We all have stressful days. It’s important to take the time to relax and release your stress, so that your mind and body can heal. Yoga offers a lovely way to do this.
Here are five yoga poses that can help to relieve stress. If you’ve only got a few minutes, you can use just one of these. For example, when work gets overwhelming, you could take a short break and do a yoga pose. If you have more time, you could try all five, to create a beautiful stress-relieving yoga practice. This could be a lovely way to wind down for the evening after work.
Legs up the wall
For this pose, you lie on your back, either on the floor or on a soft surface (like your bed). Scoot your hips up close to the wall, and extend your legs upward, so that they’re resting on the wall with the bottoms of your feet pointing towards the ceiling. The closer you are to the wall, the more of a hamstring stretch you might feel; if it’s too much stretch, you can scoot your hips away from the wall a bit, or you can bend your knees a bit.
One of the benefits of legs up the wall is that it can also help to relieve swelling and soreness in the legs and feet. For people who spend all day on their feet at work, this usually feels really good at the end of the day. You can stay in this pose for as long as you’d like. Some people like to spend five or ten minutes, but you can stay for even longer if it feels good.
Child’s pose is one of the quintessential relaxation poses in yoga. For this pose, kneel on the floor, with your knees either together or spread slightly apart (big toes still touching in the middle). Bend forward at the waist, resting your chest across your thighs and your forehead on the floor. For the classic version of the pose, extend your arms in front of you and place your palms on the floor; another option is to let your arms rest next to your sides.
This pose can help you to draw inward when you feel overwhelmed. It’s like having your own meditation cave. Many people find child’s pose to be grounded and soothing. You can stay in this pose for as long as you’d like. If you’ve extended the arms in front of you, some people find that their shoulders get sore when staying here for a while; if that happens, just bring the arms next to your sides instead.
When your back is stiff, cat/cow may be just the ticket. Come onto your hands and knees (put padding under your knees if you’d like). Slowly and mindfully, round your spine, so that your mid-back moves towards the ceiling while tucking your chin and your tailbone. This rounds the entire spine. Next, slowly move into an arched back position, so that your stomach moves towards the floor, while you look upwards and let your low back arch. This arches the entire spine. Mindfully move between these two positions at whatever pace you like, being careful not to overdo the movement. If any part of your spine pinches or feels sore, make the movement slightly less extreme in that region.
When you’ve been sitting for a long period of time, cat/cow can help loosen up your back and get things moving again.
Happy baby pose
This pose can help to open up your hips and relax your back, and tends to bring about a lighter, calmer mood. Lie on your back. Bend your knees towards your chest. If you can, hold onto your feet by wrapping your hands over the soles of your feet; if this isn’t accessible, you can also hold the backs of your thighs. Keeping your knees bent at about 90 degrees, point the soles of your feet up towards the ceiling, and spread your knees as widely apart from each other as is comfortable.
You might find yourself rocking back and forth in this pose. This is perfectly fine, and can even help to enhance the mood-lifting effect of the pose. If stillness feels better, then that’s fine too. Babies actually do this pose – it’s a natural shape for the body to take.
The Sanskrit name of this pose translates as “corpse pose,” but you can think of it as a resting pose. This pose is almost always done at the end of a yoga class. It’s a perfect pose for very deep relaxation and even meditation. It’s perfect for after exercise, or anytime you feel stressed and want to completely let go.
To do savasana, simply lie on your back, legs just slightly spread, and arms slightly away from the body with palms facing up. If your low back tends to get sore, you can put a pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees to keep them slightly bent. If your neck tends to get sore, you can put a small pillow or folded blanket under the back of your head. It can be very nice to use an eye pillow; some people like to choose one that has a relaxing scent, like lavender. If you’re in a chillier environment, you might even want to cover up with a blanket. Once you’re all set up, allow yourself to relax fully into the support of the ground beneath you. Try to let go of all effort of any type, and simply surrender to your experience.
The intention of savasana is to stay for a while. Yoga classes usually incorporate about five minutes of savasana, but it’s great to stay for as long as you can. If you’d like to listen to a guided meditation, try Yoga Nidra. This meditation, traditionally done in savasana, lasts for about 30 to 45 minutes (longer versions are also available) and guides you into a state of very deep relaxation. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or are having trouble sleeping, it’s a great idea to give Yoga Nidra a try.