Practising yoga is not only an effective stress relief but also a way to ease symptoms of anxiety. By transferring focus and attention to the body and breath, yoga can help to temper anxiety while also releasing physical tension. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting roughly 40 million adults nationwide, or about 18 percent of us.
The following yoga poses are organized into a sequence that can be practiced together in this order, or individually on an as-needed basis to help alleviate stress and anxiety. Remember to focus on your breath as you move through the poses. Closing your eyes may also help you relax and go within to achieve a more meditative state.
3. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
This pose requires you to concentrate and focus the mind to a single point, which is an excellent stress management tool. It can also help to free up tightness in the shoulders and hips, which are common spots for emotional tension to accumulate.
- From Tadasana, take feet hip-width apart, arms wide. Bring the right arm over the left.
- Bend the elbows and bring the palms together. If that’s too strong, back of the hands touch.
- Shift the weight to the four corners of the right foot and bend the knees a little.
- Lift the left thigh up and over the right thigh. If your knees are okay and you can hook the toes behind the right calf, do so; otherwise, leave the foot where it is (anatomically, not everyone can do this, so please don’t force it).
- Engage the core and start to sink the hips down while maintaining length in the spine. Keep your gaze firmly on your focal point and make sure the breath flows effortlessly.
- To come out, slowly begin to unwind and return to Tadasana. Repeat on the other side.
Stress Less Tip: You need to fix your gaze on something, so how about placing an object that soothes or uplifts your spirits out in front of your mat to use as your drishti (focal point)?
2. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Uttanasana can help quiet a busy mind, balance the nervous system, and promote feelings of calm and peace. Energetically, it helps balance the sacral chakra which when overstimulated, can contribute to fluctuating and excessive emotional energy.
- From Tadasana, bend the knees, slightly engage the core, and hinge forward from the hips, placing the hands in front of or alongside your feet.
- Shift the weight onto the balls of your feet and feel the sit bones lifting up toward the ceiling. For tight hamstrings, you can keep the knees bent to protect the lower back. Otherwise, lengthen through the backs of the legs while keeping the weight in the balls of the feet.
- Take hold of each elbow with the opposite hand and soften around the eyes, jaw, neck, head, and mind.
- You can hold for a few breaths, or longer if you feel comfortable. If you have low blood pressure, take your time coming out of the pose.
Stress Less Tip: Imagine your worries literally melting away from the top of your head, absorbed by the ground beneath you.
Uttanasana is contraindicative for back pain, hamstring injuries, glaucoma, and high blood pressure. A common side effect of stress is blood pressure issues, so consult your doctor first or skip this pose altogether if you have any concerns.
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
- From hands and knees, take the sit-bones back over the heels and your hands out in front of you. Slowly fold your torso forward until your eyebrow centre rests on the mat.
- Your big toes touching, either have the knees together or separate the knees wider than your hips.
- Arms are traditionally resting back alongside the body, palms up, but you can stack your hands and forearms and rest your head there if that’s preferable.
- If your hips or butt aren’t touching the heels, you can place a cushion in between so you can let go and relax. Stay for at least 10 breaths and let go as much as you can with every exhale.
Why it’s awesome: When we’re frazzled all the time, we tend to put a ton of pressure on the adrenal glands, which can lead us toward burnout.
Child’s Pose is one of the most soothing poses for the adrenals, so practicing this pose regularly can be like a giant hug, bubble bath, and bowl of soup all in one package!
Stress Less Tip: Visualise a soothing colour at the eyebrow centre (blue, lilac, or gold). Feel as if that colour is flowing in and out with each breath, soothing and calming your mind more each time.