There are many essential grounding practices from the tradition of yoga that can assist in bringing our minds, hearts and bodies back to a place of rest, trust and safety. All of them are designed to soothe the nervous system, settle the heart and quiet the mind.
Below are 6 yoga poses you can do to relieve stress in your life. Each of these poses can be done on their own, held for a few breaths or longer, or can be used to create a little sequence, doing each pose as many times as you like!
A grounding breath can reduce blood pressure, lower the harmful effects of cortisol (the stress hormone), strengthen the diaphragm, improve digestion and bring you back to center. Find a comfortable position, either lying flat on your back with your knees bent and feet planted, or sitting upright in a chair, feet flat on the ground. Take your hands to your belly and breathe deep into the belly, as if inflating a balloon, inhaling for a count of 5. Hold for a beat, then exhale for 5, breathing out from the belly first.
To calm a busy mind and help focus, visualize the drawing of a square as you inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4, inhale for 4, hold for 4, etc. This can be practiced anywhere and at any time where you’re in need of balance and calm.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Child’s pose is perfect for anyone experiencing back pain or in need of a good neck and back stretch. It activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System aiding in rest and digestion, while stretching the spine, shoulders, hips, thighs and ankles, and reducing stress and anxiety.
Uttansana (Standing Forward Fold)
Forward fold is one of the fastest poses to bring you out of an acute stress response. Stand with feet planted at hips’ width distance. Tuck the chin toward the chest and roll carefully down toward the floor. Keep the weight even between fronts and backs of the feet and the knees soft. Take hold of the elbows and release the head completely, opening the back of the neck. You may want to sway gently from side to side. Hold for up 10 deep breaths, then release into child’s pose, hips to heels. If your balance isn’t great, try this standing with your bum against the wall for support.
This pose releases tension in the spine, neck and back; stretches the hamstrings, claves and glutes; calms the mind and soothes the nerves; reduces stress, anxiety and depression, insomnia and fatigue; stimulates digestion, liver and kidneys; and strengthens thighs and knees.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall)
The perfect way to relax after a long day. Legs up the wall gives your hips and lower back a break – something your body needs.
Find a space on a wall and lay down with your head facing away from the wall. Then, swing your legs up the wall and if you need support under your hips, add a blanket or pillow. Make yourself as comfortable as possible, close your eyes and maybe even play some relaxing music. Allow your whole body and mind to let go of any stressful thoughts or worries. Be fully present in the moment as you relax and find calm. Stay here as long as you like.
This pose can lower the heart rate, rest the heart and brain, relax the back, and deepen and slow the breath; which can lead to a grounding of the body, a soothed nervous system, and a reduction in stress, anxiety and insomnia.
This balancing pose requires deep concentration, making it hard for the body and mind to do anything else but focus on the present moment.
Start by standing feet hip-width apart and shoulders down and back. Pick something to look at and focus on while in this pose. Then, slowly pick up your right leg and cross it over your left as if you were sitting cross legged in a chair. Then take your left arm and cross it over your right at the elbow creases. Start to bend your elbows bringing the back of the hands together. You can always deepen this pose by wrapping the arms and legs more, but find where you can maintain your balance and breath. Not only is this pose good for relieving stress but it helps to open and stretch the shoulders and hips which are points in the body that tend to carry a lot of stress.
Be sure to do both sides and take at least 5 breaths on each side.
Allowing yourself time during the busy day is essential to reducing stress. The best thing about Yoga is that it teaches you about your body and helps you develop of sense of awareness around it. As you continue to practice, you will start to recognize the symptoms of stress right when they start to happen and can quickly halt that stress response in its tracks.
Keep breathing and practicing and finding time for yourself!