Yoga is a historically spiritual practice. Nowadays, it’s lost some of these connotations—you can choose to believe that it redirects your energy flow and purifies your body. Or, you can use it purely for exercise.
However, the latter is discouraged among many yoga communities. This isn’t because it doesn’t help tone your body, but because the emphasis on the physical tends to turn yoga into an egocentric activity. Also, if you’re focused on pushing yourself to lose weight, you may injure yourself. Above all, yoga is about healing. The workout itself should be secondary, even if you don’t buy into its spiritual side.
Some types of yoga even include routines designed for specific ailments. The following is a list of five routines that can help with various ailments, including mental health issues.
1) Yoga for Depression
According to Yoga Journal, depression corresponds with a lack of life force. The last thing you want to do is a physical practice, but it may help. It’s no substitute for a qualified therapist or for medication. Still, a variety of studies have found that certain yoga postures, especially back bends, can help alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Starting in Child’s Pose is often necessary when you’re feeling depressed. Beginning there and moving into Downward-Facing Dog can begin to ramp up your energy a bit without forcing anything. Slowly work more and more backward bends into your routine—start with Upward-Facing Dog, then move into more heart openers like Camel Pose, Triangle, and Warrior I.
Make sure you’re inhaling and exhaling evenly; when you’re depressed, you may find yourself exhaling more deeply than you inhale. After your routine, you may find yourself with more energy than when you began. You’ll feel better and more ready to face the day.
2) Yoga for Anxiety
Like depression, anxiety reflects an energy imbalance—instead of feeling sluggish, you have an excess of energy. A physical practice, especially one that is intense, can help burn off this energy. First, make sure you get your breathing under control. People experiencing anxiety tend to breathe on an inhale. Remember that the length of your inhale should match that of your exhale.
Put a lot of intention behind your movements, but keep them controlled and slow. Start from standing, and complete one or two each of Sun Salutations A and B. Once you feel yourself start to sweat and get tired, you can start ramping your energy down. Forward bends are calming, so you’ll want to curl into yourself a lot in order to get your anxious energy under control.
Come to your knees from Downward Dog, into Cat Pose. Alternate between Cat and Cow for a few breaths. Come to a seated position and complete a seated forward bend, then come to your back. Bend one knee into your chest, then gently lay it over your straight leg, twisting to one side. Twist to the other side, then hug both knees into your chest, rocking gently from side to side. Lie in Savasana, or corpse pose, for several minutes, keeping your mind clear and your breath deep and even.
3) Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep)
There are several yoga routines that you can use to help you get to sleep. Yoga Nidra is a style of yoga that focuses entirely on sleep—sleep with awareness. During a Yoga Nidra class, instructors use guided imagery and body scanning promote relaxation. The entire class is conducted in Savasana.
There are four different stages of Yoga Nidra—the practicioner first quiets their conscious mind, moves into a meditative state, and then finds a state of “ultimate harmony”. The brain waves slow, resulting in a subtle euphoria, and the practitioner emerges feeling rejuvenated.
Yoga Nidra can be used as a rest system in itself. Or, for the less advanced practitioners, as a lead-in to conventional sleep. You even can purchase a guided meditation recording if you don’t want to attend a class.
4) Yoga for Back Pain
Yoga is good for all kinds of physical pain. Probably the most common complaint that yoga treats is back pain. There are several yoga poses that are good for back pain, and several more that can treat the cause—weak muscles, or tight muscles. Strengthening your spine and abdominal muscles can keep your back strong, and stretching can work out muscle tightness.
Child’s Pose is a wonderful low-impact pose for relieving back pain. From there, you can complete a few spinal twists on your back, and a few from seated. These feel great if your back muscles are really tense. Forward bends are also perfect for loosening tightness. While completing these bends, make sure you’re keeping your back as straight as you can while using your abdominals and hips to do the bending.
To strengthen your spinal muscles try back bends like Wheel, Inverted Locust, and Bridge. If your back isn’t particularly strong yet, you can try Fish Pose or simply lie on your stomach, clasp your hands behind your back, and lift your shoulders and legs off the ground, using your abdominal muscles.
5) Good Morning Yoga
Morning is a great time to do yoga. It can invigorate you throughout the rest of your day. It’s important to find a routine that’s slightly more intense, but not one that’s so demanding that it wears you out. Sun Salutations are designed for just such an occasion.
Sun Salutation A is less intense than B. Complete two to three of A before transitioning to B, spending more time in forward bends and Downward Dog in the first few. As you begin to wake up, keep the focus on heart openers and back bends. End on your back, and lie for a few minutes in Savasana to center yourself as you begin your day.
Remember that if you have a severe problem with any of the things on this list, you should consult a doctor before proceeding. Yoga can bring a great many things to a person’s life, the least of which is an engaging physical fitness routine. This ancient and ever-evolving practice is incredibly versatile. It can alleviate muscle pain, combat insomnia, and even focus the mind during battles with depression and anxiety.