No matter what your daily occupation, it’s likely that all of us--at some point throughout our lives-- experience some level of stress and anxiety. When we are constantly surrounded by media, stimulation, busy work lives, traffic, and the feelings of heaviness from a changing climate and a degrading environment, stress and anxiety are bound to become a part of our inner worlds.
The beauty of the practice of Yoga is that it gives us many tools to deal with this stress. From asanas (postures) to pranayama (breathwork) techniques to meditation, there is a plethora of simple practices that can aid us during trying times. We’ll break some yoga postures down for you in this blog post and hope that you’ll find something that resonates with you. Meditation and breathwork for stress and anxiety will come in the next blog post later this month, so stay tuned!
Here are a few simple asanas you can try for relieving stress and anxiety. Many can even be practiced at your desk/office!
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
This posture is simple and can be practiced pretty much anywhere. Bring your knees wide, toes closer together (knees can also be kept together for a more gentle stretch) and let your hips sink back towards your heels. Walk your fingertips forward, resting your forehead on the ground, block, or a cushion, and allow your chest to melt towards the ground. Close your eyes and take deep belly-breaths, in and out through the nose. Imagine the tension rolling off the shoulders and hips as you relax your jaw, eyebrows, and tongue. You can stay here as long as you need.
Baddha Hasta Uttanasana (Ragdoll Pose)
A gentle ragdoll pose elongates the exhale and allows tension to release from the spine, neck, and shoulders. You’ll find your heart rate slowing down as you fold inward. Releasing the hamstrings is helpful for a stressful day also as we tend to hold tension in this area, especially if we are sitting often throughout the day.
To come into the posture, stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart (or wider if you’d like). Slowly fold over the legs, bending gently into the knees. Hold onto opposite elbows as you let the arms, head, and torso hang loose. The aim of this posture is to really release the weight of the upper body. Shake the head out to make sure the head is hanging heavy and the neck is relaxed, and allow the upper body to gently sway side to side as you let all tension go. Bend the knees as much as you need to in order to really let go. Make sure the jaw is relaxed and the eyes are soft.
Marjaryasana and Bitilasana (Cat and Cow Pose)
Transitioning between these postures with the inhale and exhale helps to warm up the spine, deepen your breath, and relieve stress. They also stimulate the internal organs such as the adrenal glands, digestive system, and the kidneys, and they bring emotional stability. Practicing these postures for a minute or two with your eyes closed can help refocus the mind and open up the body.
Come to your hands and knees, bringing the hands right beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips. On your inhale, drop the belly and lift the chin as you find cow pose. Draw the shoulder blades together as you push the ground away from you. You can lift gently through the chin as you open up the throat. Find cat pose on your exhale by curving the spine and tucking the tailbone in as your draw the shoulder blades apart. Tuck the chin towards the chest as you gaze towards your navel, relaxing the back of the neck. Continue moving with these postures with the breath, inhaling through cow pose and exhaling through cat. You’ll find a soft flow after a few tries. Keep moving and breathing slowly until you find some relief.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
This posture is helpful for tight hamstrings and a wandering mind; both symptoms of stress and anxiety. By releasing tension in the lower back and hamstrings, as well as relieving headaches and stimulating the liver, this is a wholesome posture that comes in handy on busy days.
Start by coming to a seated position with your legs straight out in front of you. You can wiggle from side to side a bit to make sure that the tailbone is firmly grounded. Reach the arms over head, lengthening through the spine and inhaling deeply. On your exhale, begin to fold forward, keeping the spine long and the feet flexed. You can hold onto your feet, your calves, or wrap a strap around the feet and hold onto the strap. With each inhale, lengthen through the spine to make sure that you are folding from the hips, not the waist. With each exhale, fold a little deeper, relaxing closer to the thighs. Stay here from 1-3 minutes, deepening the posture with each breath.
Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall Pose)
This is perhaps one of the most beneficial postures for stress and tension, and it is easily accessible for most people. Not only does this posture lower the heart rate and allow the body to relax, but it improves circulation overall, encouraging blood flow back to the heart. Elevating the legs helps to release inflammation in the legs and feet, reducing swelling and pain. If you are used to sitting or standing all day long without much movement in between, this posture will help alleviate the tension that builds up in the legs and feet. Pressure is also relieved from the lower back, especially if you place a cushion under the hips. This posture is a wonderful tool and can help ease the mind after a long day, promoting better sleep and wholesome rest.
To come into this posture, bring your hips as close to a wall as possible (or the headboard if you are in bed) and swing your legs over, extending the legs up the wall and creating an L-shaped position with the body. It is best if there is some room between the wall and your tailbone so as to avoid a 90 degree angle. You can place a cushion under your lower back or hips for more support. Arms can rest alongside the body, over head, or one hand on the belly and one on the heart. Close your eyes and take deep belly-breaths, and stay here at least 5 minutes for full benefts.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This is one of the easiest postures for the body to come into, but can be difficult for the mind to master. It is a pose of total relaxation and requires stillness of the mind in order to fully obtain the benefits of rest, nourishment, and ease.
Lay comfortably on your back with your arms alongside the body. Let the knees fall outward, close your eyes, and allow the body to become heavy and still. Make sure that the jaw and eyes are soft and that the breath is steady and slow. Once the body is completely relaxed, focus on keeping the mind present and still. When other thoughts arise, remind yourself to find full presence. Anything else can wait, and this is not the time to be thinking. Stay here for 5 minutes or more, resting in your own peace.
Know that you are not alone when experiencing stress and anxiety. It is something that affects us all, and finding the right tools to deal with this within reach. I hope that these yoga postures become tools for you to find ease throughout your day. If you gather any insights or ideas from these postures, feel free to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . We’d love to hear from you!