Stress sucks. Once one thing stresses you out, it seems to pile over into every other aspect of your life. Work is rough and suddenly making Easy Mac seems far too overwhelming. The thing about stress, though, is that it can be managed. And the better we learn to manage our stress, the easier it becomes to take on new challenges that may have sent us running in the past. Life is stressful. Things are constantly unpredictable and fluctuating so your best defense in life is learning how to relieve your own stress. Yoga is a powerful tool to this end. Yoga teaches us to slow down, to listen to our breath, and to become present in the here and now. So, next time you’re feeling stressed out, roll out your yoga mat or simply lie down on the floor and practice some or all of these simple yet effective stress-relieving yoga postures:
12 Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
This easy pose is a gentle stretch through the abdominals and chest. As a subtle backbend through the spine it helps to open the upper back and heart center. Start on all fours in a tabletop position. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists and align your hips directly over your knees. Spread your fingers wide and press down equally across all four corners of your palms. On an inhale, soften and relax your belly toward the floor, hug your shoulder blades toward each other, and lengthen and extend your neck as you gaze up toward the sky. This simple posture is traditionally followed by…
11 Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)
This posture helps to stretch and relax the whole back body. If you’re carrying lots of tension in the upper back, shoulders, or neck, then this pose will help to alleviate the pain associated with that tension. Start in that same tabletop position as Cow Pose (you can even start with an inhale into Cow Pose and an exhale into Cat Pose). As you exhale, draw the pit of your belly in toward the spine and start to round through the whole back body. Draw your shoulder blades apart from each other protracting the upper back and shift your gaze toward your navel.
10 Setu Bhandasana (Bridge Pose)
This basic backbend helps to open the whole front body, upper back, chest, and shoulders relieving tension and stress from these areas of the body. Start by lying down on your back and bend into your knees to place your feet flat against the floor, hip-distance apart. Bend into your elbows and point your fingertips straight up toward the ceiling. Engage through the abdominals by drawing your bellybutton down toward the floor. As you inhale, press equally against your shoulders and your feet to lift your hips high up off the mat. You can stay as you are, or if it feels comfortable, you can wiggle one shoulder underneath followed by the other, and interlace your fingers behind your back. Keep the core firmly engaged to keep lifting the hips up high and draw the shoulder blades toward each other to expand and open through the heart. Take a few long, deep breaths and, when you’re ready, release the hands and slowly lower down one vertebrae at a time.
9 Anahatasana (Heart Melting Pose)
Another gentle backbend, this posture helps to relax through the whole spine, surrendering the space around the heart chakra. Start on all fours in a tabletop position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees. Keep your hips directly over the knees as you begin to walk your hands forward in space as far as you can reach while simultaneously “melting” your chest toward either a block, a blanket or the floor. Try to soften into your shoulders and the space behind your heart.
8 Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
This very simple posture is one of the most commonly used poses in the physical yoga practice. As a most basic inversion (with your head below your heart), it is super effective for calming the mind and releasing tension. Start standing tall with your feet either touching or hip-distance apart. Take a full deep inhale and, as you exhale, lead with your chest and hinge from the hips to dive forward over your legs. You can have the knees either bent or straight (for stress-relieving purposes, slightly bent knees is usually your best bet) and just allow the weight of gravity to decompress your spine for you. Let the whole torso become heavy and allow the head and neck to just hang heavy as well. Your hands can either dangle or make contact with a block, your legs, or the floor. Find a variation that feels comfortable and relaxing to you, close your eyes and surrender into your breath for as long as you would like.
7 Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
Very similar to a Standing Forward Fold, this Seated Forward Fold is simply done while sitting. With many of the same benefits, this posture is restorative and relaxing. Start seated with your legs extended long forward in front of you. Take your hands under you seat to remove the fleshy part away until you can feel your bones connect with the floor (also feel free to elevate the hips here if you have tight hamstrings or lower back issues by sitting up onto a block or blanket). As you inhale, lengthen and extend your spine and, as you exhale, lead with your chest to dive forward over the legs (your knees can again be either bent or straight here). Let your hands rest wherever they may reach and soften and relax the head and neck surrendering all of your weight toward the floor.
6 Janu Sirsasana (Head-To-Knee Pose)
A very similar posture, Head-To-Knee Pose also incorporates a subtle hip-opener to soften and relax the space around the hip joint (where many people tend to carry lots of tension). Again, start seated with your with your legs extended long forward in front of you. Work those same actions to take your hands under you seat to remove the fleshy part away until you can feel your bones connect with the floor (also feel free to elevate the hips here as well if you have tight hamstrings or lower back issues by sitting up onto a block or blanket). Bend into the right knee and bring the sole of your foot into the left thigh, allowing your right knee to open out wide toward the side of your mat. Square your torso over your left leg and inhale to lengthen your spine. As you exhale, hinge forward over that left leg allowing your weight to melt forward. Hold for as long as you would like and, when you’re ready, switch to the opposite leg.
5 Balasana (Child’s Pose)
This gentle posture stretches the back body and ankles while also compressing and relaxing the hip joint. Softening your head to the floor in this position also helps to calm and soothe the mind offering some serious stress relief. Start kneeling on your knees (you can have them either touching or open as wide as your mat). Point your toes back behind you (if this feels like too intense of a stretch through your ankles, then you can roll up a blanket under your ankles to cushion them) and sit your seat onto either your heels or onto a pillow or blanket over the heels. Lengthen and extend your spine up as you inhale and, exhale, to hinge forward over your knees. Keep the weight of your seat pressing down toward the heels as you reach and extend your spine forward in space. Feel a rounding through the lower back and compression through the hips. Your hands can either be extended forward in front of you or relaxed down by your feet. Soften your head to the floor, close your eyes and surrender into your own breath.
4 Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
This restorative posture alleviates tension in the hips and allows the mind to slow down. Start seated and bring the soles of your feet to touch, opening your knees out wide toward the sides of your mat. Draw your heels in as close toward your groin as is comfortable and then take your hands behind your hips. Slowly lower down to your forearms and then release all the way down onto your back while keeping your legs in this same position. Rest your hands wherever feels comfortable and allow your legs to become heavy. Let gravity do the work to open your hips for you. If you would like, you can place pillows or blankets underneath the knees for some extra support. Close your eyes and enjoy the gentle opening as you try to clear your mind and relax into this position.
3 Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose)
This easy inversion reverses blood flow allowing your heart to take a rest and not have to work so hard. This position softens the lower back and the legs and draws your attention inward. Start sitting next to a wall with your right hip pressing against the wall. Extend your legs forward in front of you and take your hands back behind you. Lean your weight into the hands so that you can swing your legs up the wall turning your whole body to face directly to the wall. Scoot your seat up against the wall trying to make contact with the wall and your sit-bones. Then, lie down flat against your back. Allow the weight of your legs to just melt down toward the floor. Soften your lower back against the mat, rest your hands wherever is comfortable and soften and surrender here. If you would like, you can even open your legs out wide into a V-position to additionally stretch through the inner thighs.
2 Savasana (Corpse Pose)
When you feel stressed, what is the first thing you want to do? Well, besides binge eating. Curl up into a ball under the covers and fall asleep, allowing your mind to wander off into a dreamland and not face all the stressors that are killing you right now, right? Well, Savasana is just the pose you’re looking for. Quite exactly as it sounds, Corpse Pose is simply lying flat against the floor on your back. Take your feet out wide and allow your heels to turn in and your toes to turn out. Relax your arms down by your side and face your palms up toward the ceiling in a gesture of surrender. Close your eyes and allow all of the weight of your body to soften and relax into the floor. Try to clear your mind. Try to slow your breath. Stay here until you feel completely and utterly relaxed. Allow the simplicity of this posture to wipe away your worries and stress.
1 Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
This is one of the most fundamental postures of yoga and one of the most important stress relieving postures of the practice as it forces you to really reflect internally and relax into your breath. Begin seated in any comfortable position. You can sit cross-legged. You can sit on a chair. You can sit on a block. You can sit on a blanket. Just find a place of comfort. And that is it. You are now in the posture. Close your eyes and lengthen your spine. Relax your shoulders down away from your eyes and allow your hips and your legs to become heavy melting down toward the floor. Rest your hands wherever is comfortable. Soften your breath and start to elongate each inhale and each exhale. Try your best to clear the mind and just listen to the sound of your own breathing. Sit for as long as you can and notice the amazing stress relieving results as you finish. Congratulations! You've just successfully meditated.