Yoga For Stress Relief
If you are stressed and looking to offload that tension, yoga can help on multiple fronts. Deep breathing calms and focuses the mind while asanas help bring stress relief. Yoga stretches and the resulting flexibility also help your body's relaxation response. And these are precisely why yoga is being used for stress management to good effect and why you’ll see a marked change once you begin.
Seething with frustration and anger because of work, traffic woes, or a spat with the partner? Be it work-related or personal, stress can take a toll on your life, relationships, and health. If you are wondering if yoga can help your cause, look no further! The right yoga poses or asanas can de-stress you, helping you stretch and breathe your way to a more relaxed version of yourself. Here’s how!
How Does Yoga Relieve Stress?
If your stress has reached a point where you need medication and supplements to manage it, yoga could even help reduce your dependence on this pharmacological treatment.1 It is even recommended for students and teens to manage the stress of exams, studies, or just the day-to-day pressure of being an adolescent.2
Yoga for stress management and relaxation is now a proven alternative to therapy or other relaxation techniques. Studies confirm that it can be effective for easing mental tension. In one test, women who were facing mental distress found significant improvement in their condition after attending yoga classes for three months. The benefits were attributed to these effects of yoga3:
- Physical exercise improves mood/eases stress: Yoga asanas or poses work like exercise and ease stress just like other physical activity does.
- Focus helps de-stress: The mental focus and self-control needed to do challenging asanas and the satisfaction from doing them help improve mood, de-stress, and alleviate anxiety.
- Yoga induces relaxation response: Researchers have found an immediate decrease in levels of salivary cortisol concentrations when yoga is practiced. In addition, there is also a lowering of sympathetic nervous system response. This is the part of your body that regulates your “fight or flight” response and causes stress, pushing your body into action or survival mode.
- Stretches decrease heart rate: All the stretches involved in yoga also help with decreasing heart rate, increasing flexibility, and boosting autonomic and cardiac function.
Yoga Poses To Release Stress
Here are some stress-relieving yoga poses you can use
1. Tadasana Or Mountain Pose
- Stand with your feet together with your weight balanced well. Arms should be by your side, fingers pointing downward.
- Let your pelvis be neutral, your abdomen engaged. Roll shoulders back, broadening your collar bone.
- Ensure your spine is straight, the crown of the head is pointed to the ceiling, and chin is parallel to the ground.
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through the mouth – you should hear a gentle ha sound.
How it helps: This pose improves your posture and helps you focus on breathing.4
2. Padangusthasana Or Big Toe Pose
- Stand upright, feet six inches apart. Exhale as you bend forward from your hips, with your head and torso moving in unison.
- Grip your big toe and the second toe of each foot firmly. Use the index finger and middle fingers of your hands to do this. Your thumbs can help hold the fingers in place.
- Inhale as you try and lift your torso, elbows straightening, your torso lengthening.
- Lift your sitting bones as you exhale. Release your hamstrings and lightly lift your lower belly to the back of your pelvis even as you feel your lower back hollow a bit. Deepen the hollow more with each successive exhalation.
- To finish, bend your elbows and lengthen both the sides and front of your torso. Then lower yourself into a forward bend when you exhale. Hold this for a minute before you release your toes, and then move your hands up to rest on your hips. Inhale as you bring head and torso upright together.
How it helps: A great stretch for the entire body, this asana helps relieve stress and anxiety and calms the mind. It lengthens the muscles and strengthens them.5
3. Balasana Or Child Pose
- Kneel down with knees hip-distance apart and big toes touching. Rest on your heels.
- Put your hands on either side of your torso, palm side up.
- Raise your arms up, inhaling as you do so. Exhale bringing them down to rest in front of the body. Your gaze should be down to the floor.
- Repeat the breath cycle five times.
How it helps: This asana helps you breathe consciously, focusing your mind and calming it. It also relieves fatigue.6 7
4. Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana Or Dolphin Plank
- Go down on your hands and knees.
- Walk your feet back so that your torso is parallel to the ground and your elbows below your shoulders. Your toes should raise your feet off the ground.
- Now let your elbows and forearms touch the floor. Your palms should be open and in contact with the floor as well. Your hips and front thighs should rise up.
- Look straight down, the base of your skull away from the rear of your neck.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds before releasing knees and exhaling as you do so.
How it helps: This pose relieves tension, calms the mind, and stretches the body.8
5. Savasana Or Corpse Pose
- Lie on your back, arms by your side, palms facing upward. Heels should be together.
- Picture your inner ear channels, nose, forehead skin, and tongue softening.
- Release the eyeballs and feel them fall back into your skull. Relax the muscles on your face.
- Inhale lifting your belly and filling it, exhale to flatten it. Focus only on the moment and empty your mind of thoughts.
- Stay in this position for about 5 minutes to relax after exercise or other asanas.
How it helps: A pose designed for complete relaxation, it also helps lower blood pressure. Headaches and insomnia, two stress-related problems, are eased with this asana as well.9 10 11
Pranayama For Stress Relief
Yoga breathing exercises can help you cope with the challenges life sends your way. Pranayama or deep breathing has been found by researchers to help combat stress. Slow breathing or slow pranayama also has the added advantage of improving cardiovascular parameters like heart rate and blood pressure, making it a good choice for stress busting.12
6. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Or Channel Cleaning Breath
- Sit comfortably with your legs crossed in sukhasana and exhale deeply.
- Next, keep your right nostril closed with the thumb so that you breathe in through your other nostril.
- After inhaling from this left nostril, close it using the fourth and fifth fingers.
- Now that both nostrils are closed, hold your breath for a couple of seconds.
- Open the right nostril and exhale slowly and completely. Your left nostril remains closed.
- Next, inhale through the right nostril deeply again, left still closed.
- Again close both nostrils and hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds.
- This time, hold the right nostril closed as you exhale slowly and completely from the open left nostril. Inhale from the left deeply, right still closed. Repeat this process.
How it helps: This slow breathing pranayama technique can help reduce stress and anxiety and lower heart rate. It is believed to purify energy channels in the body.13
Meditation For Stress Management
According to ayurveda, you can achieve clarity of mind by exercising regularly, being disciplined, and even via meditation. Yoga is able to help on all three fronts. The concentration needed for you to just sit and focus or meditate can sharpen your intellect, making you better able to cope with challenges and handle stress better. By meditating, you emerge stronger, happier, and more positive – the perfect counters to stress.14
7. Dhyana Or Calm Heart Meditation With Anjali Mudra (Salutation Pose)
For this meditation, you should find a comfortable seated position either on a blanket, cushion, or mat on the floor or on a chair. Set a timer so you know when to emerge out of your dhyana.15
- Start with jnana mudra, with the thumb and index fingers touching, hands on knees with palms facing upwards.
- Relax any tension in your body as you feel your spine rise up out of your pelvic region. Let the back of your neck lengthen and your chin rest gently downwards.
- Focus on the center of your chest and start to chant Om as you exhale. It should almost feel like the sound is emerging from your chest itself.
- Feel each progressive Om resonate and vibrate more, opening up your heart and washing away stress and tension.
- When your timer sounds, bring your hands together in the anjali mudra, palms flat against each other and head bowed.
How it helps: This technique eases tensions, washes away anxiety, and calms the mind. It also helps clear the mind and body of the stress linked to different emotions.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Li, Amber W., and C. A. Goldsmith. “The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress.” Altern Med Rev 17, no. 1 (2012): 21-35.|
|2.||↑||Yoga for Stress Relief. The Nemours Foundation.|
|3.||↑||Michalsen, Andreas, Paul Grossman, Ayhan Acil, Jost Langhorst, Rainer Lüdtke, Tobias Esch, George Stefano, and Gustav Dobos. “Rapid stress reduction and anxiolysis among distressed women as a consequenceof a three-month intensive yoga program.” Medical Science Monitor 11, no. 12 (2005): CR555-CR561.|
|4, 6, 10, 11.||↑||Mueller, Donna. “Yoga Therapy.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 6, no. 1 (2002): 18-hyhen.|
|5.||↑||Big Toe Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|7, 9.||↑||Yoga for Neck Pain.Yoga Journal.|
|8.||↑||Dolphin Plank Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|12.||↑||Sharma, Vivek Kumar, Madanmohan Trakroo, Velkumary Subramaniam, M. Rajajeyakumar, Anand B. Bhavanani, and Ajit Sahai. “Effect of fast and slow pranayama on perceived stress and cardiovascular parameters in young health-care students.” International journal of yoga 6, no. 2 (2013): 104.|
|13.||↑||Kinabalu, Kota. “Immediate effect of ‘nadi-shodhana pranayama’on some selected parameters of cardiovascular, pulmonary, and higher functions of brain.” Thai journal of physiological sciences 18, no. 2 (2005): 10-16.|
|14.||↑||Bhat, Archana I., Praveen Kumar Anandgal, and Mahesh K. Vyas. “International Journal Of Ayurvedic And Herbal Medicine 2: 3 (2012) 515: 519.”|
|15.||↑||Calm heart meditation. Yoga Journal.|