High stress levels can slow or prevent weight loss, so stress management is important—not only to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, but for your health in general.
When practiced regularly, yoga has great power to relieve stress and tension. Regular practice could be 1-2 classes a week at a gym or yoga studio, or it could be doing a 10 minute YouTube video three times a week at home. Many find yoga most relaxing when calming music or nature sounds accompany the practice.
The most vital part of yoga is the breath. You want to make sure you’re breathing solely from the abdomen. To practice yoga breathing for stress relief, lie down in a comfortable place. Try to relax your face, shoulders, and the rest of your body. Place your hands on your belly, and prepare to breathe through your nose. Inhale for four seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Your belly should raise or “inflate” when you inhale, and should lower or “deflate” when you exhale. The chest should not move—focus on the air entering and leaving the diaphragm. Yoga breath is louder than regular breathing, but many consider the sound relaxing.
To increase your stress relief, adopt the mindset of being mindful, or focusing on the present moment as you go through the poses. Focus on the music that might be playing, on your breath, on the sensations in your body, gratitude for your body, etc. Push away thoughts of what happened yesterday or your to do list this evening.
Here are five yoga poses to do (while practicing the breath described above), that will help relieve stress and tension:
#1 Child’s Pose is often used as a resting pose in yoga in between other poses; however, it’s a great position to focus on your breath and on the present moment.
- Begin on your hands and knees; keep your big toes touching, but spread your knees wide apart. (If you have tight hips, you can keep your knees and thighs together.)
- Come down and rest your buttocks on your heels.
- Sit up straight, then bow forward, resting your torso on your thighs and your forehead on the floor.
- Place your arms straight out in front of you, resting them on the floor. Hold for a minute or longer, breathing slowly.
#2 Bridge Pose lengthens and strengthens the spine.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet on the floor hip width apart.
- Arms should be at your side, close to the body, resting on the floor.
- Engage leg muscles and buttocks to lift the hips.
- Press arms and shoulders down to lift the chest. Breathe slowly, hold for 15-30 seconds.
#3 Cat Pose to Cow Pose, or Cat-Cow, helps to relieve back and neck tension.
- Begin with hands and knees on the floor, in a crawling position. Your shoulders should be over your wrists, and your hips should be over your knees. Keep your back flat and engage your abdominal muscles.
- To go into Cat Pose, make your back look like a hill: pull your belly button up towards your spine and engage your abs. Pull your chin towards your chest.
- To go into Cow Pose, arch your back and relax your abdominal muscles. Lift your head and tailbone towards the ceiling.
- Flow back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose at least ten times, inhaling for Cow Pose and exhaling on Cat Pose.
#4 Standing Forward Bend stretches your hamstrings and can relieve tension in the neck and shoulders.
- Begin standing, then bend forward at the hips, lengthening the front of your torso.
- Bend your elbows about 90 degrees and hold on to each elbow with the opposite hand.
- Let your head hang down, keeping your head and neck relaxed.
- It is important to bring the belly as close to the thighs as possible. Hold this pose for several breaths.
#5 Legs Up the Wall is an especially easy, refreshing pose. You will need two blankets to use as cushions and a wall space that is clean and clear.
- Fold one blanket into a large square and then fold it in thirds. Place this about 12 inches away from the wall; it will act as a cushion for your hips.
- Fold the other blanket in half and place it approximately three feet from the wall; this will be a cushion for your head.
- Lie down with your head on one blanket and your hips on the other; your hips should be close to the wall but your hamstrings should feel comfortable, not stretched. Your arms should be resting at your sides, palms up.
- To relax, inhale for four seconds, and exhale for eight. Repeat five times, then breathe naturally. Stay in the pose for 5 minutes.
If you’re wanting to check out more yoga poses for stress relief, look up Downward Dog, Extended Triangle Pose, and Happy Baby. Or search for videos online on “yoga for stress relief”.