Top Yoga poses for Stress Relief

By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez

If you're currently under a lot of stress (or simply want to relax), yoga can be the perfect way to achieve a zen mental state. Modern life moves fast and it's always necessary to find the time and place to unwind from the constant action we get at work, home, TV, the gym. Even if you don't feel stressed, slowing down is essential to maintain your health, meet your goals and achieve a balanced life.

When stressors are acknowledged and techniques to help manage them are used, our overall health improves. The stress experienced from the daily grind is normal and something as simple as a few yoga poses can help. These yoga poses have been found to decrease your blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate. They have been found to promote better sleep, improve mood and decrease tension in muscles generally impacted by stress.

Here are 7 yoga poses for Stress relief:

1. Easy Pose

Easy pose is simply a meditation pose. To come into this pose , sit on your mat with your legs crossed. If your knees are a lot higher than your hips, use a block or cushion to sit on for support. Lengthen your spine, crown of the head lifting. Relax your jaw, shoulders come away from your ears and neck is long. Gently place your palms on your knees, facing up or down (whichever works better for you). Close your eyes and breath. Take deep inhales through the nose and and long exhales through the mouth. Take 8-12 cycles of breath in this pose.

2. Child's Pose

To come into child's pose, let your big toes touch and knees come out as wide as the mat. Drop your hips down towards your heels and let your forehead fall on the mat. Your arms can come in front to open up the shoulders or to your sides, if shoulders are tense. Breathe deeply, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose. Take 8-10 breaths in this pose for optimum relaxation.

3. Standing Forward Bend

Step forward towards the top of your mat. Micro-bend your knees (to protect your lower back) and fall forward until your hands reach the floor (or your ankles, chin, or knees). Let the crown of your head fall towards the mat, relaxing the shoulders and jaw. To take the pose a bit further, grab opposite elbows and sway gently from side to side. This motion helps release tension from the shoulders and neck, an area that tends to become tense due to stress. Inhale and Exhale for 8-10 cycles of breath.

4. Eagle Pose

This pose requires flexibility, balance and concentration. To begin, bring your right knee over your left and pretend you're trying to sit on a chair (bringing your hips down and bending the knees). If flexible enough, lock your right foot behind your left calve muscle. Focus on a still point in front of you to maintain your balance. When balanced, bring your right elbow underneath your left and interlace your forearms until the palm of your hands meet in prayer pose. Lift your biceps until your thumbs are in your visual field (you should feel your upper back and scapula stretching). Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths, continuing to focus on a still point.

5. Bridge Pose

To come into bridge, lay on your back. Bring your feet hip width apart, facing towards the front of the room. Maintaining your neck still and looking up towards the ceiling, lift your hips. Bring your arms beneath your lower body and interlace your fingers behind your back, using your shoulder muscles to lift your hips a bit higher. Imagine you are holding a block in between your thighs. Breath. Take 3 full breaths and bring your hips down to the mat. To counteract the pose, hug your knees towards the chest and rock gently from side to side. Repeat 2 more times.

6. Seated Forward Bend

This pose is extremely relaxing for the nervous system. Take a seat and bring your legs in front of you. Lengthen the spine. Relax your jaw and bring your shoulders away from your ears. Flex your feet and imagine someone is pulling you forward (rather than pushing you down). Bring your chest towards your knees. Your hands can either grab on to your ankles, big toes or wrap around your feet. Do not push yourself further than what feels good at the moment. Inhale deeply and lengthen your exhales. Take 5 full breaths in this pose.

7. Legs up the Wall

This pose, apart from being extremely beneficial for stress reduction, can also help you sleep better. You can do it in bed before dozing off or on your mat towards the end of practice. To come into the pose, bring your mat towards the wall. Lay on your back and let your hips meet the wall. Bring your feet up the wall. Arms fall on your sides, palms facing up. Inhale through your nose and exhale through the mouth. You may stay in this pose for as long as you need. For maximum benefits, we recommend at least 30 seconds. Enjoy!

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