Woman holding a yoga mat

Shake Off Some Stress With Yoga

Between a busy schedule, the stress of current events, financial worries or anything else that’s weighing you down, life can feel like a bit too much at times. We all search for ways to relieve our stress – maybe by watching TV, eating ice cream or hitting the gym, but did you know yoga is a quick and effective way to relieve stress too? Through breathing and stretching, yoga is designed to help people find a more balanced and peaceful state of mind and body.

You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be flexible and lean. You just have to be willing to try.

Getting Started

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed about something life throws your way, consider yoga to reduce tension and relieve some stress.

Yoga is made up of a series of poses called “asanas.” The poses listed below are meant to be relaxing, but if you have any medical concerns or questions, talk to your doctor before getting started. Remember to work within your own range and ability level.

You only need a small window of time to complete these moves, and you don’t need any fancy equipment. If you have an exercise mat of any kind, use that, or a towel or blanket would work too. Since this is meant to be relaxing, try to find a space that feels peaceful before you get started.

Here are six yoga poses that can reduce your stress in just a small amount of time. Learn how to do the pose and why it may help you get some much-needed stress relief.

Six Stress-Relieving Yoga Poses

Standing forward bendStanding Forward Bend

How to do it: Begin with your feet a few inches apart and your arms at your side. Inhale and reach your arms up high and lean forward, exhaling as you go. Let gravity pull your weight down toward the mat, with your head pressed against your legs. Place your hands on the ground in front of you, next to you or if this is too difficult, grab each elbow with the opposite hand as you stretch toward the ground. Bend your knees as needed in order to make it comfortable. Hold this pose for six to eight breaths. When you’re finished, take a deep breath in and return to a standing position.

Benefits: Dropping your head below your heart can calm your brain, reduce stress and relieve the tension in your neck and shoulders. It also stretches your hamstrings, thighs and hips.

Cow pose

Cat pose

Cat-Cow Pose

How to do it: Cat: Start out on all fours. As you exhale, round your back toward the ceiling and draw your belly to your spine (picture a stretching cat). Release your head slowly toward the floor. Hold the pose for 30 seconds. Cow: Inhale and curve your belly toward the floor with your tailbone sticking up. Stretch your chin and chest by looking up. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, going back and forth between the two.

Benefits: It soothes and stretches your lower back and relieves the stress and tension you have there.

Corpse poseCorpse Pose

How to do it: Lie down on your back. Relax your legs, letting your feet fall open to either side. Bring your arms alongside your body and turn your palms upward, letting your fingers relax and curl in. Focus on relaxing your whole body, including the muscles in your face. Breathe naturally, deepening your breath as you continue. Stay in this relaxed pose for 5-10 minutes. The goal is to remain in a relaxed but attentive state (not to fall asleep) as you try to release tension and stress from your body and mind.

Benefits: Repeating this pose day after day can condition your body to release stress. It can promote deep, quality sleep if done before bedtime and helps to calm your nervous system and lower your blood pressure.

Child's poseChild’s Pose

How to do it: Kneel on a mat with your legs together. Sit back on your heels. Bend forward, putting your belly between your thighs and your forehead on the ground. Let your hands rest at your sides with your palms facing up or in front of you with your palms toward the floor. Hold this pose for one minute.

Benefits: This is a resting pose, which quiets the brain and reduces stress and anxiety. It is a gentle stretch and can relieve back pain.

Bridge poseBridge Pose

How to do it Lie flat on your back and bend both knees. Place your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Inhale and lift your hips, while pressing your arms down into the mat with palms facing down to create a bridge-like effect with your body. Try holding the pose for 30-60 seconds.

Benefits: This pose provides gentle stretching for your back and legs and can help reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia and fatigue.

Legs against wall poseLegs Up on the Wall Pose

How to do it: Lie on the floor and swing your legs up onto a wall. Keep your spine straight and find your own sweet spot by bending your knees as much as you need to. The closer your hips are to the wall, the more flexibility this pose will require. Place your arms in any comfortable position and aim for 60 seconds in this pose.

Benefits: This pose can help to boost blood circulation, which can improve your sleep and regulate your mood.

Overall Benefits of Yoga

Studies have found that even a little yoga, like the poses above, can help you release stress in the body and build up your ability to remain relaxed in stressful times. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that yoga may also help people lose weight, deal with chronic pain and quit smoking. To learn more about these benefits, check out Yoga: What You Need to Know. If you have a particular health condition, such as asthma, diabetes or breast cancer, NIH also discusses the research on the benefits of yoga on many such conditions. For more information about yoga classes within the Veterans Health Administration’s Whole Health System of care, check out Relieve Pain, Burn Fat and Relax With Yoga.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed about something life throws your way, consider yoga to reduce tension and relieve some stress.

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