How to Use Yoga to Destress

Want to Relax? Try Yoga

By Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, LaShone Wilson and Lara Atella

Stress is ever present. Fortunately, we’ve got yoga, which is proven to help reduce stress and the health effects it causes. The best part? You don’t need any prior experience to benefit from the practice. Whether you are at home, work or somewhere in between, yoga is always here to help you relax. We’ll show you how to get started.

A 5-Minute Relaxing Yoga Practice

This short sequence works the body and rests the mind in just five minutes.

WHAT YOU NEED

You don’t need anything but yourself. If you have a yoga mat, that’s great but not necessary. A towel works, too, or you can just sit on the floor. Find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and uninterrupted for only five minutes. Depending on how your body feels, you may want to use a yoga block, blanket or meditation cushion to place underneath your body to support your body in a comfortable seated position.

You can also take this same yoga and mindfulness practice outside for a change of scenery and influx of nature. Experiencing the vibrant colors, sounds and feel of the outdoors during your yoga practice can provide a positive energy boost.

WHAT YOU NEED

You don’t need anything but yourself. If you have a yoga mat, that’s great but not necessary. A towel works, too, or you can just sit on the floor. Find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and uninterrupted for only five minutes. Depending on how your body feels, you may want to use a yoga block, blanket or meditation cushion to place underneath your body to support your body in a comfortable seated position.

You can also take this same yoga and mindfulness practice outside for a change of scenery and influx of nature. Experiencing the vibrant colors, sounds and feel of the outdoors during your yoga practice can provide a positive energy boost.

START WITH SOME MINDFULNESS

Let’s start with your breath. This is a great way to slow down, become present in the moment and connect with yourself: 

  1. While sitting, allow your shoulders to relax. 

  2. Extend your tailbone down and contract your stomach, which will help to straighten your back and lengthen your back from the top of your head. 

  3. Inhale for six seconds while pushing your stomach away from your body. 

  4. Exhale, allowing your stomach to come back to your body. 

Do this four times (or more if time permits).

As you go into each yoga posture think about your own self-care, self-respect and a curiosity toward yourself and your moment-to-moment experience. This will put you in the right mindspace for the exercises. 

1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Begin in a comfortable seated position, legs crossed. Relax your feet and allow your pelvis to be in a neutral position. Think about how you are breathing. Feel the sensations in your body. Sit for a minute and feel the sensations that come with being unrushed, still and internally aware.

2. Neck Roll: Allow your head to fall toward your chest and slowly move your head around in a full circle to the right three times and then to the left three times. Invite the feeling of letting go. Return to the easy pose and lift the crown of your head up.

3. Shoulder Roll: Roll your shoulders in forward circular motions four times and then backwards four times. When you are finished inhale, bringing your hands over head and exhale, placing your hands together at chest level. 

4. Tabletop Position (Bharmanasana):Slowly move onto your hands and knees, placing your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your palms should be on the floor, fingers facing forward with your weight evenly distributed on your palms. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward. 

5. Cow Pose (Bitilasana): Inhale as you drop your belly toward the mat. Lift your chin and chest and look up toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulders  away from your ears. 

6. Cat Pose (Marjaryasana): Exhale and pull your stomach toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Gently release the top of your head toward the floor. 

7. Repeat Cat-Cow five to 10 times in an unrushed and peaceful rhythm.  

8. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Tuck your toes under your feet, press your palms into the floor and lift your hips up, extending your tailbone toward the ceiling. Push your heels back and slightly down toward the mat. They do not have to touch the ground. Allow your head to drop so that your neck is long. Stay here for a few deep breaths.  

9. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight. 

10. Cross your forearms. Place your right hand in front of your left upper arm and weave your left arm behind your right upper arm. Press your heels into the floor and extend your tailbone up to the ceiling. Shake your head back and forth to release your neck. Stay here for at least three breaths before releasing the arms from the crossed position.

11. Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Bend your knees, pull your stomach toward your back and roll your body up.

12. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana): Extend your tailbone down. Inhale here and place your hands together at chest level. 

13. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.

14. An additional option is to bend the knees slightly to place one palm flat on the floor or onto a block or anywhere on your leg other than your knee and raise the opposite hand over the head. Try to align the shoulders, slightly twist and look up following the length of the extended arm. Do this on both sides. 

15. Child’s Pose (Balasana): Softly come to your knees in a kneeling position. Extend your hands forward in front of you. Allow your torso to relax down and back onto your thighs. Allow space between your knees  and the toes to touch. If possible, allow the buttocks to touch the  heels of your feet. 

Breathing Exercises

We do it mindlessly, over and over, but with a little thought, the process of breathing can be transformative.

BREATH REGULATION

The key components of yoga include postures, meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises. These features of yoga are not exclusive and do complement each other, but the one that transcends most profoundly is breath. Breath is often thought of as the guide in all areas of yoga. Yoga helps bring more awareness to the breath which has both physical and psychological benefits. When we are stressed, we often will hold or shorten our breathing or breathe in a short, stilted manner. Being able to continue to inhale and exhale calmly and deeply throughout life is a tremendous stress reliever. 

Throughout yoga class, teachers will remind you to regulate your breath and this is one of the most transferable skills that you can very quickly take off of the mat and into your everyday life. 

BREATHING EXERCISES

Below are a few breathing practices that you can do anywhere, anytime, to get back in touch with your breath. Consider these exercises a stress-relieving pause whenever you need it. 

BELLY BREATHING

  • Sit comfortably with your legs in a comfortable cross-legged position and close your eyes.

  • Inhale from the bottom of your belly, then into your chest and imagine filling up your body with breath all the way up to your throat.

  • Exhale from your throat, chest and belly.

  • Repeat five times.

    A HEART-CALMING BREATH

    • As long as you don’t have any knee problems, sit in kneeling position with your heels underneath your hips. If you have any knee problems, sit comfortably with your legs crossed.

    • Place one hand above your heart and another on your belly (it doesn’t matter which; choose whatever comes naturally).

    • Close your eyes and inhale and exhale to the mantra, or repeated saying, of “let” on the inhale and “go” on the exhale.

    • Repeat at least five times before placing your hands on your thighs and opening your eyes.

  • COMBINING BREATH WITH FULL-BODY MOVEMENT

    • Begin in a child’s pose with your knees on the ground and your hips on your heels resting on the backs of your feet and your hands outstretched in front of you.

    • Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back into downward facing dog

    • Inhale into a plank pose (kumbhakasana), or the top of a push-up, with your shoulders over your wrists and a straight line between your shoulders and your heels.

    • Exhale as you lift up and back into downward dog. 

    • Repeat five to 10 times inhaling into plank and exhaling into downward facing dog. 

    • Rest in child’s pose.