Mind & Body

Calm Yourself

Restorative yoga can ease anxiety by relaxing your body and mind.

Calm Yourself
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Yoga is a great way to deal with stress—and research backs it up. According to a recent study by the Boston University School of Medicine, any variety of yoga may increase brain levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with relaxation and lowered anxiety. If you're struggling with an anxiety disorder, try easing it with restorative yoga—the kind that uses pillows or blankets to support your body and allow you to relax deeply in every pose.

A good source for restorative poses is Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times (Rodmell Press, 1995) by Judith Hanson Lasater. Other helpful poses, says Bo Forbes, founder of the Boston-area Center for Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, include Supported Child's Pose and Supported Reclining Twist. Practice in a dim, quiet room to cut down on sensory stimulation, and use two-to-one breathing: exhaling for twice as long as you inhale.

For even better results, follow your restorative practice with eight to ten minutes of relaxed, even breathing from your diaphragm, suggests yoga expert Rolf Sovik, Psy.D., director of the Himalayan Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and author of Moving Inward: The Journey to Meditation (Himalayan Institute Press, 2005). "Breathing calms the nervous system and decreases the impact of anxiety."

The perfect position for relaxed breathing is Crocodile Pose, Sovik adds. If you have a blanket, roll it into a "Tootsie Roll" shape, fold that into a long horseshoe, and prop it so when you lie on it, chest down, the round end is under your chin and the sides are propping up your chest. A pillow can go under your forehead. This should allow your abdomen to remain relaxed, your lower back to rise and fall, and your rib cage to move freely. Do this once or twice a day, breathing evenly with little pause between inhalations.