YOGA for Stress Relief

By Carolin Taylor

So many of us live lives that are stressful. The stress of our jobs, relationships, families, finances and then, of course, the pressure that we put on ourselves about all these things. Most recently, we have all been thrown the curveball of a global pandemic, which has brought about many unexpected stressors as we have had to find a way to pivot gracefully and to create new normals for ourselves and our families.

Stress affects all of us differently and when we are stressed, we store tension in the body. That tension needs to be managed, or in time it will begin to manifest into a variety of other challenges within each of our bodies. So, how do you find calm in the chaos of daily life?

People associate yoga with the ability to bend your body into crazy shapes, but the physical practice is just one small part of yoga. Yoga is much more about the mind body connection and has the ability to take us from a place of being undone to a sense of wholeness.
If you’ve never done yoga before or you’ve had regular practice, these tips can help you to find a pause in the busyness, so that you can begin to manage some of the stressors in your life.

CREATE A SPACE FOR CALM Find a space in your home that you can call your own. It doesn’t have to be a large space, just large enough for you to be comfortable. A space where your family knows not to disturb you. Use blankets, pillows, and candles to create a space where you can completely relax. Everything else, especially all technology, should be left behind. Once you’ve created your space, it’s important to spend time there at least once a day even for just five minutes.

BALANCE WITH BREATH Whenever you begin to feel anxious, nervous, or upset, have you ever noticed the first thing people usually say is to take a deep breath. This is because when you take a deep breath, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. If you can take a few minutes a day to simply focus on your breath, this will help to balance the body and begin to ease any stress that you might be feeling.

A simple breathing exercise that you can do is Belly Breathing.
• Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
• Place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your heart.
• Take a deep breath in through your nose and feel your belly rise with your inhale.
• Breathe out through your nose and feel your belly fall away from your hand with the exhale.
• Your chest does not move in either the inhale or exhale. Do these 5 to 10 times, taking your time with each breath and never forcing it. When you are done, sit or lie in stillness and notice how you feel.

MOVEMENT AS MEDITATION The actual practice of the yoga postures is like a moving meditation, especially if you are connecting each movement to your breath. This requires enough concentration that all other thoughts fall away so that it’s just you, your breath, and the movement. The goal is to find ease in each posture, letting go of all outside thoughts and allowing yourself to be present in each moment. Here are 5 simple movements to bring calm to your body:

Child’s pose – Start in tabletop with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Then begin to push the hips back toward your heels and lower your forehead until it meets your mat or a block. Your arms reach forward or rest by your sides. Breathe in and out through your nose.

Cat/Cow pose – Come to tabletop with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. With your inhale, arch the spine as you begin to look up, as you exhale, round the spine like a cat, and look down. Articulate each movement as you move with your breath.
Easy pose – Sit upright in a cross-legged position, allowing your hands to rest on your knees with your palms face up or down. Sitting on a block or a folded blanket is nice here. Close your eyes and simply focus on your inhale and exhale.

Rag doll pose– Standing at the top of your mat, bend your knees and fold forward. Take your opposite hand to your opposite elbow and allow the crown of your head to lengthen toward the mat. You can be still here, or you can gently sway side to side. The back of the body begins to open and relax as you breathe here.

Legs up the wall – Bring your hips to the wall and then swing both of your legs up the wall, lying on your back on the floor. Your body is in an “L” shape here. Your arms can be by your sides, your hands on your belly or overhead, whatever allows you the most ease. Close your eyes and breathe.

SURRENDER IN SAVASANA Savasana or final relaxation pose is everyone’s favorite — and for good reason. Simply come to lie on your mat, taking up as much space as you need. Your feet are about mat width apart, arms rest by your side, palms face up, back of the head lies gently on the mat. Savasana allows for a full body release. Think about the last time someone told you to do nothing. It doesn’t happen often enough. In Savasana, no effort whatsoever is required on your part. Just allowing yourself to lie there, in total surrender, with the breath guiding the body.

Even if you only have 10 minutes a day to take for yourself, come to your space of calm and simply connect with your breath. You will begin to feel at ease in the space that you create within your body, allowing the stress to melt away.
*Please be sure to check with your doctor or physician for any contraindications as it relates to any existing medical conditions that you might have before beginning a new physical practice or breath practice.

About the author:
Carolin is a 500-hour trained yoga instructor, teaching primarily Vinyasa Yoga, and is currently in the process of completing an additional 200-hour certification in Baptiste Power Yoga. She currently leads classes for her employer’s corporate wellness program reaching employees across the globe.

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