What Are The Potential Benefits Of Yoga For Anxiety?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

With 40 million adults living with anxiety in the United States, millions are seeking natural ways to help manage their symptoms and develop deep relaxation techniques through complementary and alternative medicine. Yoga is one of the most popular suggestions from medical and mental health professionals as a safe, effective method. 

Yoga is an ancient practice believed to have originated in India over 5,000 years ago. The term yoga derives from the Sanskrit term "to yoke," which means "to unite." In the case of yoga, to "yoke" means to unite one's body and mind through spiritual practice. It's hard to identify the details of the history of yoga, but it's believed that in its early days, yoga centered around meditation and religious practice rather than the Asanas, or physical postures, that many are familiar with today. 

History of yoga

Today, the core values of yoga focus on using meditation to overcome pain and broaden one's consciousness. The form of yoga and the postures that most people are familiar with today stemmed from Hatha yoga. Hatha was the first form to focus on bodily movement, breath, and meditation. Still, it wasn't until the mid-1900s that yoga, specifically Hatha yoga, became more well-known among Westerners.

The physical and mental benefits of yoga began to receive more attention in the West in the 1980s, with the practice becoming particularly popular among the health-conscious, especially those focused on complementary and integrative health. During this time, it began to be seen as a purely physical practice and form of exercise among Western yogis to fight stress. In recent years, practitioners have started reconnecting with its roots and recognizing the positive changes to mental health and spiritual connection.

Today, people in the United States practice yoga for various reasons. For some, it's simply a good workout; for others, it's an effective way to fight stress. It’s even considered a part of sports medicine for some athletes who are recovering from injuries. Still others use it for stress management.

Yoga and therapy can be an effective combination for anxiety

How can these practices alleviate anxiety symptoms?

Many people report practicing yoga to help them relax, but does the ancient practice work to ease anxiety? According to experts, yoga can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders as a part of complementary and integrative health. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association (ADA) reports that yoga can be a part of complementary therapies that help reduce anxiety disorder symptoms. Research suggests that yoga modifies the practitioner's stress response (via stress hormones) and boosts the nervous system, reducing perceived stress and anxiety. Aside from the parasympathetic nervous system, yoga may benefit the musculoskeletal system through various basic poses practiced carefully on a mat. 

Practicing yoga can help reduce stress from one's physical response to stress in just a few minutes. For example, it can reduce heart rate, ease heavy breathing, lower blood pressure, and relieve other risk factors for disease. Additionally, practicing the Asanas can help reduce built-up tension in the body, relieving some of the physical symptoms that contribute to these disorders like panic attacks.

Perhaps most importantly, it teaches practitioners about self-acceptance. There will likely be some Asanas that are very uncomfortable or that your body simply cannot do, and that is okay. It teaches practitioners to accept discomfort and their limits with compassion and self-love. For those living with symptoms, this can be a vital thing to learn. Yoga teaches practitioners to accept their struggles but still love themselves and simply stay in the moment.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Poses and breathing techniques for anxiety

There are various poses (or Asanas) that can be great options for moments when you start to feel anxious and need to slow down your breath and calm your mind. You might consider talking to an instructor or look up physical poses online if you are interested in trying more yoga poses for alleviating symptoms.

Padangusthasana/Big toe pose

For this simple technique, stand with your feet parallel and about six inches apart. Activate your thigh muscles and begin with a slight bend forward from your hip joints and gradually increase the bend, keeping your legs completely straight. You will find yourself in a forward-fold position.

Once you are in the fold, place each hand's middle and index fingers between your big toes and second toes. Using those two fingers, firmly wrap around the big toes and press your toes into your fingers. If you cannot reach your toes without rounding your back, use a strap and wrap the strap around the bottom of your foot.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Yoga and therapy can be an effective combination for anxiety

Once your inhales and exhales are even in length, start to increase the length of your exhale by contracting the abdomen as you breathe out. Continue to increase the length of the exhale as long as the breath still feels smooth and relaxed. 

Ideally, the exhale will become twice as long as the inhale, but simply try to make your exhale as long as you can while still feeling comfortable and without straining to make the breath longer. Even if your exhale is only slightly longer than your inhale, this breath practice will still have a calming effect. If the breathing practice ever starts to feel uncomfortable, reduce the length of the exhale and the breath to a pace that feels more comfortable for you. 

Other relaxation techniques

If this yoga practice doesn’t suit you, you might consider different breathing techniques, such as sudarshan kriya yogic breathing. You may also find some techniques by joining a yoga group or class, participating in yoga therapy, or reviewing resources provided by the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga.

Combining physical practices with therapy for your mental health

While this practice can help alleviate symptoms, it can be vital to reach out to a mental health professional for assistance. Persistent feelings of stress can lead to more serious mental health issues when unaddressed, and for most, therapy is the best way to learn how to cope with it. 

However, if seeing a therapist in person isn't available to you, consider online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp to treat anxiety. With online therapy, it's easy to find a therapist with experience in helping people with these symptoms. You can speak to a licensed, accredited mental health professional on your schedule from the comfort of home via text, phone, video chat, and online messaging. It's also often less expensive than conventional therapy without insurance.

Numerous studies with an experimental group and a control group have demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy, which is often measured by anxiety scores and depression scores before and after treatment. One study published in 2020 found that online therapy was effective for general anxiety disorder (GAD). Other studies have found online therapy to also be effective for depressive symptoms. 


When trying any anxiety management technique, it can be important to remember that every person is different. Yoga may work for some people but not as well for others. Whether you’ve practiced it before or not, you may find that it helps in combination with therapy. While anxiety can be challenging, there are many strategies to reduce symptoms and cope more effectively. Consider experimenting with different methods and working with a therapist to find the relief strategies that work best for you. A therapist maybe able to help you form a treatment plan tailored to your specific concerns. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with an online counselor who has experience offering stress education and treating anxiety. Take the first step toward relief and contact BetterHelp today. 
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