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Anxiety is a very personal thing. For those who experience it, it can feel debilitating, isolating, and difficult to describe. People have different triggers and often manifest different symptoms. They react differently to treatments and interventions, and sometimes people just need a break. While it may not be a cure-all, yoga can provide that opportunity to step away from the stress of life and find relief from anxiety

Just as anxiety comes in many shapes and sizes, so does yoga. There are many styles of yoga to choose from, all of them touting varying benefits for both body and mind. Many yoga styles are known to reduce anxiety, and different styles may benefit some people more or less. For someone who is triggered by strenuous exercise or exertion, power yoga may not be a great fit. However, another person may find their anxiety eased when they exercise enough to elevate their heart rate. Rather than trying one style and passing judgment, people would do well to try a few styles to see what one feels best for their current situation.

Yoga Styles to Alleviate Anxiety 

Ashtanga Yoga

Who may benefit from this style?

Those who find their anxiety eased through repetition and routine may find anxiety relief through ashtanga yoga. 

Ashtanga is a style of yoga that links movement to the breath in a specific sequence of movements called a series. Students move through the same poses in the same order each class, with the only variations generally being how the teacher instructs. For those looking to fall into a comfortable pattern of moving and breathing, ashtanga can be a great fit. 

While the class can be physically challenging, the repetition allows the student to know exactly what is coming next, which can provide a sense of stability and comfort to those with anxiety. It can help the mind focus without fear of the future or allow the mind to wander safely as students make their way through the poses.

 Hatha Yoga

Who may benefit from this style?

Students who are just beginning their yoga practice or are looking for simplicity as a way to relieve anxiety can benefit from hatha yoga. 

Hatha, as a style of yoga, is generally considered a more gentle and slower-paced practice. It often includes pranayama (breathing practice) and meditation, both of which are proven methods of coping with anxiety. A 2020 study showed that hatha yoga decreased both psychological and physiological stress levels. Participants had lowered cortisol levels and scored more positively on an anxiety questionnaire (Marshall et al., 2020). Because effective anxiety treatment involves both the mind and body, hatha yoga can be an exceptional complementary treatment for anxiety relief. 

Iyengar Yoga

Who may benefit from this style?

Iyengar yoga may provide anxiety relief for those who find relaxation in being physically supported and secure. 

This style of yoga comes from the philosophy of B.K.S. Iyengar and is known for its extensive use of props. Many styles of yoga use props sparingly, but Iyengar yoga uses props throughout each class to help students get into proper alignment and feel supported there. It allows students to center their body and mind and focus on the present. 

The Yoga Styles Guide from beYogi describes Iyengar yoga as “an active meditation” and a style that “approaches yoga in a scientific and therapeutic manner.” Meditation has been widely studied as a form of stress and anxiety relief with encouraging results. It can help boost the areas of the brain that affect memory, emotions, concentration, and behavior, while reducing the effects of the area of the brain where anxiety occurs (Smith, 2020). By choosing a style of yoga that emphasizes meditation, like Iyengar or hatha, students can find relief from anxiety and improvement in other aspects of their health.

Restorative Yoga

Who may benefit from this style?

People who find relief from anxiety through complete physical relaxation and stillness may benefit from restorative yoga.

Restorative yoga classes are similar to Iyengar in their use of props, but rather than focusing on proper alignment, it focuses on total relaxation. Students use the props to fully support needed areas so that they relax into a pose without feeling the need to hold themselves up. Because the body is able to fully let go, restorative yoga is also thought to help open up “physical and emotional blockage” that can come with anxiety (beYogi, 2023). That release of energy or tension may be barely noticeable for some, but for others, it can be a powerful feeling of release. With almost any style of yoga, students may be able to let go of non-serving emotions and find relief and release through their practice. 

Laughter Yoga

Who may benefit from this style?

People who may not enjoy traditional forms of yoga or the silence of a studio class can enjoy the benefits of both yoga and laughing through this more unusual style of yoga.

Laughter yoga can be a great way to relieve stress and anxiety in a less serious manner. While not every studio has a laughter yoga class, students may find classes in their communities or online. As the old saying goes “laughter is the best medicine,” and for some, it may be. If someone finds traditional yoga classes to be too quiet or somber, laughter yoga might be just the thing for them. Laughter can help relax muscles, increase air intake, and release endorphins that help boost moods and emotions. Combining yoga and laughter may provide unexpected relief and added benefits for long-time yogis and beginners alike.

Yoga Styles for Anxiety Relief

Yoga can be a valuable tool in helping relieve anxiety. Many find it to be most beneficial when used in combination with other treatments and therapies. It can provide natural relief that students can return to time and time again. As students look for a yoga class to relieve anxiety, it may help to try different styles to learn what feels the best for them. 

From what research has told us, looking for classes that encourage pranayama, meditation, or other forms of mindfulness may provide the most benefits. Professor and author Naomi M. Simon, MD, echoed this sentiment in a JAMA Psychiatry podcast when she said “we think it’s important to have mindfulness aspects of yoga – and that’s probably one of the things that make yoga effective for anxiety.” That mindfulness can be found in yoga and in everyday life as students move through the class and then take those lessons to life off their mat.

Whether a person chooses the reliable sequences of ashtanga or the cheerfulness of laughter yoga, they can reap the benefits of moving their body, calming the mind, and finding much needed relief. 


References

beYogi. (2023, January 17). Find your match: The guide to yoga styles. Beyogi. Retrieved February 19, 2023, from https://beyogi.com/ultimate-guide-to-yoga-styles/ 

Marshall M, McClanahan M, McArthur Warren S, Rogers R, Ballmann C. A Comparison of the Acute Effects of Different Forms of Yoga on Physiological and Psychological Stress: A Pilot Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Aug 21;17(17):6090. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17176090. PMID: 32825677; PMCID: PMC7503485.

Simon NM, Hofmann SG, Rosenfield D, et al. Efficacy of Yoga vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Stress Education for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(1):13–20. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2496

Smith, K. (2020, May 13). Dealing with stress, fear, anxiety? find out which style of meditation is best for you! Beyogi. Retrieved February 19, 2023, from https://beyogi.com/meditation-types/dealing-with-stress-fear-anxiety-find-out-which-style-of-meditation-is-best-for-you/ 

Sara Jackson
Sara loves helping others live and move in a way that empowers and uplifts them. She encourages people to connect to their bodies and the world around them through fitness, nutrition, and mind-body work. She provides workshops, training, and consulting to individuals and businesses to foster growth and improve well-being. She collects education like raindrops, including a B.S. in Exercise Science, 200-Hr CYT, and CPT among many others. When she’s not in the studio teaching, she’s probably outside somewhere finding her soul up in the mountains or out in the desert. Connect with her at uplifthealthtraining@gmail.com.