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Be Still, Be calm:

Powerful Yoga Poses for Alleviating Stress


Today’s world moves at lightning speed; stress is an all-too-common factor in our everyday lives as many of us navigate the demands of school, work, relationships, and daily responsibilities. Finding and setting aside time to practice effective ways to manage stress can be challenging.  However, it is crucial for our overall well-being to find a way to manage stress, or our bodies will eventually begin to break down.


Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose

 

One powerful tool that has stood the test of time is yoga. For anyone new to yoga or who has never tried it, we'll review a few key benefits of yoga for stress relief. Since finding time for a full yoga flow can be tricky, we’ll explore some powerful poses for alleviating stress and making a significant shift in your mental and physical well-being.


What are the Benefits of Yoga for Stress Relief?


*Mind-Body Connection:

Yoga emphasizes the connection between the mind and body through breath and movement. By focusing on the present moment during our practice, we cultivate mindfulness, which can help break the cycle of stress and anxiety.

 

*Deep Breathing:

Much like meditation, many yoga poses involve conscious and deep breathing. This type of breathing triggers the relaxation response, promoting a sense of calmness and reducing the production of stress hormones.

 

*Physical Relaxation:

Yoga encourages physical relaxation by releasing tension that tends to be stored in the muscles. This can be especially beneficial for those who experience stress-related muscle tightness and discomfort.

 

*Improved Sleep Quality:

Regular yoga practice has been linked to better sleep quality. By calming the nervous system and reducing stress, yoga can contribute to more restful and rejuvenating sleep.

 

*Stress Hormone Regulation:

Yoga has been shown to regulate cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress. Lowering cortisol levels through yoga can contribute to a more balanced and relaxed state of being.

 

As we mentioned earlier, a full yoga flow is not always necessary to achieve the amazing benefits of yoga.  Selecting some powerful poses that are particularly effective for stress relief can provide significant improvement in your well-being.  Once safely in position, each of the suggested poses can be held for several minutes based on your personal level of comfort and ability.  Beginners can start by holding a position for 3 or 5 minutes and gradually increase the duration over time. 


Traditionally, in Restorative Yoga, poses are held from 7 to 15 or even 20 minutes to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system ( the network of nerves that helps the body relax after stress or danger. It's also known as the "rest and digest" state).  As a gentle reminder, if you feel discomfort, dizziness, lightheadedness, or pain, please carefully stop holding a position and speak with your physician.

 

Now, let's transition to the powerful poses:


*Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana):

helps to calm the mind and reduce anxiety,  stress, and fatigue. It can also assist in relieving headaches and insomnia. This pose also stretches and relieves tension in the entire backside of the body, including the hamstrings, hip muscles, and lower back.

Standing Forward Fold Yoga Pose





How to:
  • Sweep your arms up overhead as you inhale, keep your shoulders down and biceps in line with your ears; on your exhale, move your arms out and swan dive forward into a Standing Forward Fold. If available to you, press palms into the floor or mat; if that is not available to you, you can rest your hands on the long or short side of the yoga blocks to bring the floor up to you or rest your hands at your ankles. Feel free to also add a slight micro bend in the knees to relieve pressure in the hamstrings or lower back.

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you, then slowly rise.


Two variations of the Forward Fold that are also fantastic for combating anxiety, stress, and fatigue are: 


*Wide Leg Forward Fold (Prasarita

Padottanasana):

helps to stretch the entire body, keeping the spine strong and flexible.

Wide Leg Forward Fold - Yoga Pose





How to:
  • If using a yoga mat, turn to face the long edge of the mat or left side and step your feet out about 3 to 5 feet apart, based on what is available to you. Bring your hands to your hips, and with a flat back, begin to hinge forward at your hips. Lengthen your arms as you bring your hands down towards your mat. You can rest your hands to the mat, or blocks, or you have the option to rest them at your ankles, toes, or shins. Whatever feels good to you, lengthen your spine and head closer down towards the mat. Deepen your inhalations and exhalations.

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you to release, bring your hands to your hips, and rise with a flat back. Bring your feet together.

*Seated Forward Fold

(Pashchimottanasana):

helps to stretch the entire body while comfortably seated.

Seated Forward Fold - Yoga Pose


How to:
  • Sit evenly into your sit bones and lengthen up through your spine. Inhale while you draw your arms up towards the sky and exhale as you hinge forward at your hips. Bring your hands to whatever is available to you,  your feet, shins, or ankles.

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you to release, keep your back flat, sweep your arms back up, and come back into a Staff pose.

*Child’s Pose (Balasana):

helps to relieve stress and tension built up in the body, predominantly in the back, neck, and hips. Slow, deep breathing while in position will also reduce anxiety and mental stress.

Child's Pose - Yoga Pose




How to: 
  • Come to the table by folding forward and planting your hands firmly on the mat; slowly step your feet back one at a time, about two feet, and lower down to your knees and come into the table.

  • Press your fingers into the mat with all fingers spread wide to disperse weight evenly. Keep your shoulders stacked over your elbows and your elbows stacked over your wrists in a straight line. Keep your hips stacked over your knees.

  • Start to transition into child’s post by bringing your big toes to touch as you move your knees out towards the edge of your mat or to a comfortable distance for you. Sink your hips back to your feet and extend your arms out in front of you. Feel free to go as deep into the pose as your body allows. The further apart your knees, the deeper the pose. You may also rest your forehead on a block or pillow.

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you.

      

*Downward Dog Pose(Adho Mukha Svanasana): 

helps to stimulate blood circulation and opens block channels in the body which helps to relieve stress.  This pose also stretches the entire body, relieving tension in the neck, spine, and abdominal muscles.

Downward Dog - Yoga Pose


How to:
  • Start at a neutral table, send your heels towards the ground, and pull your hips up towards the sky as you come into a downward-facing dog.

  • Adjust your hands and feet so your weight is evenly distributed and you are comfortable. From here, you can stay still in your down dog, or you can add some movement if it feels good to you. Maybe bend your knees one at a time, or you can pedal your heels.

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you.        


*Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani):

helps relieve stress and calms the nervous system.  It can help alleviate headaches and lower back pain and can be particularly effective for those of us who are seated for long periods of time throughout the day, restricting the blood flow to the lower extremities, which can build up when seated.

Legs up the wall  - Yoga Pose






How to:
  • Lie down on your back.  Bend your knees and lift your feet slowly, extending both legs up straight with the feet flexed soles facing the sky. If it is easier for you, lift one leg at a time. You’re welcome to keep a slight micro bend in the knees. You can also use the wall for this pose, as its name suggests. To do this, sit with your side against the wall. Gently turn your body and slide your legs up the wall. You can also use a bolster or towel under your lower back to provide added comfort for this pose.

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you.

 

*Corpse Pose (Savasana):  

helps to relax and put the entire body at ease. Slow breathing while in position assists in lowering blood pressure and calming the nervous system.

Savasana  - Yoga Pose


How to:
  • Lie down on your back with both legs pressed on the mat. Flex your feet, rest your hands at your sides, and softly close your eyes. Relax all the muscles in your face, especially your jaw, release your tongue from the roof of your mouth, and allow your body to become heavy and soft on the mat. Focus on your breath while in the pose.  

  • Hold poses for the time duration available to you. To release, slowly roll onto your left or right side, coming into the fetal position as you take a few more deep breaths.

  • Slowly begin to rise to a seated position.

The last two powerful poses are fantastic when combined into a short flow.

Cat (Maruaryasana)/ Cow (Bitilasana) Flow:


*Cat Pose (Maruaryasana):

helps to relieve stored tension in your lower back as well as the muscles of your hips, upper back, and lungs.

Cat  - Yoga Pose






How to:
  • Inhale as you come to center at tabletop. Check your position to be sure your shoulders are over your wrists and hips are over your knees. On the exhale begin to round your spine and tuck your tailbone as you drop your chin to your chest, you keep your neck soft as you come into pose.


*Cow Pose (Bitilasana):

helps relieve stored tension in your upper body, especially in your back, shoulders, and neck, and it gently massages the spine to increase mobility.

Cow  - Yoga Pose






How to:
  • From cat pose or table pose, inhale, drop your belly towards the mat, and bring your gaze up toward the sky for Cow Pose. Pull your shoulder blades together and open through your chest. Allow the movement to begin at your tailbone, with your neck and head following the movement.


When combining both poses in a short flow, the syncing of your breath with the movements

helps to calm the nervous system.

  • Proceed to flow in and out of Cat and Cow on your own, using your breath to guide you in and out of the poses. Keep your movements slow.

  • Continue for the time duration available to you.

 

Conclusion:

Incorporating these yoga poses into your routine, even if just for a few minutes each day, can have a profound impact on your ability to manage stress. Feel free to also incorporate some relaxing music or essential oils like lavender or rosemary into the practice. Remember, the key is consistency, so make time for these powerful calming poses regularly to experience their full benefits. Embrace the journey to a more peaceful and stress-free life through the practice of yoga.


Wishing you the best on your wellness journey in 2024!


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