All too often the demands of our busy lives leave us feeling stressed. Your emails are piling up, your phone is blowing up, and everyone seems to need a piece of your attention.
At the end of the day, it’s all just overwhelming.
Not only does stress deplete your energy levels, but it also takes a toll on your body. Stress triggers a “flight or fight” response which can cause a spiked heart rate, short quick breaths, and muscle tension. After a while, these effects take their toll and can leave you feeling tense and exhausted.
Knowing how to relieve this stress is important, and according to the Mayo Clinic the mind-body practice combined with physical poses from yoga can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and lower your heart rate.
Although the complicated twists and turns of yoga may seem intimidating, and also counterintuitive, working on a few simple poses specific for stress relief can do the trick.
So which yoga poses will help relieve stress? Expert Jessica Tranchina, PT, DPT, NASM-CPT, ART, CKTP, and co-founder of Generator Athlete Lab recommends “any standing forward fold variation works wonders for stress and anxiety.
When you fold forward and allow gravity to do the work while creating space between your vertebras, stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for your “rest and digest” response.”
With all of this in mind, here are six easy yoga poses that will create this calming energy to help melt away your stress–leaving you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
1. Gorilla Pose
Tranchina’s personal favorite is the Gorilla pose, which is a standing forward bend.
To create this pose, first stand up straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, fold forward over your legs while keeping them straight as your flexibility allows. Your hands will be placed palm-up under the soles of your feet with your fingers pointing towards the toes.
As a variation to this, Tranchina recommends bending your knees deeply to create even more space in your low back.
Gorilla pose stimulates the “rest and digest response,” releasing a calming energy throughout your nervous system that helps ease anxiety.
This pose is also an inversion so it increases blood flow to the brain while helping the neck and shoulders relax–which is where we often find the most tension when we’re stressed.
2. Child’s Pose
In this pose, begin on your hands and knees and spread your knees wide apart while bringing your big toes towards one another.
From there, start slowly pushing your hips back towards your heels and walk your hands out in front of you, lowering your chest to the floor.
Child’s pose helps to stretch your hips, thighs and ankles while gently relaxing the muscles throughout your body. Staying in this position for 10 deep breaths, or however long you need will help relieve stress and tension.
3. Downward Dog
To begin this pose, start on your hands and knees and spread your fingers wide, planting your hands firmly on the ground. Then, lift your knees off the floor and lift your torso towards the ceiling, forming the letter “A” with your body.
Downward Dog helps open your hamstrings, and stretches your shoulders, calves, arches, and hands while strengthening your arms and legs. Holding this pose will release tension throughout your body to help calm the brain.
4. Supported Belly Twist
For the Supported Belly Twist, lay on your back and stretch your arms out into a “T” shape. Then bend your knees to the left at a 90-degree angle, with your legs together.
Keep your shoulders back and relax your arms. Close your eyes and rest in this position for 10 breaths as you allow your body to sink into the floor. You can then repeat this by flipping your legs to the right.
In this yoga pose, the nervous system is grounded and the internal organs are completely supported. Melissa Okabe, a yoga instructor based in Los Angeles also adds that “the heart is held both physically and emotionally, creating a sense of safety and calm.
Additionally, on the physical level, this pose is beneficial as it lengthens the low back, nourishes the spine, encourages digestion.”
5. Legs Up the Wall
Begin this pose by sitting with your hips parallel to the wall. Slowly turn your body and swing your legs up onto the wall and point them straight towards the ceiling. Rest your legs against the back of the wall and adjust your arms into a comfortable position. You can also place a pillow under your hips for extra support to alleviate any discomfort.
This pose allows your hips and lower back to relax while cooling the nervous system.
Okabe also explains that “in this gentle inversion with the backs of the legs resting against the wall, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to circulate blood through the body. It’s a nourishing, grounding and calming pose.”
6. Corpse Pose
Laying on the floor, extend your legs and arms away from your body, in the form of a “V” position. Let your feet drop so they are open and close your eyes. Allow your entire body to sink into the ground as you slowly relax your muscles.
Start with resting the muscles in your face and work your way down your body. Lay still in this pose for 3-5 minutes, until you feel completely rested. You can also add a blanket under your hips for added support.
Corpse pose is beneficial for stress relief because it lowers your blood pressure and decreases your heart rate. You will also experience slowed breathing, and decreased muscle tension–relieving you from stress and fatigue.
In this pose, you can also practice mindfulness and self-awareness. Take this time to really focus on good intentions.
Strike a Pose
We all have busy lives, and they’re bound to get stressful sometimes. It’s essential to allow yourself time during a busy day to relax so you can reduce stress, giving yourself the chance to unwind and release muscle tension.
Yoga will give you the tools to cope and the more you practice yoga, the easier it will be to tell when you’re showing signs of stress. Yoga also teaches you mindfulness and body awareness as you slowly relax and breathe through the poses.
Give yourself some time at least once a day and try practicing these yoga moves to help alleviate stress.