You know what it’s like when you’re stressed. You’ve got so much turbulence going on between your ears that your eyes dart around (often looking for things to stress about) making it really hard to focus on one thing at a time. This makes getting stuff done really challenging, and when the to-do list piles up, we start to freak out even more!
Letting Go and Finding Your Center
One of the ways I use my yoga practice to reduce stress is to practice balancing poses. Not only do they help to focus my mind on one thing at a time, they also help me lighten up and find acceptance in whatever happens. Stress can often come through our inability to control something, so practicing the art of letting go (of control) can be incredibly beneficial.
Of course, practices like meditation and pranayama are deeply soothing for a wound up mind, but so is learning how to respond calmly to challenging situations. Balancing poses provide those mini challenges, so they can help us take the benefits of our practice off the mat and into our lives.
While pretty much any balancing pose will have a positive effect for the reasons I’ve mentioned, here are a few of my favorites with tips on how you can incorporate them into your practice. These are yoga poses to de-stress and will help create a calmer, happier and more relaxed you.
1. Tree Pose
Tree Pose is the standing pose of surrender. It’s super grounding and if approached in the right way, it can be really soothing and nurturing.
I often say to my students that it’s Tree Pose, not Statue Pose to encourage them to let go of the desire to be perfectly still and embrace the minor (or major) movement that is just your body adjusting to the balance. When you approach the pose this way, it’s hard to get frustrated and it’s much easier to accept whatever level of balance you find.
Tip: Imagine you have roots, like a tree that are growing down from the soles of your feet into the earth beneath. Imagine them going all the way to the earth's core if you need to.
2. Warrior 3
The reason I love Warrior 3 and why I’ve put it on this list is because it’s not easy. Even if you’ve been practicing for years, it can still yank your chain if you hold it for longer than 20 seconds. And it’s easy to forget about the breath when we’re challenged, which anyone who suffers from stress will know about.
Warrior 3 requires strength and determination to hold, but honestly, frowning or grunting doesn’t make it any easier. What does make it easier, is maintaining a calm, smooth, and even breath. This pose becomes a great way to practice responding to a mini stressful situation in a calm way. The more you practice that on that mat, the more likely you are to respond that way off the mat.
Tip: While you need the core to be engaged, you don’t want to squeeze so much that you restrict your ability to breathe properly.
3. Crow Pose
I know, Crow Pose is really challenging for a lot of people, but we want a decent challenge to practice our calm responses. Then over time, you’ll start to see yourself responding more positively in the heat of the moment. I recommend being less attached to flying, and instead, approach each stage of the pose slowly and with a lot of acceptance, particularly if you don’t get to the point you were hoping for.
If lift-off in Crow is easy for you, see if you can keep the breath calm and relaxed as you move in and out of the pose. And if you don’t manage to fly, who cares? Meet your experience with that same even breath and a sense of humor.
Tip: Place cushions or blankets out in front of you. Fear of falling can hold us back and glue us to the safety of the ground, but we need to courageously shift forward to get the lift.
4. Standing Twist Balance
This is a relatively straightforward balance, but adding the twist and taking the gaze away from the security of a spot straight ahead means we really need to focus and ultimately still the mind. Feel the rotation happen from the navel and ribcage as you open your heart up to possibilities that might exist behind you. Just watch you don’t hold the breath, which can be easy to do when we concentrate really hard.
Tip: Try to keep your weight evenly distributed across that standing foot to help with balance.
5. Half Moon
Stress can cause us to take things really seriously, so approaching Half Moon in a playful way is a great antidote! I know, we want to hold the balance and don’t want to fall, but as soon as you’re okay with toppling out of the pose, it actually becomes easier to hold. Learning to laugh at yourself if you don’t manage to nail it is a great way to lighten up and let go.
Tip: Smile. Seriously, it’s such a simple yet powerful way to lighten up.
And remember, yoga isn't about a perfect physical expression of a pose, it’s the journey you go through and the way you feel in that pose that counts.