So many people come to yoga for stress relief, and that’s because it’s accessible and it works. Many different types of yoga exist, from gentle to advanced and power. No matter how you’re feeling, there are postures and a class out there that are right for you and that can help you relax.
Why yoga works so well for stress relief
Yoga helps with stress relief in a few different ways. With our busy lives, we tend to breathe short and shallow. In yoga, we focus on the breath. Noticing and working on the quality of your inhales and exhales quiets the fight or flight state, which many of us are in constantly due to our everyday stressors. By shifting the attention to deep, diaphragmatic breathing during yoga, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or your “rest and digest” center. Deep breathing lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels, and activates the body’s “relaxation response,” which has enormous health benefits. This shift and meditative change of focus makes many people feel profoundly better almost immediately.
The asanas, or postures, in yoga also relieve stress and help us be more relaxed. These gentle movements focus on lengthening and stretching in a nourishing way, something our bodies crave but aren’t always used to. Muscles, which we keep contracted with stress, are able to release tension. When the body feels less pain and more at ease, the mind often does too. Just knowing that you’ve taken a few moments or longer to deeply care and prioritize yourself can create a calmer, more peaceful mindset shift.
Beyond-stress health benefits of doing yoga
Even if you come to yoga for stress relief, there are so many other good things that start to happen in the body. Reduced stress means healthier cortisol levels, which can help us naturally optimize our sex and thyroid hormones, too. But yoga also lowers blood pressure, promotes a sense of well-being, and helps you get a good night’s rest. And that’s so important to feeling better, mentally and physically.
Releasing your inward and outward competitiveness
It’s hard to reap the mind, body, and spirit benefits of yoga if you step onto your mat feeling competitive. We’ve all heard the saying, “comparison is the thief of joy,” but comparing and contrasting ourselves to others, or even where we were yesterday, creates stress, too. In my Yoga Strong program, one of things I work on with students is how to go about their practice with intentionality. Committing to experiencing your own practice (and keeping your eyes on your own mat) allows us to fully engage in all that yoga has to offer—not just the physicality of it.
5 yoga poses to get you started toward stress relief
It’s amazing how even a small collection or a few minutes of asanas can make you feel so much better. Doing these five postures as a part of your routine will help with calming, strengthening your core, releasing tension in the hips (a common issue), and building a sense of empowerment.
Come down to the floor on all fours with the fingers spread wide and the weight evenly distributed into the hands. Inhale, and on the exhale pull the belly button in and tuck the tailbone. Begin to arch the spine like a Halloween cat and draw the chin toward the chest. On your next inhale, lift the tailbone and sit bones up. Drop your belly toward the floor, and arch through the spine, creating a bowl shape with your torso. Keep the back of the neck long and you gaze forward past the front of your mat.
In your neutral tabletop position on all fours (see above), tuck the toes. Keeping the belly button pulled in, press into the floor to lift the hips up and back. Gently start to straighten the legs as far as comfortable (bent knees are okay!) and relax the heels toward the floor. Bring the ears in line with the biceps, and try to release any tension between the shoulder blades.
From downward dog (see above), it’s easy to make your way into plank. Plank strengthens the core and the entire body, giving you a strong foundation to work from. Simply hinge forward from the hips from down dog until the shoulders are stacked over the wrists. Keep your hips in line with your body, drawing the fronts of your hip points toward your chin. Engage your core, press the floor away, and breathe.
Pigeon pose is the ultimate hip stretch. Return to your downward dog position. On an inhale, lift the right leg and bend the knee. Hinge forward from the hips, as though you’re coming into plank position, and pull the bent knee tight into the chest. Let the bent leg come to the floor, releasing the back leg to the mat and extending it behind you. Try to “square” your hips, not rolling into one or the other. Use a prop such as a block or rolled up blanket under your seat if one hip is lifted up off the ground. Repeat the entire process on the left side.
If pigeon pose feels too intense, you can modify. Come down onto the back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bend the right knee in toward the chest. Then, place the right ankle on the left thigh just above the knee, so the right knee is pointed out now toward the side. (Like the number 4.) Use your hands or a strap behind the left thigh to bring the thigh in toward the belly. Repeat on the other side.
Warrior II is such an empowering pose and leaves you feeling strong and capable for whatever life brings next. Make your way to a standing position at the top of your mat. Place your hands on your hips, pull the belly in, and relax the shoulders. Step back with the left foot about 3 to 4 feet, and pivot the heel to the floor with the toes pointed slightly out. Bend into the front knee until it’s stacked over the ankle. Bring the shoulders over your hips and reach the arms powerfully away, parallel to the floor. Lengthen the tailbone down, zipper up your core, and take the gaze over the front fingertips.
Let your yoga time be yours and yours alone
Women are always putting others’ needs ahead of our own. Whenever possible, carve out time to breathe and go through a yoga flow without any interruptions. Have compassion for how you’re feeling, how your body is feeling, and offer yourself some self-love along the way.
Want more help getting started?
My free beginner yoga clinic bundle can help give you the confidence to safely start your practice at home. You’ll get access to a beginner’s guide, with a 5-video series that breaks down the basics of how to enter, align yourself, and exit from a pose. Plus, you’ll learn how to put poses together safely and at your own pace.