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Yoga and OCD: A Comprehensive Guide to Natural Relief

In the past few years, there have been numerous debates on if yoga may reduce OCD symptoms or even “cure” OCD altogether. To date, that has been a challenging question to answer, primarily because OCD is a common but complex anxiety disorder that can take many different forms.

While OCD is a highly treatable mental health condition, sometimes standard or first-line OCD treatments are unsafe or ineffective for certain individuals. As a result, these individuals tend to turn to self-help tools and natural remedies like vitamins, probiotics, crystals, CBD, St. John’s Wort, essential oils, marijuana, and online OCD treatment programs like Impulse Therapy to ease their stress and angst – common OCD triggers. One natural remedy that does not get enough attention is yoga.

Researchers suggest that yoga can be beneficial for a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including OCD. Yoga is holistic, natural, and extremely calming, which is why it is especially appealing to people with OCD. If “typical” or standard OCD treatments like psychotherapy and/or SSRI antidepressants have not worked for you, and you want to look into an alternative OCD treatment, yoga may be just what you are looking for.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of using yoga to ease or alleviate OCD symptoms. We will also provide you with specific yoga poses that are believed to be beneficial for OCD, so you can try them out for yourself.


Defining OCD

Before we can delve into whether or not yoga is an effective treatment for OCD, it is important to understand what OCD is and how it can manifest in a person’s life. Millions of people throughout the world struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), medically known as “obsessive-compulsive disorder.” OCD is an anxiety condition characterized by intrusive, scary, or upsetting thoughts, urges, emotions, fears (obsessions), and/or ritualistic behaviors that are non-stop and repetitive. 

Obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming, which makes living a productive life extremely difficult. OCD sufferers tend to feel compelled to engage in certain behaviors (compulsions) to ease the stress and anxiety causing their OCD symptoms, and the stress and anxiety stemming from their obsessions and compulsions. Because OCD is continuous and repetitive, it can be hard to complete tasks and accomplish goals. Thus, this condition can be and often is life-altering and debilitating.

OCD Treatments

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a complex mental health condition that often requires a multi-treatment approach to ease its symptoms. There are a variety of treatments available for OCD, ranging from standard OCD treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy, and medications like SSRI antidepressants, SNRI depressants, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, and MAOIs to alternative treatments like OCD support groups and forums, service dogs, and a healthy diet

When both psychotherapy and medications are unsafe or ineffective and natural remedies do not work, surgery may be the next option. Researchers have found that deep brain stimulation (DBS) and cingulotomy can help ease OCD symptoms in some people. DBS involves implanting electrodes into the brain. These electrodes deliver electrical pulses to the parts of the brain linked to OCD, while cingulotomy involves destroying the cingulate gyrus, a part of the brain responsible for emotions and behavior.

Defining Yoga

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yoke” or “union.” To “yoke” means to combine, bring together, bind together, or unite. In yoga, the goal of “yoking” is to combine or bring together a person’s mind, body, and soul – a universal awareness. It is the cohesiveness or unity that helps yogis (people who practice yoga) to experience the profound release of tension, a feeling of freedom, serene tranquility, and life-altering self-realization. 

Yoga is a meditative practice that has been passed down for generations. It involves breathing exercises, positions, relaxation techniques, chants, and other meditation methods. There are a variety of yoga styles with each one having a specific focus designed to trigger calmness and unity. 

When it comes to mental health, yoga’s ability to “quiet” the mind, yoga can stop racing, fluctuating, and intrusive thoughts. By “quieting” the noise in our minds, we can better connect with who we are and what is happening around us. In other words, we can be more present in our lives. We become “whole” (a unified mind, body, and soul), and self-aware of our surroundings (nature and the world around us). 

It also helps us access our inner resources so we can become more accepting, empathetic, tolerant, patient, thankful, forgiving, humble, loving, peaceful, and joyful. Yoga, in a sense, is a journey toward self-discovery and freedom from life’s stresses. This ancient practice teaches us how to view and accept ourselves as we are and to let go of the people and things that are not benefiting us and holding us back. 

Yoga helps us become more aware of our unhealthy or maladaptive thoughts, feelings, urges, beliefs, and fears, so we can take the necessary steps to change them to healthier versions. It provides us with the necessary tools to make better choices and live more productive lives.

Yoga For OCD

Can yoga provide natural relief for OCD? Possibly!

More specifically, some OCD sufferers tout its benefits in reducing the stress and anxiety causing their OCD symptoms, while others have found no relief in their obsessions and compulsions after practicing yoga. A 2021 study suggests that yoga can help some people better manage their OCD symptoms (reducing the frequency and severity of their obsessions and compulsions). 

However, there are some limitations with this study, such as it only represents a specific segment of society, and is not a representation of the general population. Thus, more research is needed to determine the full effects and benefits of using yoga to treat OCD.

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Things to Know

Before practicing yoga for your OCD symptoms, it is important to know the following yoga facts:

  • Yoga is not a “cure” for OCD. So, if you are struggling with this condition, you must contact your doctor or schedule a consultation with an OCD therapist
  • Yoga may not reduce or alleviate your OCD symptoms. Understand that every treatment or natural remedy will not be effective for everyone. Thus, some people may find OCD relief with yoga, and some may not.
  • Yoga may not be available in your area. In other words, because yoga is somewhat niche, it may not be accessible to everyone. If yoga is available in your area, the time of a yoga class may not work with your daily or work schedule. FYI: Most yoga classes are conducted in the mornings or afternoons. 
  • Yoga can be time-consuming, which may not work for people who have limited time or low motivation. To reap the benefits of yoga, you will need to practice it regularly. If you are unable to commit to the process, it may be ineffective for you.


Some people should not practice yoga, or should only practice it with caution or supervision. 

This includes people with the following conditions:

  • Hypertension: Yoga may elevate some people’s blood pressure, so people with hypertension (high blood pressure) should exercise caution when practicing it. 
  • Heart conditions: Yoga may also increase some people’s heart rates, so people with heart conditions, like heart arrhythmia, should exercise caution when practicing it. 
  • Glaucoma: Yoga may increase pressure in some people’s eyes (intraocular pressure), so people with glaucoma should exercise caution when practicing it. 
  • Herniated discs: Certain yoga poses may aggravate back pain, so people with herniated discs should exercise caution when practicing it.
  • Arthritis: Some yoga poses can place extra pressure on joints, so people who struggle with arthritis should exercise caution when practicing it. 
  • Osteoporosis: Some yoga poses can cause fractures if performed the wrong way, so people with osteoporosis should exercise caution when practicing.

Best Yoga Poses For OCD

Although all yoga poses are designed to be calming and unifying, certain ones may be more beneficial for OCD than others. 

Listed below are yoga poses that are known for reducing the severity and frequency of OCD symptoms (obsessions and compulsions): 

1. Asanas

Asanas are yoga poses that can help strengthen, tone, balance, and calm your mind and body. This makes these yoga poses ideal for people suffering from non-stop intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). 

Listed below are asanas that may be beneficial for OCD:

  • Vrksasana (“Tree”) 

The Vrksasana (Tree Pose) is an intermediate-level “grounding” yoga pose. This asana combines balance, stability, strength, flexibility, focus, posture, and concentration so you have a healthier mind and body. It can also reduce your stress, help you relax, and provide you with the energy and stamina to power through your days. This pose can also help improve your self-esteem and self-confidence. 

What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? It means this yoga pose helps “quiet” the noise (i.e., intrusive thoughts) in your mind, builds your self-esteem and self-confidence, and helps you become more in-tune with the world around you, so you can focus on and complete tasks by their deadlines. In other words, the tree pose helps remove your focus from your obsessions and compulsions and put it on more productive things like your goals. 

This is important because many people with OCD suffer from shame and guilt, excessive fears, and low self-esteem and self-confidence due to their constant and unwanted obsessions and compulsions. You can learn how to do the Tree Pose here.

  • Tadasana (“Mountain”)

Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is a standing yoga pose that promotes grounding, calmness, and balance. This asana yoga involves standing like a mountain – firm and unmoving. It is designed to improve your posture, self-awareness and help you feel more centered. 

What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, the Mountain Pose can help reduce stress and tension in the body – known triggers of OCD. It can also boost your self-esteem and self-confidence – things that OCD sufferers are known to struggle with.

This yoga pose can help you become more in tune with the world around you. By becoming calmer, stronger, and more balanced and focused, combined with improved self-esteem and self-confidence you can address and conquer your OCD symptoms. You can learn how to do the Mountain Pose here.

  • Virabhadrasana I (“Warrior I”)

Virabhadrasana (Warrior I Pose) is a modern grounding yoga pose that involves focusing on and building a strong connection with your mind, body, soul, and the world around you. It harnesses your natural energy and helps improve your self-esteem and self-confidence. It is a powerful asana pose that emphasizes strength and resilience. This pose ranges from Warrior I to Warrior III (beginner to advanced). 

Warrior I is the first and easiest stage. What does that mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, this yoga pose can help you better focus on tasks instead of your intrusive or upsetting thoughts, urges, fears, or visions (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). 

The Warrior I Pose (along with the other two warrior poses) can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common OCD triggers and symptoms. This pose can also help to improve your mental health and well-being. It releases the tension in your body causing you to feel calmer and more focused. The belief is that obsessions and compulsions will lessen if a person’s stress and anxiety decline. You can learn how to do the Mountain Pose here.

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (“Downward Facing Dog”)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) is a calming yoga pose designed to improve balance and focus. It can also increase blood flow to the brain, ease stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and calm the mind and body. What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, increased blood flow to the brain can relieve headaches, mental confusion, anxiety, and/or depression in some OCD sufferers. This is beneficial for people who suffer from OCD because it helps them think more clearly and “block out” the “noises” in their minds. 

The increased blood flow, along with a reduction in stress and anxiety, also helps these individuals focus on their tasks – instead of their obsessions and compulsions. The Downward Facing Dog Pose also calms the mind, releases tension from the body, and reduces back pain, thereby “quieting” the intrusive and racing thoughts and eliminating pain-related OCD triggers. You can learn how to do the Downward Facing Dog Pose here.

2. Pranayama

Pranayama (“breathwork” or “lifeforce energy”) are “breathing exercises” designed to help you better manage your stress and anxiety so you feel less anxious, calmer, and more focused. Ancient yogis created these exercises to be used while performing yoga. 

Pranayamas (breathing exercises) were developed to support and aid in the focus and concentration, healing, and restoration of people seeking clarity or relief. Pranayamas help you control, improve, and alter the amount, quality, flow, and direction of the natural energy in your mind and body so you spend less energy focusing on your OCD symptoms and more time being aware of what is occurring within and around you.

Listed below are pranayamas (breathing exercises) that may be beneficial for OCD:

  • Ujjayi (“Victorious Breath”)

Ujjayi (“Victorious Breath”) is a pranayama that teaches you how to calm your mind by focusing on your breathing. The goal of this breathing exercise is to “block out” or “ignore” thoughts that are preventing you from entering a “zen” or calm state of mind. Other terms used to describe Ujjayi include “Cobra Breathing,” “Whispering Breathing,” “Snoring Breathing,” and “Snake Breathing” (due to the hissing or snoring sound from the deep breathing). 

It can also boost the oxygen in your blood, regulate your blood pressure, increase your self-awareness, and energize you. Ujjayi is used during yoga (usually asana yoga poses) to produce a sound that can help you synchronize (match up) your movements with your breathing patterns. Understand that breathing is just as important as movement when practicing yoga. 

What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, Ujjayi may reduce stress, OCD insomnia, tension, chronic pain, anxiety, low motivation, and depression in some OCD sufferers. It can also encourage OCD sufferers to eat healthier foods and get more exercise, which may reduce the severity and/or frequency of OCD symptoms. You can learn how to do this breathing exercise here.

  • Kapalabhati (“Breath of Fire”)

Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire), also referred to as the “Skull Shining Breath,” is a beginner rhythmic breathing technique that involves deeply inhaling and exhaling air from your lungs. The goal is to “cleanse” your body of negative energy. The key to making this pranayama work is inhaling the “toxins” and then exhaling them in a purifying process (alternating brief and explosive exhales and slightly longer and quieter inhales). 

Yogis believe that practicing Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire) can boost the amount of oxygen in your blood, brain, and body. This breathing exercise involves chanting, singing, deep breathing, and yoga repetitions. 

What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, this pranayama can naturally boost your energy and physical stamina, which is needed to fully address the non-stop intrusive thoughts, fears, urges, visions, emotions, and/or compulsive behaviors. 

Because this breathing exercise increases oxygen-rich blood to the brain, Breath of Fire can help with focus and concentration, mental acuity, encourage inner strength, a feeling of empowerment, and a calm mental state (devoid of stress and anxiety), which is imperative for people dealing with OCD stress and anxiety triggers and symptoms. Researchers have also found that this pranayama can enhance mindfulness, which has been shown to help reduce OCD symptoms. You can learn how to do this breathing exercise here.

  • Anuloma Viloma (“Alternate Nostril Breathing”)

Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing) is a core breathing technique used during yoga. Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing) involves regulating your breathing by consciously inhaling (breathing in) through one nostril, holding it for a few seconds, while closing off the other one, and then slowly exhaling (breathing out) through the other nostril. 

This pranayama increases oxygen in the mind and body while helping you become more self-aware. Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing) also calms the mind, removes “toxins” from your body, energizes and balances you, and improves other important bodily functions so you can perform at an optimal level. 

What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, because this breathing exercise helps to ease stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and mood swings and regulate emotions, it is ideal for reducing stressful, anxiety-provoking, and upsetting obsessions and compulsions. 

Anuloma Violma (Alternate Nostril Breathing) also improves focus and concentration, and other cognitive functions, which means there is a possibility it could rid your mind of intrusive thoughts, fears, urges, visions, emotions, and ritualistic behaviors. You can learn how to do this breathing exercise here.

  • Bhramari (“Humming Bee’s Breath”)

Bhramari (Humming Bee’s Breath) is a calming breathing exercise that can “quiet” an overactive nervous system, and help you connect with your mind, body, soul, and nature. It is referred to as “Humming Bee’s Breath” because of the humming or buzzing sound that occurs at the back of the throat, brain, and forehead during the exercise. 

What does this mean for an OCD sufferer? Well, Bhramari (Humming Bee’s Breath) can calm and “quiet” your OCD mind, release tension in your brain, alleviate OCD insomnia (due to racing and intrusive thoughts, and an urge to engage in compulsions), eliminate OCD anger (due to an inability to stop the obsessions and compulsions), and lower your blood pressure (high blood pressure could stem from the stress of having unwanted intrusive or upsetting thoughts, urges, fears, etc., and/or repetitive compulsions. 

It can also strengthen your immune system so you can fight off diseases and conditions like OCD, lowers your racing heart rate (from the non-stop obsessions), and reduces stress and anxiety, common OCD triggers. You can learn how to do this breathing exercise here.

Final Thoughts

With rising prescription costs, inflation, and dangerous medication side effects and complications, OCD sufferers are increasingly turning towards self-help tools and natural remedies to treat their OCD symptoms or supplement their OCD treatment plans. One natural remedy that has shown tremendous success is yoga. Yoga is designed to relax the mind and body, remove toxins from the body, improve mental clarity, focus, and concentration, and support sound sleep, among other health benefits. Because of the many benefits associated with yoga, it is an ideal alternative treatment for OCD.


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DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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