Best Yoga Poses for Stress Relief
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.
- Amit Ray
Stress is an entirely natural response to situations that make us uncomfortable, anxious, pressured, frustrated, overwhelmed… Unfortunately, the effects of stress are not limited to the unpleasant feeling we get in the moment. Stress has been shown to trigger or exacerbate chronic conditions, and decrease the general quality of life. And although it is probably impossible to live a stress-free life, we can find ways to alleviate it.
Over the years, many studies have confirmed that yoga is a great non-pharmacological option for stress relief. Some of the relief comes from physical movement, some stems from increased self-awareness, mindfulness practice, and breathwork. Try incorporating the poses listed below into your weekly routine, and watch the magic happen!
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
When we are stressed, we often tense up without even noticing. Child’s Pose is great for releasing tension in our neck, shoulders, and back. From a mental and emotional standpoint, Child’s Pose is perfect for moments when you feel overwhelmed or anxious, as it creates a sense of security and allows you to direct the focus within.
How-to: From an all-fours position, start lowering your hips towards the heels. To make space for your belly and ribcage, you may separate the knees wider and bring the big toes together. Reaching the arms forward, gently lower the chest to the ground. Tuck the chin forward, rest your forehead on the floor, and close your eyes. Focus on your breaths to help you settle down.
Adjustments and props: If the forehead doesn’t reach the ground, rest it on a yoga block, a folded blanket or a cushion. If the thighs are tight, create some distance between the seat and the ankles. You can also add a rolled-up blanket for extra support. If reaching the arms forward is strenuous on the shoulders, try folding the forearms under the redhead or even stretching the arms back.
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
This gentle inversion includes the elements of balance, hip opening, and folding forward. It slows your spine to decompress in the u
pside-down position, all the while releasing tension from your hips and hamstrings. It also has a grounding effect on the practitioner, making space for stillness and self-reflection.
How-to: Face the long edge of your mat. Step your feet 3-4 ft apart and turn the toes slightly inwards. Soften through the knees and rest your hands on the hips. Take a breath in, as you lengthen through the spine. On the exhale, start folding forward, leading the movement with the center of your chest. Pause with each
inhale, and travel further as you exhale. After 3-4 breaths, relax the neck and shoulders and ground through the palms. Close your eyes and focus on steady breathing. Stay here for at least a minute. Exit by rolling up through the spine.
Adjustments and props: If your hands cannot reach the floor easily, rest them on a pair of blocks. If the feet are sliding apart, you may use a yoga towel or cotton blanket to increase the friction.
Legs-Up-The-Wall (Viparita Karani)
Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose is accessible to almost every yogi, regardless of age, size, or flexibility levels. It’s designed to relieve tension in the lower part of our body, as well as serve as a resting pose. Viparita Karani also helps to regulate your blood pressure, which is often a symptom of stress.
How-to: Lay your mat perpendicular to a wall. Lie down on your side, and shuffle your seat as close to the wall as you can. Slowly turn over onto your back and stretch the legs vertically, using the wall for support. Arms can rest on either side of the body. Alternatively, hands can be placed on the belly, elbows open to the sides. Stay here anywhere between 5-15 minutes. Feel the wave of relief wash over you as you breathe in and out.
Adjustments and props: A 90-degree angle can be uncomfortable. Prop your hips up with a bolster, folded blanket or block. If your hamstrings are tight, try resting your legs on a chair instead.
Plow Pose (Halasana)
Plow is widely considered to have a calming effect due to its ability to release physical tension, regulate blood pressure and help with hormonal symptoms. A step-up from Viparita Karani, Plow Pose stretches through the entire backside of the body, while creating an enclosed space for relaxation.
How-to: Come to
lie on your back. With your arms extended alongside the body, press the palms into the floor. Lift your legs to an L-shape and pause to establish here. Next, lift your seat and reach the toes towards a space behind your head. If your feet are touching the ground, interlace your fingers, squeezing shoulder blades together. Alternatively, leave your feet suspended and support your back by bending the elbows and placing your palms just above the shoulder blades.
Adjustments and props: If the neck is uncomfortable, place a folded blanket underneath your shoulders before you lay down. You may also place a block (or a stack of blocks) behind your head to rest your toes as you enter Plow Pose.
Priscila Norris, LCSW, RYT.
Thrivemind Counseling and Wellness
Owner, Psychotherapist, Yoga Teacher