Yoga for Anxiety and Stress: How to Ground Oneself

Anxiety is the most common mental illness diagnosis in the United States. An estimated 40 million people, ages 18 and over, are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder annually. This number does not speak to those under the age of 18, or those who experience anxiety and have not been diagnosed. Situations that bring on anxiety due to stress and difficult times or experiences in one's life call for skills to calm the body's physiological state of being.

Some form of stress exists in everybody's lives. When the body experiences stress, it goes into "fight or flight mode" and the sympathetic nervous system is activated. When this happens, the body releases certain hormones, such as cortisol, as a physiological response. While this reaction in the body can be helpful in life threatening situations, it is not good for the body to experience it persistently due to chronic stress in one's daily life. This could be a myriad of things such as stressful jobs, relationships, financial issues and persistent negative thoughts. 

Yoga, specifically speaking to the physical practice of yoga, which is called asana, has been around for thousands of years. It is said that asana was practiced so that the body could become relaxed in preparation for long periods of sitting and meditating. Yoga calms the sympathetic nervous system and produces movements that activate the spine to aid in the production of neurotransmitters in the brain that make us feel good such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. 



Below are yoga poses that one can utilize when anxiety or stress presents to promote feeling grounded. A yoga mat is not necessary but a steady surface is important. Yoga clothing is not necessary either, but be sure to be in comfortable clothes if attempting the standing poses such as Warrior I and Warrior II. One or all poses can be done and held for 5 long breaths. Be sure to complete the pose on both sides of the standing poses. You do need to be on a stable surface so that you do not slip. If your balance is off, be sure to be near a wall. Be resourceful.

*Sanskrit name

1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana*)

  • Allow the legs to be in a cross legged or comfortable position
  • Eyes are open or closed
  • Palms are face up or down 
  • Draw the shoulder back and down
  • Chin is parallel with the earth 
  • Inhale to lengthen the torso 
  • Exhale and allow knees to fall closer to the earth
Easy Pose

Easy Pose

2. Mountain Pose (Tadasana*)

  • Ground into corners of the feet 
  • Lift the toes off the earth and then release them back down
  • Feet touch slightly
  • Flex the quadriceps, drawing kneecaps upward
  • Draw the tailbone down by drawing the bellybutton towards the spine (like when you cough)
  • Shoulders are back and down
  • Arms are active and energized from shoulders to fingertips along side body 
  • Neck is in line with the rest of the spine
Mountain Pose

Mountain Pose

3. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I*)

  • Front knee is stacked over the ankle
  • Back leg is straight
  • Back foot is at a 45° angle
  • Press into the front shin and the blade of the back foot 
  • Ground into both feet evenly
  • Hips are level 
  • Arms are active and energized from shoulders to fingertips reaching towards the sky
  • Biceps are alongside the ears
  • Relax the shoulders away from the ear
  • Shoulders are over the hips
  • If you have shoulder issues, bring your hands to your hips
Warrior I

Warrior I

4. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II*)

  • Ground into both feet evenly
  • Front knee is stacked over ankle, back leg is straight
  • The back arch is in line with the front heel 
  • Outer spiral the front thigh 
  • Press into the front shit and the blade of the back food
  • Draw the tailbone down by bringing the bellybutton towards the spine
  • Hips are level
  • Relax shoulders away from ears
  • Arms extend straight from the shoulders energizing through fingertips 
  • Gaze or focal point (drishti*) is over the front center finger
Warrior II

Warrior II

5. Tree Pose (Vriksasana*)

  • Ground into standing foot (like Mountain Pose)
  • Place other foot either on ankle, calf, or thigh (anywhere but the knee)
  • Close eyes, if desired
  • Use a wall if needed for balance
  • Palms can press into one another at heart center or arms can extend upward towards the sky (like Warrior I Pose)
Tree Pose

Tree Pose