Yoga can be an intimidating form of exercise to an outsider. When many envision the practice, they think of people bending their bodies into ungodly shapes, wrapping their legs around their head, and contorting into a pretzel. These are all great ways to stretch out your body and are positions to aspire to obtain, but they are not the be-all, end-all of yoga.
The basics of yoga are not about stretching yourself in half. They are about marrying movement to breath. Becoming one with your breath, and using that energy to guide you through your positions is the ultimate goal of yoga.
It’s the strong connection between the breath and the body that has many health professionals pointing to yoga as an effective tool in combating anxiety, depression, and stress. Anxiety is a common mental disorder that many people will feel throughout their lifetime. For a number of people, these feelings will become chronic.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health,
“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population.”
Many people are prescribed medications to help combat these symptoms. However, a litany of side effects makes many anxiety sufferers want to find other ways to cope with the stress. One of those ways is yoga.
Next up, we are going to give you 10 poses to help alleviate stress. Hold each pose for at least 60 seconds. Work your way slowly into each one. Listen to your body. If anything seems painful, stop immediately. Yoga is here to help, not hurt.
1.Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)
Before we begin, let’s check in with our breath and body. Find yourself in a seated position by crossing your legs. Sit upright, stacking your head over your chest, your chest over pelvis. This is called balancing the chakras, which is essential for hormonal, physical, and emotional productivity.
If you are a complete beginner, sit your back up against the wall.
Now, place your hands to your hearts in prayer pose to find a sense of center. If you find one hand pushing harder than the other, try to ease up. We are trying to promote balance.
Try spreading your fingers as wide as possible to create as much energy as you can. Lift your sternum to touch the tip of your thumbs. Let in a big inhale and as you exhale, drop your head to your hands. Breathe.
Breathe in as deep as you can through the nostrils. As you breathe out through the mouth, squeeze your shoulders up, together, back, and down the spine. Hold there. Repeat again as you inhale through the nose. Continue this process for ten breaths.
2. Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Sit straight up once again. Now move your hands to the outside of the knee on its respective side. Ground down wherever you can. Push down on the knees. Grind down in the elbows. Release any tension in your jaw and smile. Breathe in and out for 60 seconds before switching which leg is on top of the other while seated.
3. Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
Get onto all fours. Stack the shoulders directly over wrist and the hips over the knees. Keep the forearms in line with the shins. Place the tops of your feet flat to the ground. This is table top position.
As you inhale, drop your belly toward the ground. Slowly whip your head back as if it’s trying to reach back and touch the curve of your pelvis behind your back. This powerful move is is great for stimulating the digestive track. In doing so, it breaks up bloating and stirs around any inactive acids and spinal fluid.
4. Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)
Going hand-in-hand with Marjaryasana is Bitilasana. After inhaling for the cat portion of this practice, exhale out. As you exhale, push the ground away from you. Curve your shoulders up and forward, followed by flexing your spine in and around. Bring your whipped back head back to center, and slowly tuck it into your chest.
When you are ready to inhale again, work back to a table top. Take an exhale. Next inhale, repeat the cow pose. As you exhale work your way through table top and back to cat. Continue to do cat and cow 5-7 times.
5. Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)
Return to table top. Drop your forearms where your hands are. Slowly start to shimmy back toward your shins, bringing your rear to the air, and your heart-to-earth. Going into extended puppy pose is a hybrid between downward facing dog and child’s pose. This is a great way to lengthen the spine. Allowing air to flow freely up and down the central nervous system helps alleviate symptoms related to stress, insomnia, and anxiety.
6. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Sit up as straight as possible. Kick your feet out. Keep them engaged by flexing the toes upward toward the ceiling. Reach your arms out a T-shape. Try to imagine reaching past your fingertips on both sides. With a slow inhale reach up toward the ceiling as high as possible.
As you exhale, keep your back straight and lean forward. Try to grab your toes. If you are new to the practice, you will not be able to do this. Do not stress because you can still feel the benefits. Reach as far as you can. It might just be your thighs. With practice, your reach will extend.
As you reach your farthest point, let the breath dictate where you go. When you inhale, you will naturally slide up your thighs. As you exhale, reach a little further.
Doing a seated front bend helps stretch out the hamstrings, lower back, and internal organs. Moving around stagnant fluids allows for increased blood flow to areas that may have been getting clogged. In turn, this reduces stress.
7. Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
A great variation of Paschimottanasana comes with a spinal twist. Sit up straight, and stick your left leg out. Tuck your right foot in so the bottom is pushed against your left quad. Just like the seated forward bend, reach your arms out and up as you inhale.
Upon exhale, bend your head toward your knee. Be sure to maintain a flat back to ensure your spine is straight. This pose helps release endorphins that fight off headaches, anxiety, and fatigue. After a few breaths, switch legs. Be sure to maintain the same spinal integrity to reap the most benefits of the pose.
8. Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)
Headstands allow for proper alignment of the chakras, but in a different direction. Getting into headstands causes your body to recycle blood and distribute it into new places so that the cells don’t become stagnant. Headstands gives your heart a bit of a rest as it no longer needs to pump to your extremities like the muscle does when you are standing.
There are many ways to go about doing a supported headstand. First and foremost, those new to the practice may want to start up against a wall, sort of like this:
If you are going without the aid of a wall, start off like you are in puppy pose. However, with the forearms down, clasp the hands together to create a cradle. Lower your head into the cradle and slowly start to kick your legs up. You can do Salamba Sirsasana atvarious different levels:
9. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
The first step of the cool down process allows your body to begin the absorption of its workout. Get into table top position. Bring your big toes together, and spread your knees as wide as the mat. This should allow a nice hammock for you to place your chest.
Start to walk your table topped arms out, bringing your heart to the earth in the process. Slowly bring your head to the mat. Breathe deep. This is a pivotal pose for relieving anxiety.
10. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This final step is perhaps the most relaxing. Lay flat on your back. Spread your arms out wide to the side. Let your feet fall to the mat. Lie with your eyes closed. Melt deeper into the mat with each breath. To receive maximum benefits, hold in those pose for 5 minutes.