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Yoga For Stress & Anxiety: Namastay Calm

Yoga-ing is an amazing way to deal with stress, anxiety and their mind-body burdens. Whether you have a practice or want to start one, this routine will help you chill and reclaim your sanity… LONG DAY? ROSÉ OR NAMASTE? We all deal with stress and anxiety in our own ways; while some situations definitely call for a wine marathon with the girls, learning to self-soothe the au naturale way means long-term protection from stress’ damaging effects.

Yoga is one of our favorite ways to decompress when we’re feeling frazzled. The following yoga routine from Tiffany Cruikshank – founder of Yoga Medicine and the author of Meditate Your Weight – is specifically designed to help us combat and deal with stress. Integrate these simple but powerful poses into your morning or bedtime rituals for amazing mind-body benefits that linger…

The Research

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. Stress has so much negative impact on the body. It can cause muscle tension, headaches, food cravings, weight gain, digestive complaints and more. Luckily, 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. We are bombarded by it, coming from finances, relationships, health and family. The often-used message that you need to “manage your stress better.”  This messaging is 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 to 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.

Supine Twist

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.

DOWN-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 shoulder-width apart and your feet about hip-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.

Legs Up the Wall Pose

This pose is a great preparation for deep sleep. 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.  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 your 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.

Seated Meditation

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 a simple and effective way to help shift the body into relaxation. It also helps to bring context to the bigger picture awareness that is key for stress management. The nice thing about meditation 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 the first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. 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. 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 breathe 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.

Calming Breath

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. You will be lingering in the exhale to induce the relaxation response. Use this 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 breathe 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 you 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.

Click here to view the original article on The Chalkboard.

About the Author

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Yoga Medicine® is a thorough, anatomically based training system that trains teachers across the globe to work more powerfully with their students. Yoga Medicine® is a community of teachers who are trained to understand the function and dysfunction of the human body in order to work more effectively with healthcare practitioners. Yoga Medicine loves to post articles based on yoga teacher's experiences, yoga-related research, the relationship between yoga and healthcare, and much more. We welcome guest submissions as well - please contact Jenna@YogaMedicine.com to discuss further details.

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