It's no secret that life can have it's fair-share of stressors. From jobs, to family responsibility, commutes and more - sometimes it can feel difficult to schedule in even 5 minutes of time for self-care. Thankfully, that's where yoga can help! The practice of Yoga has lots of tools you can use to relieve stress in your life, even if it means taking a few moments in the morning or at the end of each day to practice a few poses. One of the chemical effects of stress in the body is when our bodies and minds flip into fight or flight mode, otherwise known as your sympathetic nervous system. This is when the heart rate quickens, the mind runs, and our breath becomes quick and shallow. This is not a state we can exist in for an extended length of time and so knowing how to calm your body and mind is a necessary tool that you can see great benefits from. Below are 5 yoga poses you can do to relieve stress in your life, you can do them individually or make a little sequence out of them!
You can do this standing or seated. First start with deep breathing, slow your breath and take several long inhales and exhales. Next, if you want to do this seated, sit down on the floor with your legs extended and a slight bend in your knees. Slowly as you continue to breathe deeply, start to walk your hands out in front of you, don’t worry about getting to your feet. As you lower your chest toward your thighs, relax your head and neck. You will then start to drop your head below your heart which will help your heart rate to slow and your mind to calm. You can also forward fold from standing either allowing your arms to dangle or grabbing opposite elbows for a position known as rag doll. Forward fold is one of the fastest poses to bring you out of an acute stress response. Try it while taking 10 deep breaths.
This is a balancing pose that requires deep concentration, therefore it’s hard for the body and mind to do anything else but focus on the present moment! Start by standing in Tadasana, feet hip-width apart and shoulders down and back. Pick something to look at and focus on during this pose, perhaps calming or pleasing to you. Slowly pick up your right leg and cross it over your left as if you were sitting cross legged in a chair. Then take your left arm and cross it over your right at the elbow creases. Start to bend your elbows bringing the back of the hands together. You can always deepen this pose by wrapping the arms and legs more, but find where you can maintain your balance and breath. Not only is this pose good for relieving stress but it helps to open and stretch the shoulders and hips which are points it the body that tend to carry a lot of stress. Be sure to do both sides and take at least 5 breaths on each side.
This is a short sequence where you flow your body between 2 poses, Cat Pose and Cow Pose. These poses combined offer relief for the spine and all the muscles in the back. It also helps to steady your breathing as you move which assists in calming the mind. From table top, knees under hips and wrists under shoulders, you want to start by engaging your deep abdominal muscles first. Then on an inhale start to sweep your chest forward opening up your throat and upper chest to the space in front of you while flaring your hips back behind and keeping that belly engaged. This is Cow Pose. For Cat Pose, on an exhale start rounding the spine toward the ceiling and allow that movement to happen all the way down the spine. Lift your upper, middle and lower spine and start drawing the crown of your head down toward the floor. Keep the belly engaged as you continue to flow through Cat and Cow, breathing as you move. Move through this flow as long as it feels good.
This pose is wonderful for stretching the low back and helping relieve tension through the hips. Modify it for your body by adding any props you wish. Starting from a table top position bring your big toes toward one another, they might even touch behind you and widen your knees out to the sides. Start to slowly push your hips back toward your heels and walk your hands out in front of you as you lower your chest and forehead to the floor. Relax your whole body down and if you need some extra relief in your shoulders and upper back, bend your elbows. You can always add a pillow under your belly or blocks under your forehead if you need some extra support as you relax and breathe. Start to follow your breath in and out and let go of any stress or tension. Stay here for 10 deep breaths or add props to stay longer.
This is the perfect way to relax after a long day, allowing your hips and low back to take a break is something your body needs. This is also a great way to unwind before you go to bed and gives you a chance to let any racing in your mind dissipate. Find a space on a wall and lay down with your head facing away from the wall. Then, swing your legs up the wall and if you need support under your hips add a blanket or pillow. Make yourself as comfortable as possible, close your eyes and maybe even play some relaxing music. Allow your whole body and mind to let go of any stressful thoughts or worries. Be fully present in the moment as you relax and find calm. Stay here as long as you like.
Allowing yourself time during your busy day is essential to reducing stress. Each of these poses can be done on their own held for a few breaths or longer, or you can create a short flow doing each pose as many times as you like. The beautiful thing about Yoga is it teaches you about your body and helps you develop a sense of awareness around it. As you continue to practice you will start to recognize the symptoms of stress right when they start to happen and can quickly halt that stress response in its tracks. Keep breathing and practicing and finding time for yourself!
Clarissa is a E-RYT®500, YACEP® teaching since 2014 and practicing since 2007. She travels presenting at festivals, conferences, & leading retreats and yoga teacher trainings through Light The Spark Within Retreats. Clarissa teaches flow classes influenced by all the energies around her so no 2 classes are ever the same. She offers a variety of workshops and courses and leads Moon Ceremonies and specialty classes. Finding yoga during a challenging time in college allowed her to find her inner light and confidence which she hopes to share with those she encounters on and off the mat. Clarissa lives in Western South Dakota with her husband Wade and their pup Inkling, they love to hike, explore, camp and play fetch!