How often have you left a yoga class feeling rejuvenated, lighter and calmer? Every time, I bet!
The beauty of practicing yoga is that it helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system where all healing can actually begin to take place. It’s generally overshadowed by its counterpart the sympathetic nervous system.
Both the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system work together to help you cope and respond to everyday stressors and daily tasks.
The problem, however, is the myriad of stressors people are dealing with on a daily basis. Between deadlines, schedules, social commitments, family time, downtime, fitting in extracurriculars, managing and dealing with kids, family, traffic, bills… you name it, stress is everywhere and it’s not something we can avoid.
However, we can practice yoga and deep breathing, which will help to activate our parasympathetic nervous system and allow us to manage and handle stress better, lower our cortisol levels and improve our sleep quality.
Yoga teaches you how to focus on your breath (a key component of stress management), and how to stay present and focused on detail. From stacking your arms, legs, spine and neck in correct alignment to maintaining your balance, yoga forces you to connect with your mind and body.
The best part is, you can practice yoga anywhere! If you’re looking to de-stress, calm your anxiety and support your overall health, do the poses below for a simple at-home routine.
01. Downward Facing Dog
Getting the heart higher than the head reverses the pull of gravity and aids in the circulation of blood and lymph. This pose also gently tones the abdomen, which stimulates digestion, which can typically become affected by stress and anxiety. Downward facing dog also helps to elongate the spine, which helps to release tension in the neck, shoulders and back.
How to Do It:
Start on your hands and knees with the entire surface of your palms pressing into the floor and your toes tucked under. Slowly lift your knees and hips and straighten the legs, aiming to get your heels to the ground. If you are tight, slightly bend your knees. Press equally into your hands and feet and lift your sitting bones up as you move your thighs back. Allow your head to hang gently between your arms. Stay in this pose for 5–10 deep breaths.
02. Standing Forward Bend
This pose helps stretch the hamstrings, thighs, and hips, and is great for relieving stress, fatigue and mild depression. Keeping your feet under you hip bones allows you to stay balanced, build strength and release tension.
How to Do It:
Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Bend your knees deeply and carefully fold your torso over your legs, beginning with your belly and then middle ribs. Let your hands hang straight down. Just hang. Don’t force your hands to touch the floor and let your legs and back release with each inhale and exhale. Alternatively, you can grab opposite elbows and let your head hang heavy.
03. Eagle Pose
This active and empowering pose helps to improve concentration, ward off stress and improve balance. It also helps to release tension and open your shoulders, upper back and hips. Because both your arms and legs are twisted, this helps to compress circulation and once released, causes a flow of energy to circulate through your body. This pose is also excellent for the pituitary and thyroid glands.
How to Do It:
Stand straight, feet hip-width apart in mountain pose. Balance your left leg with your knee slightly bent. Lift your right leg and cross it over your left leg at the knee. Hook your right foot behind your left shin, hugging your legs together.
Cross your left elbow over your right and join the palms of your hands. Be sure to lift your elbows and keep them in alignment with your chin. Hold for several breaths, come out of the pose and repeat on the opposite side.
04. Seated Spinal Twist
This twist helps to squeeze the abdominal organs and stimulate digestion and elimination. It is also great for releasing tension in the neck and upper shoulders, while massaging the liver and kidneys.
How to Do It:
Sit up tall with your legs straight. Bend your right knee and bring the sole of your right foot to the floor just in front of your right sitting bone. Rest your right hand on the floor behind your back for support.
Reach your left hand up so strongly that your ribcage lifts up. Rotate your
torso to the right and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right
Stay for 5 deep breaths, gradually and gently using the sensation of
your left elbow pressing into your right leg to encourage your torso to twist
further to the right. Either look behind you, over your right shoulder, or straight ahead, depending on what feels best for your neck. Repeat on the other side.
05. Legs Up On a Wall
After a long day of being on your feet, this is an excellent pose to help with circulation. It helps release fatigue in the feet and legs, prevents edema, and soothes the nervous system by allowing your body
to shift its attention from warding off stress to daily bodily functions, such as detoxification. This pose is also great for calming the mind, relieving anxiety and mild depression.
How to Do It:
Sit in front of a wall with your right hip and shoulder touching the wall. Bend your knees and roll onto your left side, so your feet and seat are touching the wall. Roll onto your back and extend your legs so that they rest on the wall. Either rest your hands on your belly or let your arms lie on the floor, palms up. Stay for at least 10-15 deep breaths. Alternatively, you can sit on a folded blanket to gently lift your hips off the floor.