7 yoga poses to help you stress less
22 Mar 2017

7 yoga poses to help you stress less

2 mins to read
Yoga and mindfulness teacher Angela Mifsud shares 7 poses that restore calm and help shake off stress.

Yoga is a powerful activity for lessening stress, says Mifsud, because it “invites us to connect with ourselves in the ‘right now’”. 

“We lead such busy lives, full of increasing demands and expectations. We are constantly focusing our energy on other people, what we haven’t done and are yet to do – which can leave us feeling overwhelmed,” she says. 

Instead of allowing ourselves to be consumed with thoughts about the past or future, yoga encourages us to instead direct time and attention towards our bodies, breath, mind and spirit. The result is that we slow down, be still and recharge. 

To reap these benefits, try the following 7 de-stressing poses. Practise just one, a combination or the full list. 

1. Mindfulness meditation / Easy seat

How to do it?

Come to a comfortable seat, on a chair or crossed legged on the floor. Evenly distribute your weight across the sitting bones, lengthen the spine and let the shoulders rest away from the ears. If sitting on a chair, both feet are flat on the floor. Relax any tension in the belly, jaw and whole body.

Deeply and slowly breathe into the belly, ribs and chest – making the exhale and inhale smooth and even.Notice the gentle expansion and contraction of the body as you breath, the touch and temperature of the breath at the tip of your nostril.

Expand your awareness to all the sensations you are experiencing right now - sounds, physical sensations, thoughts and emotions, without judging them as good or bad. Let each sensation arise and pass. When the mind wanders, bring your awareness back to the breath – inhaling and exhaling slowly.

How long for?

Start small and build up to 12-20 minutes.  

Why it works

We are that which we repeatedly do. If we create more time in our day for stillness and being present to what is, we train the mind to spend more time in such a state. Mindfulness meditation improves attention span, mental flexibility and our capacity to regulate emotions. 

2. Neck stretch

Be seated or stand with a tall spine. Bring your left hand over your right ear as a gentle weight, inviting your left ear to your left shoulder. Extend the right arm away from the body, and send your palm to the sky and your thumb back. Feel the stretch from your thumb all the way to your ear.

Breathe deeply into this space. Slowly send your gaze down to the left, stretching the back of the neck and your trapeze. Bring the chin into chest, return to centre and repeat the other side. 

How long for?

5-10 breaths

Why it works

It relieves strain in the neck and shoulders. This is an area we hold a lot of tension, particularly those of us that do a lot of typing or work with their hands. 

3.Standing forward bend “Rag doll”

Stand with your feet hip width distance apart. As you exhale, gently fold forward with your knees bent generously. Engage the muscles in your legs, whilst allowing the spine to lengthen to the floor.

Allow your head to be heavy and relax your arms to the floor – or hold opposite elbows. Deeply breath into the belly and back of the body. 

How long for?

5-10 breaths

Why it works

Relieves strain and stress in the lower back, hamstrings and neck. Especially if you sit down a lot. A wonderful way to visualise any stress or worry releasing from the crown of your head. 

4. Bridge pose

Lay flat on your back, bending your knees with your feet resting close to the buttocks. Feet are hip width apart and arms relaxed beside the body, palm faced down. On an inhale, press feet and hands into the floor, hips upward and slowly roll the spine off the floor.

Engage the legs and lengthen the tailbone to the knees. Broaden through the breastbone and interlace your hands beneath (optional). Keep the jaw relaxed, gazing upward and the back of the neck long.

How long for?

5-10 breaths and repeat three times. Release the hands and slowly lower the spine to the floor.

Why it works

Helps strengthen the legs and back body, whilst opening the chest, shoulders and hip flexors. Can help control blood pressure and improve energy and clarity.

Supine twist

Lay flat on your back, knees together and bent at 90 degrees with your shins parallel to the floor, arms extended in a t-shape and shoulders relaxed away from ears. Gently engage your abdominals. As you exhale, slowly lower your knees to the right, without lifting your shoulders off the floor.

As you inhale, slowly return your knees to centre. Repeat the twist to the left, timing the movement with the breath. Move slowly with the breath three times on each side, then hold each side. Lift the knees closer to the shoulders for a deeper twist.

How long for?

5-10 breaths or up to five minutes.

Why it works

A wonderful pose to gently strengthen our core, whilst relieving tension in the lower back and creating space across the chest, improving overall wellbeing.

6. Legs up the wall

Put your feet up, literally! Sit with your left side against a wall, turn your body to the wall and gently bring your legs up the wall as you lower your back to the floor. Allow your shoulders and head relax to the floor. If available, support your head with a pillow.

Your arms are slightly away from the body, palms facing up and relax the whole body. Close your eyes and mindfully breathe deeply and slowly.

How long for?

10-15 minutes

Why it works

A gentle inversion that brings balance and restoration to your whole being, whilst offering deep relief to the legs and feet.

7. Corpse pose

Savasana is the ultimate pose for relieving stress. Lie down anywhere – floor, beach, yoga mat, in a park – with your legs straight and feet slightly apart, arms are slightly away from the body, and palms facing upward.

Ensure the lower back isn’t compressed and the back of the neck is long. Let go of physical tension, thoughts and distractions. Gently close the eyes, breath naturally, be perfectly still and quiet, as you deeply relax. Just be as you are. Rest and rejuvenate.

How long for?

5-20 minutes. Use a timer so you can rest more deeply. Roll to your side, take a moment to check in with how you feel, then come to sitting.

Why it works

We often feel that to be productive, we must be busy, that can often be counterproductive – exacerbating feelings of stress and anxiety. Savasana potently teaches us that ‘doing nothing’ can be everything; it teaches us the skill of letting go and receiving.

By deeply surrendering, we allow time for our yoga practice to integrate, before ‘rushing’ to the next activity.

Angela Mifsud is a yoga and mindfulness teacher. She delivers classes and workshops in Sydney visit www.angesplace.com

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