If you eat healthy and exercise regularly but are still holding onto stubborn belly fat, the culprit may be cortisol. Do these seven yoga poses every day to help lower it naturally.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that plays a big role in our bodies’ fight-or-flight response. This is a great survival method for when we’re in actual danger. Unfortunately, when we’re emotionally or mentally stressed out, cortisol comes in and triggers our fight-or-flight response even when we aren’t in actual physical danger – and this can lead to a host of unpleasant side effects.
Namely, too much cortisol causes belly fat, or “visceral fat,” that surrounds our abdominal organs. This is associated with chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and asthma. When excess cortisol circulates the blood for too long, the consistently high blood sugar levels promote the storage of this visceral fat in the belly. (1) Too much cortisol also mobilizes fat reserves from elsewhere in the body and moves it to the abdominal area in a process called gluconeogenesis. (2)
If you find yourself stressed out often, the levels of cortisol in your body will become chronically high. Aside from belly fat, other symptoms of high cortisol levels include:
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- Mood swings
- Food cravings
- Brain fog
- Poor sleeping patterns
- High anxiety and depression
When cortisol is activated and your body is in high alert, it can temporarily shut down important bodily functions, including your digestive and reproductive systems, your immune system, and growth processes. Over time, high cortisol levels can lead to:
- Diminished bone density
- Unbalanced blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- Breakdown of muscle tissue
- Belly fat
Fortunately, yoga can help manage stress – balancing cortisol levels and decreasing other negative effects of stress such as anxiety and depression. (3, 4) Incorporating yoga into your weekly routine can be beneficial for mental and physical health, and regulating stress, cortisol, and the belly fat that comes with it. (5)
Use these 7 yoga poses to help reduce stress and bring your cortisol levels back into balance. This routine can be done daily – all you need is a yoga mat and a yoga block.
7 Yoga Poses to Naturally Lower Cortisol
Easy Pose | 20 breaths
This traditional yoga pose helps you to begin to calm the mind, connect with your breath, and decrease stress.
- Sit cross-legged on the edge of a yoga block so that your knees are lower than your hips.
- Place your palms facing up on your thighs. Sit up tall, roll your shoulders back and down, and lengthen through the back of your neck.
- Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Stay here for 20 breaths.
Seated Forward Fold | 10 breaths
This yoga pose activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, taking you out of a fight-or-flight state and into a rest-and-digest state.
- Sit up tall on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Keep a small bend in both knees.
- Inhale to reach your arms up over your head, then exhale to hinge at the hips and catch hold of your feet with both hands. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to touch your feet.
- Take a breath in to lengthen your head forward, then exhale to fold. Let your shoulders relax and close your eyes.
- Stay here for 10 breaths.
Locust Pose | 8 breaths
This heart-opening yoga pose reverses poor posture and energizes the body and mind. (6)
- Lie face down on your mat. Reach your arms back alongside your body with your palms facing down. Place your forehead on your mat so that your neck is straight.
- Inhale as you lift your head, chest, arms, and thighs off the ground. Turn your palms to face inward and squeeze your hands towards each other above your lower back.
- Hold for five to eight breaths, then release on an exhale.
Tree Pose | 8 breaths per side
This balancing posture helps to shift your focus away from stress, bringing you into a calm mindset.
- Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart. Bring your palms together to touch in front of your heart. Find something to gaze on in front of you.
- Engage your abs and slowly shift your weight onto your left foot. Pick up your right foot and place the sole of your foot onto your inner left calf or thigh. Make sure not to place it directly on your knee joint.
- Press your foot and leg into one another and lengthen your spine. Try to keep the muscles of your face relaxed the entire time. Focus on slow, steady breathing as you hold for eight breaths. If you fall out of the pose, slowly come back into it.
- Switch sides.
Child’s Pose | 10 breaths
This pose calms the body and the mind, helping stress to melt away.
- Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
- Separate your knees out wide to the edges of your mat and keep your toes touching. Then, exhale to sit your hips all the way back onto your heels.
- Walk your hands towards the top of your mat and lower your forehead to the ground. If your forehead doesn’t comfortably come to the ground, place a block underneath it.
- Close your eyes and breathe slowly through your nose for at least 10 breaths.
Supported Shoulder Stand | 10 breaths
This restorative inversion helps to bring the body into its rest-and-digest state, calming the mind and relieving stress and anxiety.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Have a block nearby.
- Inhale to lift your hips up. Slide the block on the lowest height underneath your sacrum, then rest your hips comfortably on the block. Extend your arms down alongside your body with your palms facing down.
- Engage your abs and inhale as you pick up your feet and straighten your legs towards the sky. Relax the muscles of your face and gaze towards your thighs.
- Stay here and focus on slow, mindful breathing for 10 breaths.
Savasana | 20 breaths
This ultimate relaxation pose, Savasana, teaches you to relax, surrender, and let go of cortisol-spiking stress.
- Lie down facing up on your mat.
- Bring your feet mat-width distance apart and allow your toes to fall open. Turn your palms to face up.
- Relax your face and all the muscles of your body. Take 20 slow breaths here, completely filling up the lungs, then completely emptying the lungs. Then find a natural breath and stay here as long as you need to relax.
(Your Next Workout: 5 Restorative Yoga Poses to Balance Your Hormones)