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Yoga won't rid you of an anxiety disorder on its own, but this mind-body practice can certainly alleviate stress, help you sleep better, and relax tired muscles. What are the best poses for people with anxiety?

I didn’t want to argue with my sister. 48 years old and a non-smoker, she had recently received a devastating stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. Being a single mother added more stress to her life. Her doctor was prescribing Xanax to relieve her anxiety disorder and panic attacks. She didn’t need me adding to her tension by insisting she try yoga for relief. Still, I insisted that she accompany me to a restorative yoga class that evening.

As the teacher eased us into the poses, I felt immediate calm and relaxation, but I wasn’t sure how my sister was feeling. Glancing over, I was surprised to see tears rolling down her face. I tried not to cry myself. Later, she confided that she had cried in relief and she was feeling better than she had in weeks. Yoga has become a large part of her life and she continues to do well both physically and mentally.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America. Luckily, anxiety disorders are highly treatable with medical proper care. Yoga can help alleviate anxiety by reducing stress and improving focus.

Here are my top 10 poses for relaxation and focus.

1. Legs up the wall pose 

People who suffer from panic attacks and anxiety are unable to rest and sleep well. One fantastic pose that may have a restorative effect on the nervous system is to place your legs up a wall. Lay on your mat close to a wall. You may place a block or bolster under your hips. Gently extend your legs up the wall. Relax your feet. Arms relax to the side. Bend the arms with palms up to stretch the chest.

2. Supported angle pose

This pose stretches the hips and abdominals and encourages deeper breathing to help release stress. Put a bolster on top of two stacked blocks. Sit close to the bolster and lie back with your feet together. Allow the knees to fall apart. You may put more blocks or towels under your knees for support. Your eyes should close with your arms gently placed gently on your sides.

3. Corpse pose

This pose brings on a deep meditative state. Lie on your mat face up. Gently sit on your mat and lower your upper body down. Relax your arms by your side in a comfortable position with palms up. Lower your legs down and position into a “V” shape. Allow the feet to completely relax. If your neck feels uncomfortable, roll up a towel and place it underneath your neck. Your body should appear lifeless. Close your eyes and breath into deep relaxation for up to 5 minutes.

4. Surfboard pose

The surfboard pose stretches the hip flexors and promotes belly breathing. Start by positioning a folded blanket vertically within the center of your mat. Then, place two blocks side by side at the foot of your mat with one blanket rolled up on top of the blocks. Start on all fours, and from that position, lower yourself onto your mat like you were lying on a surfboard. Your kneecaps should on the ground and the tops of your feet on the blanket roll. Turn your head to the side with your arms resting on the ground in cactus or “Y” position. Let your whole body melt into the mat so you feel relaxed. Take slow, long breaths. Hold for one to five minutes.

5. Child’s pose

This is a resting pose that helps relieve tension in the neck and back. Kneel on mat with legs together sitting on heels. Hinge forward until your forehead touches the mat. Stretch your arms forward with palms down. Make sure your chest is resting on your thighs. Hold for at least 30 seconds or 3 to 5 deep breaths.

6. Cow pose

Great for warming up the spine. While on all fours, inhale and drop the belly towards the floor while lifting the chin and gazing towards the ceiling. Draw shoulders away from the ear. Hold for one long breath and return to neutral. Repeat 3 or more times for a calming effect.

7. Cat pose

Can be alternated with the cow pose. Stretches and massages the lower spine for tension relief. On all fours, exhale and draw your belly up into the spine. Allow the chin to drop. Return to neutral, take a deep breath and repeat 3 or more times.

8. Forward folded bend

Stand with feet hip width apart. Hinge at the hip and allow your body to fold forward. Make sure your hands are supported on the ground or on legs. Let the crown of your head loosely hang towards the floor. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths. This pose stretches the hamstrings and is thought to help with depression.

9. Easy pose

Used for meditation or prayer. Sit on the mat with spine erect. Fold legs in front of you with your right foot on top of your left knee. Let your arms rest comfortably on your knees palms up. If support is needed, turn your palms down. Inhale and exhale deeply as you mediate or pray. Switch legs and repeat if needed.

10. Tree pose

This pose helps with concentration and focus. Stand with feet hip width apart. Shift weight to your right leg while placing the sole of your left foot either below or above your right knee. Bring your hands to prayer position on chest. Gaze forward to a focal point. Concentrate with deep breaths.

Studies show that not only does Yoga relieve stress but also has the beneficial effect improving cognitive brain function. Yoga is considered generally safe and effective, but please see a doctor if you have any health conditions or are pregnant. Discuss any yoga poses to avoid or modify with a qualified instructor.

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