Many people consider yoga to be the oldest form of self-development in human history. In this guide, we will be going over some of the best yoga poses for stress relief.
Yoga is an ancient practice that helped humans cultivate a deeper connection with their minds and body. It’s a profound practice that has evolved over many millennia and can take various forms. However, the central premise of reconnecting with self and finding peace has never changed when practicing yoga.
Dating back to ancient times, the first type of yoga, karma yoga, was a straightforward concept that meant performing exemplary work in the world without expecting anything in return. It had nothing to do with poses! Karma yoga involved accepting the world as it was and not shirking away from its natural demands.
The opposite of karma yoga is hatha yoga. The ancient word “hatha” actually means force in Sanskrit and refers to a type of yoga that is more physically focused.
Over time, yoga has evolved from this basic concept to provide actionable poses and meditations that help relieve stress and cultivate a more peaceful, selfless, and healthy mind-body connection. Uniting karma and hatha yoga is the best way to get to the core of what yoga can do for the human mind and body.
Yoga encourages a connection with the breath and the body’s movements, which helps strengthen and tone a person’s nervous system and ability to be mindful of their state. In other words, it can help improve the health of your stress response system and the control you have over your decisions and well-being.
Stress-Relief Techniques Found in Yoga
Repeated studies have shown that yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. These same studies demonstrate a substantial effect on physical well-being, including the ability to reduce stress, blood pressure, the risk for heart disease, cortisol levels, and muscle tension. It also helps improve immune system strength, cognitive function, mental health, sleep quality, and muscle tone, slowing down the aging process!
These studies reinforce that even just a little yoga in the morning or night can minimize stress, increase productivity, and facilitate general well-being and complete relaxation. Aside from the physical benefits, yoga also helps develop emotional balance, the skill of self-reflection, mindfulness, and perhaps most importantly, self-compassion.
The stress-relief techniques that yoga offers include the following:
- Mindful breathing
- Physical stretching
- Strength building
- Mind + body connection
Yoga is such a powerful and potentially transformative practice due to its ability to bring together mind, body, and spirit. Whether you are using grounding yoga poses for stress relief, to develop a deeper relationship with the self, or improve your physical well-being, yoga is one of the most potent antidotes for stress. It can lower blood pressure, relieve mild depression, and profoundly reduce stress.
How Yoga Effects Stress
There are multiple ways that yoga can minimize your stress levels. Studies show that the most effective ways yoga targets stress are by lifting your mood, increasing mindfulness, and increasing self-compassion.
Yoga encourages us to take it slow and open up the body’s energy channels.
Here are our favorite yoga poses for you to perform as part of your daily routine or weekly practice to help fight an overactive stress response system.
Top 5 Yoga Poses for Stress
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Perhaps the most widely known “yogi” pose, easy pose is designed to unite mind and body and help you become more aware of the state of both. Easy pose is performed by sitting with your legs folded criss-cross, and your feet pulled slightly upward while keeping a straight back. While seated in this position, you can lean forward slightly to ease the tension, stretch your back, and then return to the straight-back pose.
The slight upward tilt of the feet helps release the tension on the lower back and makes it easier to sit up straight. Easy pose is excellent for stretching out your thighs and hips and strengthening your posture and lower back. It’s the most common pose used to start a yoga practice due to its calming, centering nature.
When doing easy pose, try to get comfortable and focus on your breathing. As you begin to center and relax, notice how your body and mind feel. Do all this gradually and notice where your mind takes you.
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Uttanasana is a classic yoga pose that is simple yet difficult. It can help quiet a frantic mind and provide a beneficial stretch for the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower back.
You can perform the standing forward bend by hinging at the lower back and keeping a straight back from a neutral standing position. Fold forward within your comfort level while keeping your arms alongside your legs. Depending on your level of flexibility, feel free to keep the legs bent as much as you feel comfortable. Be sure not to put too much pressure on the knees.
After your initial bend, you can also rise back up to a “halfway fold” by keeping a straight back, rising back up halfway, and then releasing and letting go back down. While doing this pose, it’s common practice to inhale on the halfway lift and exhale to release into the stretch.
Uttanasana has some powerful health benefits, including cleansing the kidneys, releasing tension in the lower back, improving blood flow, and instantly calming the mind. Release your exhale into the stretch. Imagine your worries and stresses flowing to the bottom of your head and exiting your body.
Downward Dog (Adho Muka Svanasana)
Downward-facing dog is a powerful yoga pose that is a staple in many yoga routines taught by instructors. Many vinyasa-style practices use it as a transition pose that serves as a baseline for the entire routine.
The inversion performed in a downward dog helps stretch the lower back in a hard-to-reach manner that few other stretches can achieve. Additionally, it strengthens the upper body, improves blood flow, and improves your posture.
To perform downward dog:
- Start by getting on the floor on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground.
- While in this position, align your inner shoulder with your fingertips.
- Tuck your toes against the mat and lift your knees into the air while pushing your butt out behind you. You should resemble a V shape while striving to straighten your back.
- Maintain a mind-body connection in this pose by focusing on pushing against your heels, relaxing your head and shoulders, and feeling the pressure on your fingertips.
Downward dog is incredible for feeling a stretch that affects multiple parts of your body and for deepening your mind + body connection.
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
The Extended Triangle Pose is a powerful full-body stretch that can help to relieve stress and reduce anxiety by removing pent-up pressure in the hips and lower back. It also serves to help stretch hard-to-reach areas such as the knees, ankles, and thighs. This pose is perfect for reducing sciatica stress and osteoporosis and even improving digestion and metabolic health.
To perform Utthita Trikonasana, start by standing upright and spreading your feet about one meter apart, or by performing warrior pose and scooting your leg in a tad and straightening your front knee. Then, stretch your arms out with your palms facing the ground and find your balance.
Once you find your balance, turn your front foot to a 90-degree angle and turn your front thigh outwards. Then, hinging at the hips, bend your body down towards your right leg. Grab your ankle with your right hand, then twist your body upwards and reach for the sky with your left arm going up into the air (if you are leading with your right leg). Keep your head relaxed and focus on a deep stretch of the hips, lower back, and thighs. Once finished, switch sides and repeat.
The triangle pose is a typical stretch incorporated as a part of a standard flow from downward dog to warrior pose and then to the side-stretching triangle pose. Be sure not to force this stretch, and do as much as your body will allow. Watch out for tension in the knee that you can release by easing the bend or bending your knees slightly.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose is used both mid-practice and as a cool down to calm your mind and relax your muscles. We love child’s pose because it’s the most targeted stress relief pose, which is why it’s used as a cool-down part of the practice. It’s one of those poses you need to experience for yourself to understand its stress-relieving power.
Child’s pose helps remove pressure from the adrenal glands, which can become overly stimulated and inflamed when we are stressed. This overstimulation and inflammation of the adrenal glands lead to lethargy and burnout for most people. This pose helps to rebalance the adrenal glands and restore the lymphatic nodes and immune system to a healthy state. Here’s how to do it:
Start on all fours (this is also commonly performed straight from downward dog) and sit back over your knees with your arms remaining outstretched in front of you. Slowly fold until your forehead rests on your mat. Just stay here, and feel your body relax. A powerful way to conceptualize this pose is to feel your center of consciousness (your third eye). Center your mind on this area of your forehead and focus on your breaths. This pose clears your head, stretches your hips and back, and brings the body to a profound state of active rest.
One fascinating thing to note is that many individuals have found that child’s pose can significantly increase heart rate variability (HRV). This increase can be attributed to a relaxed diaphragm and an expansion of the lungs. Give it a try while wearing your Hanu!
Namaste for Stress!
Yoga is a profound practice that can heavily influence the quality of your life, your mind, your nervous system, and your health. If you are looking for a way to develop a healthier relationship with stress and build on your meditation practice, yoga can be your guide. Try these basic yoga poses for relaxation and stress management, and work on finding a flow between them to rebalance your mind and body while improving the deeper health of the systems in your body that balance your stress response system.
Don’t forget those deep breaths!