Yoga — the ancient Indian word for the union of mind and body — is more than a fitness regimen. Despite its current avatar, yoga is really about calming the mind through a combination of breathing and physical poses. The names of the various asanas or poses are in themselves indications of the purpose they are supposed to fulfill: warrior pose for confidence and strength, wind-releasing pose for stomach problems and so on. Combinations of poses can also be used for specific conditions: slow stretching poses for better sleep or a specific set of asanas for pregnancy.
This slideshow describes six yoga poses recommended by Virayoga’s Elena Brower that lend themselves to the alleviation of anxiety and depression — from the warm, comforting embrace of the child pose to the relaxing stretch of the cat pose.
Child pose or balasana is perhaps the most comforting yoga pose. “It can bring groundedness and humility and quiet to the body,” says Elena Brower, who owns Manhattan’s Virayoga. For those suffering from anxiety, it can create peace and silence.
A forward bend, or uttanasana, where you bend forward and reach for your toes and bring your head close to your knees, is, according to Brower, “really good for generating a contemplative, connecting state in us.”
Legs up the wall or viparita karani, where you rest your legs against a wall, is a great pose for groundedness. “It’s really good for insomnia, great for bringing you back to the present moment and re-routing circulation,” says Brower.
Cat pose or marjariasana, the multi-step asana that resembles the stretching of a cat, helps with relaxation. “It is good for bringing awareness to the breathing which is usually in short supply when one is anxious. it can soften and slow down the process of being anxious,” says Brower.
Backbends are usually quite advanced and can be very stimulating. However, Brower recommends a back bend done over a roll. It can help you open up the heart and free up the energy that’s blocked there,” she says.
Headstands or shirshasanas are well known for their ability to increase circulation to the brain and reduce anxiety and insomnia. However, says Brower, it is only meant for advanced practitioners.