You couldn’t call me a regular yoga practitioner, but something changes when I’m overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. That wasn’t happening all that often until this year. A few months ago, it was when I got injured and marooned from my usual workout routine. Now, like many other people, I’m sheltering in place; cut off from my friends, my family, my gym, and my workplace; and caught up in a relentless and often upsetting news cycle. Since January, I’ve been doing yoga at least three times as much as I used to, and it’s not just because I was too hurt to do anything else or because it’s now one of the few workouts I have space for in my apartment.
Yoga has a measurable impact on your mental health. According to a 2019 study from the Boston University School of Medicine, yoga sessions improve sleep quality and feelings of tranquility and positivity, while decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. And while the positive effects build up over time — so the more yoga you do, the more of a long-term improvement you’ll see — participants also felt better after single sessions. In other words, you don’t need a perfectly consistent yoga practice to reap the mental-health benefits; one quick, relaxing practice may offer immediate relief, right now.
Why does yoga ease anxiety like this? And for beginners, what’s the best way to start if you want those benefits? We spoke to mental-health professionals and yoga instructors for their insights and advice on beginning a yoga practice in a way that can ease anxiety when you need it most.