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Relieve Stress with Yoga

Many people turn to yoga when feeling anxious or stressed out. Mindfully moving through the poses can quiet our mental chatter, relieve stress, and boost our overall mood.

Yoga relieves stress.

There are so many places stress can creep into our lives. There are big ones like a long-term project at work or school, navigating a divorce, or living through a pandemic but stress can add up from all the little things like getting stuck in traffic, worrying about something you said yesterday, or figuring out what to make for dinner, too. Stress seems to be everywhere!

Thankfully, there are many healthy ways to reduce stress too. Connecting with friends, going to therapy, exercising, and meditating can all help. Yoga, in particular, helps reduce stress because it promotes relaxation – the natural opposite of stress!

Yoga translates as “union.” In particular, it means a union (or joining together) of the body and the mind. It relieves stress because yoga helps us focus on our body, mind, and breath.

When we connect our minds with our bodies during yoga, we feel better.

In a national survey, over 85% of people who practiced yoga reported it helped them relieve the stress in their lives. One of the fundamental ideas in yoga is to be self-compassionate and self-aware so we can be non-judgmental towards ourselves and others. This can relieve some of the stress we put on ourselves from expectations.

Practicing yoga helps reduce stress in our bodies because many yoga poses target the areas we tend to hold onto tension the most: the hips, shoulders, and neck. Yoga is designed to loosen these tight muscles as well as the rest of the body.

Yoga helps our bodies physically but it’s so much more than just a physical practice with physical benefits. When we focus on our breathing, yoga benefits our mind too, because it keeps our focus in the present moment.

A brain under stress tends to worry about the future or ruminate about the past. When we can keep our thoughts on the present moment (in a yoga class or off our mats) instead, the task at hand can seem more attainable.

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For stress relief in yoga, we need to keep our thoughts on what our body and breath are doing in the present moment. Notice how a particular area of the body feels. For example, as we slowly inhale, notice how the body lengthens and expands. As we slowly exhale, feel the body pull in toward the core as we get rid of toxins. This awareness lets us let go of stress (and our attachment to it) with every exhale.

Even Chatarunga is easier when we take it one breath at a time rather than thinking about how much longer until the teacher cues the next pose. 😊

Staying in the present moment helps increase our ability to focus and concentrate. This helps many aspects of our life but especially our bodies, mind, and breathing.

These poses are helpful for stress relief.

Pick your favorite and stay for 10 breaths or even better do them all as a sequence.

  1. Easy Pose (Sukasana) with Neck Stretch

In a comfortable seated position, breathe in through your nose and sit up tall. Breathe out and slowly lower your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold here for five complete cycles of breath. On the sixth inhale, lift your head. Exhale and slowly lower your left ear toward your left shoulder. Take five slow, even breaths.

  1. Cat-Cow Vinyasa (Marjaryasna-Bitilasana)

Transition to your hands and knees. Line up so that your knees are directly under your hips and your wrists are under your shoulders.

Inhale and lift your tailbone, drop your belly, reach your heart forward, and lift your chin to come into Cow Pose.

As you exhale, tuck your tailbone, pull your belly toward your spine, round your back, and tuck your chin toward your chest for Cat Pose.

Do a total of 10 rounds. Inhale for Cow Pose. Exhale for Cat Pose.

  1. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Tuck your toes under. As you exhale, lift your knees off the mat and tailbone toward the sky. Try to make a straight line from your wrists to your tailbone by lengthening your arms and your spine. Knees can be bent or straight as you try to sink your heels to the mat. Take five full breaths.

  1. Standing Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)

Walk your feet up to your hands. Hold onto your ankles, opposite elbows, or allow your arms to stretch toward the mat. Reach your belly toward your thighs as you relax your back and neck. Allow the top of your head to release toward your toes. Legs can be bent or straight. Take five slow, even breaths.

  1. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Bend your knees and bring your hands to the mat. Step your feet back to Downward Facing Dog again. Stay for five breaths.

  1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Exhale and bring your knees to the mat. Untuck your toes and reach your arms forward on your mat. Then sit your hips back toward your heels. Drape your belly over your thighs. Finally, bring your forehead to your mat or a block for extra support. Let your body relax in this pose for five breaths.

  1. Reclined Spinal Twist Pose (Jathara Parivartanasana)

Rollover onto your back. Draw your knees to your chest and stretch your arms out to the sides with palms facing up. As you exhale, bring both legs over to the right. Let your right leg rest on the floor while the left leg rests on the right. If it feels ok on your neck, gently turn your head to the left. Allow your body to relax as you take five full breaths here.

On the sixth inhale bring your legs back to the center. Exhale and slowly bring both bent legs over to the left. The left leg will rest on the floor while the right leg stacks on top of it. Gently turn your head to the right. Relax here for five breaths.

  1. Savasana

Inhale and bring your legs back to the center. Exhale and stretch out onto your back for a final relaxation pose. Allow your feet to relax open, your palms to face up, and your eyes to close. Relax your hips, back, and shoulder blades. Stay here for at least 10 breaths. Pay attention to the present moment. When you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breath and relax fully again.

Yoga relieves stress and boosts resilience.

Yoga helps relieve stress every time we get onto our mats but don’t wait until those stressful feelings emerge. Regularly practicing yoga (a short session every day or a couple of longer classes every week) creates resiliency and self-confidence. People who practice often find it easier to handle things when life gets stressful. Yoga increases our ability to remain calm, balanced, and relaxed.

After we practice yoga, we feel a little more positive and motivated but one class or a few poses won’t eliminate all the stress in our bodies or environments. Yes, yoga gives us the ability to look inward for resilience and remember to come back to the present moment when our emotions spiral out of control but the effects that help us feel better compound over time.

Keep at it.  Your future self will thank you!

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