Between work, class, social outings, romantic relationships, and family responsibilities, there are many things that add to our stress. Stress can lead to increased heart rates, blood pressure levels, and neurological reactions similar to physical pain or trauma. Continuous stress and emotional distress can lead to long-term problems as well as a decrease in your quality of life. Research has found correlations between practicing yoga and stress relief. Here are five yoga poses that you can practice on your own when a day has been a bit too much to help you decompress.
Standing Forward Bend
Start in a standing position, then bend forward at the hips as you exhale. Focus on lengthening your torso and keeping your knees straight. Press the heels of your feet firmly into the ground and tilt your pelvis forward to maintain your balance. With every inhale, focus on lengthening your torso; with every exhale, bend forward just a bit more. Let your head hang heavily. You can place your hands on the floor or on the back of your ankles but remember to keep your shoulders soft and tension-free. After a minute, straighten by pressing your palms into your thighs and the raising your torso. Avoid rolling your back or tightening your shoulder blades. This pose is beneficial for relieving discomfort in the calves and hips, easing back pain, and reducing stress-induced headaches.
Start on your hands and knees, stacking shoulders above wrists and hips above knees. Keep your neck neutral and your eyes on the floor. Then, as you exhale, curve your spine like an angry cat. Don’t move your limbs from their positions–your spine and head should be the only parts of your body that move. Let your gaze move towards your thighs, but don’t tuck your chin against your chest. As you inhale, return to your starting position or flow into Cow (see below). This pose will stretch your back, releasing tension in the areas where it can accumulate. Pairing with Cow can also help you focus on breathing techniques that can alleviate stress.
You can start in the same hands-and-knees position as you did with Cat, or, if you are comfortable with the movements, flow freely between Cat and Cow. As you inhale, round your belly towards the ground, curving your spine while your chest and glutes rise up. Your gaze will lift to look out in front of you, but don’t overextend to look at the ceiling or sky. This can cause even more tension in your neck. Paired with Cat, these moves flow as you inhale and exhale. It will help you focus on full, deep breaths that can calm the heart rate and battle internal reactions to stress.
Start in a kneeling position with your glutes on your heels and your big toes touching. Your knees should be hip-width apart, allowing you to lay your torso between them as you bend forward at the hips. Keep your arms stretched out in front of your body, fingers spread on the ground or palms up. Your forehead should rest comfortably on the floor. Allow your spine to lengthen and your shoulder blades to relax. They should move easily forward and closer to the ground as gravity goes to work. Many yoga instructors will encourage students to revert to this pose if the yoga session becomes too difficult or if there is pain in other movements. Child’s pose is meant for rest and rejuvenation. It allows the body to heal before moving on. This pose stretches your hips, back, and gives your head a chance to rest. Take several long, deep breaths here for at least a minute to clear your mind and rebalance your body.
Start by lying flat on your back with your legs out straight and your arms at your sides. Your heels should rest comfortably on the ground. Let your legs, lower back, and shoulders relax. Keep your chin from resting on your chest, as your gaze should be straight up at the ceiling or sky. Your shoulders should rest easily away from your ears. Your chest should be open, allowing for deep breaths. Let your tongue ease away from the roof of your mouth, close your eyes, and try to keep your body nice and still. Most yoga sessions involve about five minutes of the Corpse pose as it allows the body and mind to rest between flows. Due to the resting nature of this pose, it is said to lower blood pressure and encourage rhythmic breathing. Once you get the hang of the pose, try to calm your mind as well. This can involve focusing on your breath, your heartbeat, or a feeling of positivity and relaxation.