Stress is monstrous. It can tear you apart inside and spit you out feeling even worse. Thankfully, yoga and pranayama can be effective antidotes. Why, you ask?
Consciously listening to your breath and becoming mindful of your body and your thoughts immediately changes the way you feel.
So, next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, unroll your mat and practice this simple but effective 10-minute yoga sequence to put all your worries behind you.
1. Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
This basic posture is meant to be the essence of ease. It is any simple seated position that feels comfortable to you. If you like, you can elevate your hips by sitting up onto a block, bolster or cushion to find even greater comfort in this simple asana.
Start by closing your eyes and drawing your attention inward. Try to relax your rhythm of breath, finding a slow and steady beat. Do your best to soften your mind focusing on the sound of your own breathing. Allow thoughts to pass through your head without dwelling on any in particular. Take a moment to set an intention for your practice.
2. Nadhi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breath)
Once you’ve reached this initial state of relaxation, move toward this restorative and calming pranayama exercise. Nadhi Shodhana is said to balance the two major energy channels running through your body (the feminine and the masculine energies – the ida and pingala nadhi, respectively) and can lower your heart rate and relax the mind to relieve stress and anxiety.
In your comfortable seat, draw your right hand toward your face. Very gently rest your thumb on your right nostril. Place your first and middle finger directly at your third eye center (the space between your eyebrows) and very gently rest your ring finger on your left nostril.
Take a moment to continue breathing normally taking full, deep, diaphragmatic breaths. On your next inhale, press down against your ring finger to block your left nostril. Inhale completely through your right nostril. From here, press down against your thumb closing off the right nostril and release your ring finger to exhale through your left nostril.
Keep the same hand placement as you inhale through the left nostril. From here, press down against the ring finger and release your thumb to exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right, exhale through the left. Inhale through the left, exhale through the right.
Continue breathing in this way following a slow and steady rhythm for as long as it feels comfortable.
3. Marjaryasana/Bitilasana (Cat/Cow)
From your seated position, remove any props from underneath you, cross your ankles and roll forward onto all fours in a tabletop position. Align your wrists directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips.
Spread your fingers wide and press down evenly across all corners of your palms. Start from a neutral elongated spine, and as you inhale, relax your belly toward the floor and draw your shoulder blades toward each other creating a broadening of your chest.
Lift your gaze toward the sky. As you exhale, reverse directions. Press down firmly against your palms and round into the back body as you draw the shoulder blades apart from each other. Hug the bellybutton in toward the back and gaze toward your navel.
Repeat this sequence following your own rhythm of breath and try to exaggerate the curvatures of your spine to warm up the whole back body and release any tension that you may be holding there.
4. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
After you feel finished with your cat/cow sequence, relax the weight of your hips down toward your heels and surrender your forearms and forehead to the floor. Find a place of comfort here relaxing into your breath.
Feel free to place a cushion between your seat and your heels if you’re feeling any tension in the body.
Take a few long, deep breaths, once again drawing your attention inward. Feel a deep compression in the hip joints and a rounding of the lower back as you restore your body to the Primary Curve (the same shape as when you are in the womb).
5. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
When you feel ready, gently rise up to sit on your heels and extend your legs long forward in front of you. Sit up tall through your spine and ground your sit-bones either down against the floor or a block.
Take a deep inhale as you extend your arms up toward the sky, and as you exhale, relax the weight of your whole torso forward over the legs. Your knees can either be bent or straight (whichever feels more restorative to you). Your arms can rest by your sides or extend them forward. Close your eyes and soften your breath as you surrender into this introspective forward fold.
6. Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose)
When you feel ready, slide yourself up against an open wall. Place one hip directly against the wall and sit in a small, compact squat. Release your hands behind you and press against your palms to slide your legs up the wall as you turn your body to face it.
Walk your seat as close to the wall as possible and relax your torso to the floor so that you create an L-shape between your legs and upper body. Try to place your sit-bones against the wall. Allow the weight of your legs to surrender toward the floor. Think about the action of allowing your femur bones (your very big and very heavy thigh bones) to relax back in toward your hip sockets.
Allow the weight of the world to release off of your feet and surrender your lower back down against the floor. Close your eyes and relax your mind.
Find a place of silence, stillness and complete surrender here. Allow yourself to let go of all your worries and surrender into this moment here and now. In the end, this is the only moment that matters.