Reduce Tension With Yoga
Are your stress levels through the roof? Consider trying a little yoga. This ancient practice, which combines gentle stretches with slow, intentional breathing, is perfect for relieving stress. “The physical reaction [to stress] is increased heart rate and faster breathing,” says NASM elite trainer and certified yoga instructor Anne Spicker. “The act of breathing slowly and deeply with intention has the effect of counteracting this fight or flight response.”
While yoga as a whole is great at relieving tension and stress, certain yoga poses are better than others. Here are seven simple stress-busting postures. All you’ll need is a mat, block and bolster or rolled-up blanket.
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This relatively simple seated posture is often done at the beginning and/or end of practice, usually in conjunction with meditation or yogic breathing. “Easy pose relaxes your shoulders and allows you to focus on deep breathing,” says Spicker. “The nature of the posture itself is very relaxing.”
How to do it: Sit on your mat with your back straight, shoulders relaxed and down. Bend your knees and cross your right shin in front of your left, leaving a comfortable gap between your feet and your pelvis. Place your hands on your knees with your palms facing upward. Close your eyes. Hold this posture for a minute or longer if you wish.
Standing Forward Bend
This transitional inversion posture stretches your hamstrings, opens up your lower back and relieves tension in the spine and neck. Doing this pose properly, with the pelvis hinging forward and the lower back staying neutral, allows the spine to relax and elongate, increasing blood flow to the brain.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Spread your toes evenly on your mat. As you exhale, bend forward from your hips, keeping your back straight. With your knees straight or slightly bent, depending on your flexibility, rest your hands on a block or the ground beside your feet. Hollow out your belly. Inhale, lift and lengthen your torso. Exhale, relax and fold more deeply.
This standing posture stretches your hips, obliques, hamstrings, shoulders, chest and spine. The feeling of stress relief come from the extension of the spine out of the hips as well as the deep breathing, Spicker says.
How to do it: Stand with your feet wide apart facing the side of your mat. Raise your arms out to the sides. Turn your right foot forward toward the front of the mat. Turn your left foot slightly in toward your right. Look at your right arm. Extend your torso directly over your right leg, bending from your hips. Rest your right hand on a block. Raise your left hand above your head making a straight line between your left and right arm. Gaze at the tips of your left fingers.
Supported Reclined Cobbler’s Pose
This classic restorative posture stretches your hips, knees, groin and inner thighs while opening up your chest. “Just being able to lie back in this position can help you let go, relax and breathe deeply,” says Spicker. “The bolster behind your back also gives you more room for your lungs to expand.”
How to do it: Lie down on a bolster or rolled-up blanket, making sure your back, neck and shoulders are supported. Relax your arms to your sides. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Gently guide your knees toward your mat. You can place yoga blocks under your knees for support, depending on your flexibility.
Supported Bridge Pose
This backbend opens up your chest and stretches your lumbar spine and psoas, the deep hip flexor muscle that connects your torso to your legs. “We tend to hold a lot of tension and negative emotion in our psoas,” says Spicker. When we become stressed, the area tightens. This posture helps release the muscle.
How to do it: Lie flat on your back, arms by your sides, palms flat. Bend your knees. Place your feet hip-width apart and parallel with heels close to your sitting bones. Press down into your feet and hands and lift your hips off the mat without squeezing your glutes. Place a block below your sacrum, the triangular bone at the bottom of your spine, to minimize stress in your back.
Legs Up the Wall Pose
This gentle inversion, which is often done near the end of a yoga practice, gets your legs above your head. “Because you’re able to let gravity take over and allow blood to flow back down out of the legs, [this pose] creates a sense of lightness within the legs and a feeling of relief,” says Spicker.
How to do it: Lie down on your back, arms relaxed by your sides, with your sitting bones pressed up against the wall. Raise your legs above your head, pressing into the wall. Keep your back and head resting on the floor. For the most benefits, stay in this posture for 5 to 15 minutes.
Final Relaxation Pose
This posture is done at the end of a practice and can often be coupled with guided meditation. “In [this pose] you actively relax your whole body and release tension,” says Spicker.
How to do it: Lie down on your mat. Lengthen your legs, letting your legs and feet naturally roll outward. Place your arms by your sides at a 45-degree angle, palms facing up, completely relaxed. Close your eyes and breathe normally.
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