Yoga can be a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Yoga can be used to relax the mind and allow you to quit addictive behaviors, which are often mistakenly used to relieve stress. Many of our stressful habit patterns are conditioned. Luckily yoga teaches a new set of patterns which are helpful in reducing stress.
Yoga brings awareness to the part of your brain that limits your experience of life. Your perception of life has been conditioned by all of your experiences and sometimes it can block you from feeling certain emotions. Through yoga you learn to bring awareness to all of your emotions with the understanding that through integration of meditation and other forms of exercise, we come to a natural place of balance.
There are specific poses that help with relieving stress. Do these poses several times a day, prior to a stressful event to stay calm. Or you can partner these poses with a more long-term and rigorous de-stressing session.
1. Chest expansion (anti-aging, mood-elevating and expanding, great for posture and flexibility)
From a standing position bring arms behind back and interlace fingers. Draw arms away from the body at the same time draw shoulders down and back. Open heart center and breath deeply into lungs. Activate the back muscles and close your eyes. Hold for ten deep breaths and make sure and exhale fully. Repeat several times throughout the day.
2. Seated spinal twist (aids digestion, improves internal organ function, stretches the mid-back and waistline)
From a seated position with legs extended, draw right knee into towards body and wrap left arm around bent leg, looking over right shoulder. Hold for five deep breaths, repeat on other side sitting up very straight and tall. Use your arm in back as leverage on the floor to twist deeper on each exhale. After 5 – 10 breaths, switch sides and repeat.
(Editor’s note: If unable to wrap your arm around your bent leg, hold your arm up and extended as below.)
3. Knees to chest (soothes anxiety and stomach upset almost instantly)
Lie back on your mat and gently draw both knees into your chest, pressing hands under the knees lightly to deepen your stretch. Rock slowly from one side of back to the other, massaging the organs and spine for 10 long, deep breaths.
4. Lying down spinal twist (relieves low back and neck discomfort)
From knees to chest position above, keep right knee into chest, and slowly extend left leg. Draw right knee over straight leg towards floor – and then look over right shoulder. Breathe into your lower low back. Don’t force or push just release and breathe. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths and then switch sides. Ideal to do after running, walking or any cardio session to allow muscles and heart rate to recover without adding any stress into your day.
5. Inversions such as shoulder-stand or supported headstand (anti-aging pose, great for jet lag, hangovers and tension headaches)
From knees to chest position above, support your low back with both hands, then engage the belly to draw legs over head and then slowly towards the sky one by one. Keep your abs, back and hips engaged as you fully extend legs to sky keeping feet flexed and leg muscles firm. Keep neck stationary at all times, do not look around. Hold for 10 breaths. Release slowly by bringing legs over head and rolling out one vertebrae at a time. Return to knees to chest position to stabilize the back muscles, regulate your breath and realign the spine.
Author bio: Beth Shaw is the founder of YogaFit, the largest Yoga School in the world, whose mission is to bring yoga to the masses. Beth’s third book, YogaLean, will be published by Random House this fall.