More and more people are choosing to practice yoga to help cope with problems they face in daily life. Yoga has been around for over 5000 years now and continues to gain popularity in this modern world. (3)
With yoga, we can slow down, listen to our body’s messages, unravel our problems, and gain strength too. With each pose or movement, we can center ourselves, and absorb the shocks of life that come along.
Yoga For Stress Relief – How it Works
Yoga can benefit three aspects of ourselves that are often affected by stress:
- Our body
- Our mind
- Our breath
Practicing yoga builds the ability to calm, focus, balance, and relax. Yoga for stress relief can be effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook in life. (1)
Yoga can also:
- Help loosen tense muscles (1)
- Help us stay in the present moment (1)
- Guide us to send breath to tight areas (1)
- Reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and ease respiration (2)
- Help ease pain, by regulating stress responses (2)
- Develop a better body image and confidence (2)
- Heighten awareness of how our body works (2)
- Improve endurance (2)
- Help us balance our mind (2)
- Improve lipid profiles, lower blood-sugar levels, and help with depression (2)
- Guide us to be healthier. Many yogis seek other fitness activities and “greener” lifestyles (3)
Here are some poses for melting away stress:
#1 Bridge Pose
The psoas is sometimes referred to as the “muscle of the soul.” Located near the hip bone, its function is to help keep the body upright and moving. In addition to connecting the legs and spine, it’s also connected to the diaphragm, and it’s the location where physical symptoms associated with anxiety may manifest. (4,5,11)
If we’re constantly rushing and achieving, the psoas is always engaged and can feel like it’s in a constant battle, a “fight or flight” scenario. (10)
It can be released by doing the Bridge Pose:
- Bridge Pose – Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bend elbows to 90 degrees. Press down with your feet and the upper arms and squeeze your buttocks as you lift your hips. Gently draw in your belly to keep your back from arching. (This lengthens the iliacus and psoas as you strengthen the gluteus maximus).
In order to engage the hamstrings, energetically draw the heels towards the buttocks. Hold for 5 breaths and lower. Repeat 3 times. (5)
#2 Child’s Pose
The Child’s Pose can help to release tension in the back, hips, neck, and shoulders. This pose can be used at any point during yoga practice as a place of rest, to slow the breath and calm the mind. Many people find the soothing presence of the earth calms them down, so when you feel a wave of stress, try bringing yourself into child’s pose on your mat. (9)
- In this pose, come to all fours and bring hips back to heels. Lean forward, keeping your hips back, and rest your forehead on the floor or on a pillow or block. Shift your arms so they’re next to your legs, palms facing up. Inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply, for at least eight breaths. (9)
#3 Supported Bridge Pose
Practicing bridge pose in the modified, supported way, can help relieve headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability, by soothing the nervous system, and promoting relaxation. (12)
As seen with number #1, there are many variations of this posture, and this one particularly helps with tension in the back and neck:
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and press down with your feet as you lift your hips. Place a cushion, block or bolster beneath your hips and low back, and allow yourself to rest here, with support from beneath, breathing gently. Stay for 5-10 minutes. (12)
#4 Breath Of Fire
The Breath of Fire is a form of “pranayama” or breath control. It’s a great tool for anxiety, upset, nervousness, pain, fear, and sadness. (7)
The practice of pranayama involves different types of breathing exercises, in which participants inhale, exhale, and hold their breath in a specific way. (8)
It’s commonly done as part of Kundalini yoga, which involves breathing techniques, chanting, singing, and repetitive poses. According to research fast pranayama may help us feel calmer by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and decreasing stress levels. (7)
It can be done in different positions and can be practiced from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, depending on experience level. One way to do it is by lying down.
- Lie on your back. Raise your head and heels 6 inches of the ground. Focus eyes on the toes and stretch the toes so they point away from you. Place arms either above your thighs with palms facing down (but not touching legs), or alongside your legs, with palms facing your body, but not touching. Begin Breath of Fire;
- Close eyes. Inhale naturally, then actively exhale through your nose by quickly drawing your navel in and up. Keep the rest of your body still. Inhale passively. Repeat this rhythmic cycle at about one breath per second; exhaling actively and inhaling passively for about 30 seconds. (8)
Meditation is an ancient yogic practice of calming and centering the mind, which science is proving as a great method for controlling stress.
In meditation, all that’s to be done is to focus the mind on something. Watching the inhale and exhale is a great meditation for beginners to try. Sit in a comfortable position, close the eyes, and inhale deeply. Exhale fully. Inhale with purpose, exhale with purpose. Watch it go in, watch it go out. That’s all! It is calming, and the extra dose of oxygen can increase the brain’s thinking ability. (6)
Focus For The Soul
As you can see, yoga for stress relief is all about mental wellbeing; It’s broader than physical poses alone and includes a rich history of ethical principles, breathing exercises, and meditation. (3)
Right before yoga, it’s a good idea to incorporate some rituals or rewards that are soothing and meaningful to you. Think of yoga practice time as a sacred and important time. Light some candles, burn incense, or even create a small altar to sit in front of.
To help facilitate relaxation, you may use a product such as Be Serene IR right before you begin your yoga practice, by applying 1-2 pumps to your temples or wrists. Then, just sit back and feel the calm wash over you.
Life can certainly stretch our patience and be a great cause for stress. Just as life is dynamic, not static, yoga can also stretch us in many ways — and sometimes we need to stretch ourselves before we can find relief.