Deep breath, in and out. Stretch to downward facing dog, then exhale as you lift your right leg up.
Ever wonder why these sets of movements are said to be able to relieve stress? One article explains that when we’re stressed, certain parts of our body tense up as a physical manifestation of our mind going on overdrive. A particularly bad day can cause our shoulders and neck to stiffen and our muscles to feel scrunched up. Yoga can help undo that.
Yoga has plenty of health benefits for people of all ages, occupations, and walks of life. It’s said that 12 minutes of yoga either daily or every other day can improve bone health. 20 minutes a day improves working memory and focus.
If you’re looking for new and healthy ways of relieving stress, read on!
How Can Yoga Help Reduce Stress?
One can say that yoga is the practice of being relaxed, being mindful. These two are the natural opposites of stress. By practicing yoga consistently, we learn to stay mindful of our bodily responses to external stimuli. Through yoga, we equip ourselves with the skills necessary to combat stress-related responses. With practice, these skills become a habit.
There are plenty of benefits to every yoga pose that we may not realize. Even the most simple poses, such as a forward fold, can trigger our body’s relaxation response. With our back muscles stretched out, our face relaxed, and our spine straight out, we can release stress that builds up within the crevices of our bodies. A more advanced mild inversion such as the plow pose, where your heart is positioned over the head, is a great stress reliever. Do you wonder why one of the most popular images of yoga is sitting cross-legged? The lotus pose is actually said to improve digestive issues, apart from strengthening the pelvis.
One important part of yoga is practicing mindfulness and better breathing. Each change in pose is matched with an inhale or an exhale. This slow, steady breathing helps relax our central nervous system and brings us out of fight or flight mode. Our sympathetic nervous system is the first to respond when we’re in a stressful situation, and learning how to control it is important if we want to keep stress levels at a low.
Other benefits of yoga include calming the brain, alleviating mild depression, and improving energy levels.
Which Yoga is Best for Stress?
The traditional Ayurvedic healing system emphasizes that we are all unique beings; therefore, our paths towards healing are unique as well. The same holds true for yoga, a practice with plenty of diverse branches and forms, all unique on their own. Certain types of yoga that are great for stress relief include restorative yoga, yin yoga, and yoga nidra.
The most common kinds of yoga taught to beginners are Vinyasa yoga and Hatha yoga. If you go to a beginner’s class or search for a quick video on YouTube, you’ll most likely find routines with those styles. Hatha yoga is especially newbie-friendly as the pacing is much slower and allows for more stretching.
As you go further into the practice, you’ll find which style of yoga suits your body’s rhythm better. For now, we’ll be outlining a few simple poses that are primed to reduce tension in key areas of the body.
Which Yoga Pose is Good for Relaxation?
While there are plenty of kinds of yoga, there is no shortage of yoga poses that can alleviate stress. But don’t wait until you’re all strung out before you start practicing! Here are 7 yoga poses you can include in your daily practice for maximum stress relief:
Start by going on your hands and knees on the mat. Keep the tops of your toes touching while you spread your knees apart, allowing your stomach and upper body to rest between your thighs. Bring your forehead down to the mat, gently touching the floor to stimulate the body’s rest and digest response. Relax your eyes, face, and jaw.
You may choose to stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms resting on the mat, or behind you alongside your legs with the palms facing upward. This yoga pose is great at stretching out your thighs, lower back, hips, and ankles.
From child’s pose, you can head straight to the cat-cow exercise to further stretch out your back. Return on all fours on the mat, keeping a neutral spine. Hunch your back as you slowly roll your body from the head down to the tailbone. Your toes should be resting on the mat. This is the cow pose.
Then, breathing deeply, lift your head up and tuck in your tailbone as you move into cat pose. Slowly lift your feet and stretch your toes out on the mat. This is one of the yoga asanas that is perfect for relieving back pain, maintaining posture, as well as emotional balance.
Next up is a chest opener called the Ustrasana or camel pose. Start by kneeling on your mat, knees parallel to the ground. Hold each side of your body near the ribs as you lean back and open your chest up to the ceiling. Take a deep breath as you feel your chest slowly expand. Remember to keep your legs and knees straight and only bend your back.
As you get more comfortable in this position, head facing towards the ceiling with your hands supporting your chest and back, slowly let your left hand rest on the left heel. Do the same with the right hand. If you’re unable to let your hands rest on your heels, let them rest on your hips instead.
This is a great pose that releases tension in the chest, upper back, core and quadriceps. In the practice, this pose is said to open up the heart chakra which is where the body stores the energy for caring, love, and compassion.
Standing Forward Bend
The standing forward fold is a simple pose that is said to reduce stress and help with insomnia. However, it is a yoga pose that requires some flexibility in the hamstring area. Start by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart. Reach your arms up into the sky, then sweep down your arms alongside your legs as you move into a forward bend.
With your back relaxed, try to reach your fingertips towards your toes. Make sure to engage your quads (thigh muscles) instead of your back as you try to lower your body. Keep your knees slightly bent. This helps stretch out the hamstring muscles that are inactive from either sitting all day or engaging in activities like running and jogging. Having a yoga block or even a pillow is a great way to practice this pose if you’re a beginner.
This yoga pose is the standing version of a seated forward bend.
From the forward bend, you can move into the downward dog stretch. This is an incredible yoga pose for stretching out your whole body. From standing, simply bend forward, crouch, and hold the mat with your left arm then your right arm. From here, take a breath as you stretch out your left foot out behind you with your right foot following suit. Lift your hips up to the ceiling as you dig your hands and feet further into the mat, legs extended.
Try to lean your body back to get a deeper stretch. Breathe deeply as you try to keep each foot flat on the ground, your back straight, and your hips high in the air. This pose can reduce stress and improve blood circulation. For a modified version of this stretch, alternate between slightly bending your left knee and right knee.
If these stretches have been easy for you, then here’s one that is a little more advanced! The eagle pose requires more balance than flexibility, making it one of the best yoga poses for stress relief. It encourages mindful breathing whenever you’re in a twist — pun intended — and at the same time unknots tension in different parts of the body.
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly bend your legs until you’re almost in a sitting position. Wrap your right thigh over your left thigh, locking your right foot around the left calf for balance. Take a breath, then move on to your arms. Cross your left elbow over your right. Twist your right wrist over to the left, bringing the backs of your palms together.
The next step is to really settle in the pose for better balance. Lower your hips and open up your sitting bones as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair. Lift your elbows up to shoulder height. Try to maintain this pose for three deep breaths!
Finally, end your session with this easy pose. As the name suggests, this pose is similar to that of a corpse in that you will be lying down on the mat. No twists, no stretches. Simply lie on the mat with your arms and legs extended. Feel the weight of your body sinking into the ground and your breath go back to normal as you slowly release all the tension from the practice. The challenge here is more mental than physical: as your body relaxes, really try to let your mind relax, too.
While it may look like sleeping, this yoga pose has plenty of benefits to our physical health. It reduces stress levels, lowers blood pressure, and even increases productivity levels.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does child's pose relieve stress?
It is said that the child’s pose relieves digestive tension. In the traditional practice, the digestive system is symbolic of the energy of our stomach chakra or solar plexus chakra. This 3rd chakra is the center for our will and power, and it is also connected to the element of fire. As one goes into child’s pose, the body looks inward and regains energy, boosting productivity levels and fighting off stress signals that may bog us down.