What if there was a solution to your stress that has reduced pain and anxiety for countless people across the world for centuries? What if that solution also helped you to stretch your tense muscles and tap into a higher level of awareness in your body at the same time? Yoga is a stress relief solution many have heard of but few have tried.
While nine out of 10 Americans have heard of yoga, a national survey estimates that just 33 percent of U.S. adults have tried it.
Yoga is proven to be good for your health. Studies have found that yoga can help improve cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, balance, and overall quality of life. But the benefits do not end at physical health: Yoga can improve emotional and mental health.
Stress is a big disruptor of mental wellness. Eight out of 10 people in the United States say that they feel stressed on regular basis. Yoga can be a helpful tool in reducing that stress.
In this article, we’ll teach you how to use yoga as a stress reduction tool. We’ll talk about the science behind yoga for stress relief. We’ll also show you five gentle yoga moves that will inspire you to incorporate yoga into your daily life and stretch that stress away.
Does Yoga Really Reduce Stress?
A systematic review based on eight different scientific trials showed the positive effect of yoga in reducing stress levels or stress symptoms in healthy adults.
One study looked at using yoga as a stress-reduction tool at work. Since work is one of the more stressful areas of life, this study is especially poignant in assessing yoga’s effectiveness as a stress reduction tool.
Every week, the study offered multiple 45-minute classes at lunch or right after work to over 10,000 employees. Employees reported significant benefits after eight weeks of classes.
In other workplaces with yoga instruction, employees reported a 46 percent drop in stress and pain.
Yet another systematic review of 24 studies found that yoga decreased depression and stress and improved overall mood. It found evidence that yoga was associated with positive physical changes in high blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol or cytokine levels.
The Huffington Post reports that yoga has been used by the U.S. military to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Scientists in the military believe that yoga enhances the body’s relaxation response.
Yoga also has other psychological benefits. Harvard Health Publishing says that people who do yoga are 20 percent more likely to have a positive self-image of their health. Other studies have shown the beneficial effects of yoga on aspects of nervous system health like memory and self-esteem.
In short, yoga is a demonstrably good tool for improving mental and physical health, including stress management.
How to Use Yoga For Stress Relief
Yoga isn’t just doing a bunch of different stretches. It’s a mind-body practice. In that light, yoga is as much about breathing as it is physical poses. The first part of using yoga for stress relief is learning how to focus on breathing properly.
Breathing For Yoga
There are a few standard breathing practices that are good to learn before you start using yoga. That way, when you start yoga, you can incorporate these breaths as you do your stretches. The first one is Ujjayi breath (“Ocean Breath”).
Take a deep slow breath through your nose and exhale through your nose while constricting the back of your throat. When you breathe out, think of making the sound “HAAAAAH.” It’s the same out-breath, except that your mouth is closed.
The second breath is diaphragmatic breathing. This is a type of breathing that trains you to breathe deeply through your belly instead of with your chest muscles. To practice, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. During an in-breath, the hand on your belly should lift up before the hand on your chest.
Yoga Poses For Stress Relief
Now that you’ve got some breathing techniques up your sleeve, it’s time to jump into a few yoga poses for stress relief. They are simple and easy to learn. You don’t need to go to a yoga class or have a yoga teacher. It’s best if you have a clean, soft surface to work on, such as a yoga mat, but a towel will do in a pinch.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is great for beginners. It’s extremely relaxing and doesn’t require a ton of flexibility to practice. It helps relieve back pain and tension. To do Child’s Pose:
- Start on your hands and knees and take a few Ujjayi breaths. Center your mind.
- Spread your knees so that your toes are touching behind you and you’ve created a space between your thighs.
- On an exhale, bow forward and put your forehead against your mat. If you can’t make it all the way down, use a book or block to rest your forehead.
- Move your hands to your feet, and rest them palms up.
- Remain as long as you need, focusing on breathing deeply and steadily.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
This is another quick and easy pose. This pose is basically standing straight, except with purpose and focus. It’s great for reducing shoulder tension. To do Mountain Pose:
- Place your feet together, and spread out your toes. Feel the pressure of your toes and the soles of your feet against the ground.
- Spread out your chest muscles and extend your arms slightly to the side. Your elbows should not touch your torso, but your arms should be kept at less than a 180-degree angle.
- Stretch your arms all the way to your fingers. Stretch your fingers out.
- Straighten your back and neck. Feel the stretch throughout your torso. Look straight forward. Imagine a straight line from your forehead to your pelvis.
- Maintain with Ujjayi breath for as long as it takes to rid yourself of stress and bring yourself into the present moment.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Despite its morbid name, the corpse pose is an energizing pose. It’s great for letting go of anxiety and stress at any point during the day. It also helps massage the back a bit. To do Corpse Pose:
- Lie down on your mat.
- Spread your legs and arms slightly away from the center of your body.
- Tighten each muscle group in your body progressively, starting from your feet and going all the way to your face. Tighten as much as you can for a few seconds, and then release.
- Once you’ve relaxed all of your muscles, spend several minutes taking long and even diaphragmatic breaths.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
This is a more challenging pose that will require all of your focus. Because of its requirement for complete focus, it allows you to get rid of anxious thoughts during the duration of the practice. To do Eagle Pose:
- Begin by standing in Mountain Pose.
- Bend your left leg and wrap it around your right leg. Fix your gaze on a point in front of your to stay focused.
- Hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf if you can manage it.
- Extend your arms in front of you and place your left arm under your right. Wrap your arms together and press the palms of your hands together. Lift your elbows and reach your fingertips towards the ceiling.
- Breathe, relax, and focus on maintaining balance. If you fall out of balance, don’t stress. Be compassionate towards yourself and gently go back into the pose.
- Switch sides.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Standing Forward Bend, also known as forward fold, is a great way to release tension from your muscles after hours of sitting. It can be difficult, but it’s an excellent stress reliever. To do Standing Forward Bend:
- Begin by standing in Mountain Pose.
- With your knees as straight as possible, bring your fingers to the floor — how far depends on your level of flexibility. If you want, place your palms on the floor. If not, wrap your hands around your calves or ankles, or simply let your hands float.
- Breathe through the stretch with diaphragmatic breathing.
- Hold for a few breaths and slowly release by straightening your back up.
Do Yoga For More Namaste In Your Life
Start with these five yoga poses to infuse the power of yoga for stress relief into your mind. But don’t stop there.
There are full yoga routines that can be done on a daily basis, such as the Sun Salutation, which is excellent for physical and mental health. Consider getting into a yoga class or purchasing a yoga DVD to incorporate a yoga practice into your life. Keep a yoga journal to make sure that you are keeping up with your daily yoga stretches. Both your stress levels and overall health will see real improvements.