
Streeter, C.C., Gerbarg, P.I., Saper, R.B., Ciraulo, D.A., & Brown, R.P. (2012). Effects of Yoga on the Autonomic Nervous System, Gamma- aminobutyric-acid, and Allostasis in Epilepsy, Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical Hypotheses.
Increases in GABA levels
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that induces relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety. Findings show that a 60 minute yoga session in experienced practitioners is acutely associated with a 27% increase in GABA levels. Anxiety and depression are marked by low GABA levels, so this suggests yoga should be explored as a possible treatment for such issues (Streeter, Jensen, Perlmutter, Cabral, Tian, Terhune, Ciraulo, & Renshaw, 2007).
Streeter, C.C., Jensen, J.E., Perlmutter, R.M., Cabral, H.J., Tian, H., Terhune, D.B., Ciaulo, D.A., & Renshaw, P.F. (2007). Yoga Asana Sessions Increase Brain GABA Levels: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13, 419-426.