YOGA IS ONE OF OUR favorite ways to decompress when we’re feeling frazzled, and the following yoga routine from Tiffany Cruikshank of Yoga Medicine and author of Meditate Your Weight is specifically designed to help us deal with stress. Integrate these simple but powerful poses into your morning or bedtime rituals for amazing mind-body benefits that linger…
With numerous research articles headlining the news these days about the effects of yoga and meditation for your health, many people are starting to realize that yoga can be a great adjunct to your weekly routine. With so many negative implications that stress can have on the body (everything from muscle tension, headaches or food cravings to weight gain or digestive complaints and more), yoga and meditation are particularly effective strategies for combatting stress and its effects. If you’re like many people, you probably experience a hefty load of stress and anxiety on a daily basis, bombarded by it coming from finances, relationships, health or your family. The often-used message that you need to “manage your stress better” seems to feel meaningless without clear guidance as to how. After working with thousands of patients and students over the past couple of decades, here are a few of my tried and true favorites to deal with stress.
The key here is to pick one or two that you think you can add into your daily routine and stick with it. In order to re-educate how your nervous system responds to stress (the true task at hand since the stress doesn’t go away), you must do this daily, but it need not take more than a few minutes. Just like building muscle, the more often you do it the more helpful it will be. Below are a few to choose from; try out a few and see which one best helps you deal with stress, relax and unwind.
A 5-Step Yoga Routine To Deal with Stress
This pose is great for unwinding at the end of your day as it helps you relax and, at the same time, release back and neck tension from sitting at a desk all day. If you find yourself tense or stressed when you come home and unable to really unwind and relax, then this pose might be your choice.
For this pose find a comfortable place to lie on the ground and simply bring your knees into your chest and take them over to one side and rest them on the ground in a gentle twist. The key here is to completely relax and let your body lean into the ground. If your legs are in the air, find a pillow or blanket to wedge underneath them so you can relax. Once you’re comfortable, take a few deep breaths and stay for 1-2 minutes, then repeat on the second side. Ease back into the rest of your night with a fresh perspective when you’re done.
Downward Dog Modification
This variation on down dog is a gentle inversion to refresh the brain. This pose is helpful if you tend to feel overwhelmed and are unable to concentrate and stay focused to your normal capacity.
For this pose you’ll need a yoga block or a stack of books, about 4-6 inches tall, to rest your head on. For this pose, come into downward facing dog with your hands shoulders-width apart and your feet about hips-width apart and the top of your forehead resting on the block/books. You might have to move the block/books around a few times to find the right position but notice that the weight is still primarily held in the hands and feet so there is only the weight of the head on your block. Let your neck relax so the blood flow can refresh your mind. Stay for 1-2 minutes and visualize all of your thoughts and to-do lists dripping off your brain onto your block.
This pose is a great preparation for deep sleep as it calms the nervous system and helps ease the body into the parasympathetic nervous mode or deep relaxation. This is a great one if stress is affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. For this pose you want to be done for the night and begin by preparing yourself for bed and dimming the lights so that you can crawl into bed quietly when you are finished.
Start by sitting with the side of your body up against a wall, then gently lean back onto your back and rest your legs up the wall. You can move in close with your hips at the wall, or leave a little space between your hips and the wall if that feels more comfortable on your back and hamstrings. As with the first pose, the key is to make sure you are comfortable. You can put a blanket over or under you or strap your legs together so they can relax. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and notice your breath. Visualize the mind emptying with each exhale and allow yourself to linger a little longer in your exhalations. Stay for 3-5 minutes (or longer, if you like), then gently roll onto your side and slowly crawl right into bed.
If none of the previous techniques stand out for you or you feel like the stress in your life is constant, then a simple meditation practice can be a helpful way to re-train the nervous system on a more regular basis. Meditation is simple and effective way to help shift the body into relaxation as well as help bring context to the bigger picture awareness that is key for stress management. The nice thing about mediation is that anyone can do it, anywhere or anytime. The key here is to find a time and place that you can use every day. For many people this is first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, but it can also be done at your desk by simply setting a timer and closing your eyes. I recommend using a timer on your phone so that you can relax and not worry about time. Begin with 3 minutes and work up to 5 or 10 minutes – but remember frequency is more important than duration, so find something you can commit to daily.
Begin by finding a comfortable sitting position on the floor or in a chair. If you’re on the floor, find something you can sit on like a blanket or pillow to try to get your hips up a little higher than your knees. Then close your eyes and begin by noticing the sensations in your body and the feeling of the breath as you breath naturally. Simply notice the experience and take it in. Notice what it feels like to be alive in this moment as you observe the experience. This practice is simply about becoming aware of the sensations and processes in the body without trying to change them or judge them. In order to change how your body responds to stress, your nervous system must first notice what is happening. Then your body can do the rest. When your timer rings, slowly head back into your day.
This simple breathing technique is helpful if your stress level is more of an up-and-down battle throughout the day. This breathing technique helps to stop the stress response in the body in the heat of the moment by calming the nervous system. The exhalation is intimately connected to the parasympathetic nervous system so you will be lingering in the exhale to induce the relaxation response. Use this one daily or as needed to combat stressful tasks or situations.
Begin in any position, with eyes closed or open, by slowing down your breath as you breath in and out fully for a few rounds. Then without any tension simply inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 6. Repeat for 3-5 rounds (or more, if your prefer) and notice how quickly the relaxation response starts to kick in. As you get more comfortable, you can inhale for 4 and exhale for 8, but the key is to relax and feel as if you can lean into the exhale rather than forcing it.