Wine, cookies, ice-cream, magnesium, Rescue Remedy, crystals...Does anyone else have experience looking for external solutions to stress in every possible place imaginable?
Thankfully, for both my sanity and my bank balance, I found yoga about 10 years ago and along with it, a stress management tool like no other. Yoga works to relieve tension and reduce stress in both the body and the mind, and it can make you more resilient when those recurring stress triggers pop up.
While yoga in general seems to have a calming influence, there are certain yoga poses that have a super awesome ability to help us let go of tension and stress. Check these out.
1. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
This pose requires you to concentrate and focus the mind to a single point, which is an excellent stress management tool. It can also help to free up tightness in the shoulders and hips, which are common spots for emotional tension to accumulate.
- From Tadasana, take feet hip-width apart, arms wide. Bring the right arm over the left.
- Bend the elbows and bring the palms together. If that’s too strong, back of the hands touch.
- Shift the weight to the four corners of the right foot and bend the knees a little.
- Lift the left thigh up and over the right thigh. If your knees are okay and you can hook the toes behind the right calf, do so; otherwise, leave the foot where it is (anatomically, not everyone can do this, so please don’t force it).
- Engage the core and start to sink the hips down while maintaining length in the spine. Keep your gaze firmly on your focal point and make sure the breath flows effortlessly.
- To come out, slowly begin to unwind and return to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side.
Stress Less Tip: You need to fix your gaze on something, so how about placing an object that soothes or uplifts your spirits out in front of your mat to use as your drishti (focal point)?
2. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Uttanasana can help quiet a busy mind, balance the nervous system, and promote feelings of calm and peace. Energetically, it helps balance the sacral chakra which when overstimulated, can contribute to fluctuating and excessive emotional energy.
- From Tadasana, bend the knees, slightly engage the core, and hinge forward from the hips, placing the hands in front of or alongside your feet.
- Shift the weight onto the balls of your feet and feel the sit bones lifting up toward the ceiling. For tight hamstrings, you can keep the knees bent to protect the lower back. Otherwise, lengthen through the backs of the legs while keeping the weight in the balls of the feet.
- Take hold of each elbow with the opposite hand and soften around the eyes, jaw, neck, head, and mind.
- You can hold for a few breaths, or longer if you feel comfortable. If you have low blood pressure, take your time coming out of the pose.
Stress Less Tip: Imagine your worries literally melting away from the top of your head, absorbed by the ground beneath you.
**Uttanasana is contraindicative for back pain, hamstring injuries, glaucoma, and high blood pressure. A common side effect of stress is blood pressure issues, so consult your doctor first or skip this pose altogether if you have any concerns.
3. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
- From hands and knees, take the sit-bones back over the heels and your hands out in front of you. Slowly fold your torso forward until your eyebrow centre rests on the mat.
- Your big toes touching, either have the knees together or separate the knees wider than your hips.
- Arms are traditionally resting back alongside the body, palms up, but you can stack your hands and forearms and rest your head there if that’s preferable.
- If your hips or butt aren’t touching the heels, you can place a cushion in between so you can let go and relax. Stay for at least 10 breaths and let go as much as you can with every exhale.
Why it’s awesome: When we’re frazzled all the time, we tend to put a ton of pressure on the adrenal glands, which can lead us toward burnout.
Child's Pose is one of the most soothing poses for the adrenals, so practicing this pose regularly can be like a giant hug, bubble bath, and bowl of soup all in one package!
Stress Less Tip: Visualise a soothing colour at the eyebrow centre (blue, lilac, or gold). Feel as if that colour is flowing in and out with each breath, soothing and calming your mind more each time.
4. Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) Variation
This pose has an incredibly calming effect on the mind and body. Vajrasana is also a great for the digestive system, so if you have a tendency to carry your tension or stress there this one, should help.
- From kneeling, sit back on the heels. You can place a cushion between the sit-bones and the feet if that’s more comfortable.
- Maintain length in the spine, feeling the crown draw up toward the ceiling.
- Cross the hands in front of the chest and cup the palms at the underarms. Thumbs point out in front (see pic).
- Connect with your breath and notice how quickly the mind begins to slow and calm down. Stay for at least 10 breaths and feel as though you are releasing tension and stress with every exhalation.
- Take cross legs if you aren’t comfortable sitting on your knees for this long.
Stress Less Tip: Try this just before you go to bed at night and you may enjoy a more restful sleep.
5. Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
You just feel like you’re taking a mini vacation in this pose! It can help you open through the hips, inner thighs, and groin—all places where we can hold tension and stress. With the support of the floor beneath you, you can surrender to the moment and practice the art of letting go.
- Lie down on your back in Savasana. Take the soles of the feet together, knees out to the side. If one or both of your knees are quite far from the floor, you can use yoga blocks, bolsters, or folded blankets underneath them to make the pose more restorative.
- Options for the arms, you can take them up overhead and take each elbow with opposite hands, or they can be resting on the floor alongside your torso. My favourite version is to put one hand on the heart centre and one hand on the belly, creating a soothing connection within yourself.
- Stay for a period of time that feels comfortable. When you’re ready to come out, move slowly.
Stress Less Tip: This is a great opportunity to reinforce a positive, calming message to yourself. With every inhale and exhale, repeat the words “I am calm and relaxed,” or “I let go.”
What poses are your favourite yoga poses for reducing stress and tension?