You don’t have to be a yoga aficionado to benefit from yogi stress-busting techniques. Yoga is incredible for your body and relieving tension, and a few simple poses and attention to deep breathing can instantly help you to manage the stress in your daily life.
Start on your hands and knees. The standard pose is accomplished with your knees and feet together and hips back onto your heels, with your arms by your sides and your forehead against your mat. Shelly Harris, a yoga and fitness instructor at Canyon Ranch, offers a variation: Bring your big toes together, knees apart, with your arms under your forehead. Child’s pose is incredibly effective in stress reduction because the gentle pressure of the forehead against the mat helps to relieve tension. The facial muscles can release, and it becomes easier to focus on your breathing, says Lindsey Ringenbach, a O2 Fitness yoga instructor. Lightly stretching the lower back and hips also eases the stress in the legs and lower body.
Cat Pose (Majariasana)
As its name suggests, this pose mimics the movements of felines, says Elissa Lappostato, co-founder of Prajjali. Majariasana promotes movement in the spine, allowing your lower and upper back to remain flexible and free from the pain often caused by stress. What’s great about this pose is that it not only helps eliminate tension that’s already there—it also prevents tension from occurring in the future. This pose also opens up your chest cavity, allowing you to increase your lung capacity and improve your blood circulation. Majariasana helps reduce stress even more by gently massaging your abdominal organs. The movements used in this pose help alter and relieve the pressure often put on internal organs.
A simple twist from a cross-legged position provides benefits from the inside out, Ringenbach says. During the twist, the organs are compressed, and newly oxygenated blood rushes through the body and invigorates your system once the twist is released.
Supine Spinal Twist
For this position, Harris says to start on your back with your feet and knees together, arms out to the sides, with your lower legs to the right and your head centered or turned left. After three breaths or longer, repeat on the opposite side. “I suggest holding each pose for three cycles of breath or longer, remembering to be calm and comfortable in each pose,” Harris says. “I also recommend utilizing diaphragmatic breathing (slowly and gently breathe one even and steady breath through the nose on both inhale and exhale), which can aid in calming the physical and mental state by calming our nervous system.”
Legs Up the Wall
This is an amazing pose for relieving stress, says Theresa Polley, a yoga teacher and host of Retreat in the Pines, a women’s yoga retreat. It calms the nervous system, all while draining lymph fluid from the legs and feet and giving the lower back a nice break. It’s also perfect to do before bed, and best of all, anybody can do it. Edge yourself as close to a wall as possible, then swing your legs so they are “up the wall.” You can keep your legs straight or open them wide, or even bring the feet together in a butterfly stretch. If you are tighter in the hamstrings and lower back, don’t sit as close to the wall. If there is no wall available, simply take a yoga block and place it under your sacrum and then lift your legs up, bending the knees first and then straightening one leg and the other. It should feel effortless as the purpose is to relax the core and the legs so they’re not “working,” so the placement of the block is key.
Breathing from the Belly
Robert Piper, author of the forthcoming book “The Meditation Muscle,” believes that having a regular meditation practice is “fundamental for survival in our stressful, modern life and absolutely necessary for being happy, healthy, and powerful in life.” Meditation, often a part of a restorative yoga practice, helps you to stay calm and not overreact to situations and people you can’t control, Piper says. How you direct your attention is how you shape the quality of your life. If you use your attention to focus on the negative aspects of life, you have negative experiences; if you focus on the positive, that is what you will experience. By learning how to guide your attention, you will have more control of your own mind, says Piper. “The best way to focus and strengthen your attention is to learn a simple breathing technique that can be done from the convenience of your own desk,” he adds.
Take a seat on your couch, chair, or wherever you have a place to sit in your home or office. Try to sit with an erect spine— it doesn’t have to be perfect posture, just a straight back. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the area of your belly. Try to feel your ribcage and tailbone. Now bring your attention to your breathing. As you breathe in and out, focus on all the sensations going on in the body, such as the heart beating, your ribs expanding and contracting, your belly area rising and falling. Expect your mind to wander, because that’s what the mind does. When it does, bring your attention back to your breathing and bodily sensations. Don’t criticize yourself; don’t try to wrestle with your thoughts or stop them in any way. Simply return your attention to your breathing and your body every time you become aware that you have lost your focus. After just the right amount of focused attention, a door may open and you will experience being calm, collected and sharply aware. Emotions can come up, but let them do what they do, as if you are watching the surface of an ocean: Sometimes, there are waves and sometimes, it is smooth. Now bring all of your awareness and open your eyes, and there. You just meditated!
Read more: Which Type of Yoga is Best for You?