Along with many other health benefits, yoga can be a great way to de-stress. In fact, many schools of yoga focus more on relaxation and stress relief than on the more physically challenging yoga asanas (postures). These are some easy ways to de-stress with yoga that don't require the flexibility of a gymnast and can be done at home without supervision.
Yoga Breathing Exercises
- Pranayama refers to the control of energy (prana) through specific breathing exercises. Some of these are designed to be done in conjunction with yoga asanas, while others are designed to be used during or before meditation, to help relaxation. Some easy pranayama exercises that can quickly de-stress and relax include:
- Diaphramatic breathing: When we are under stress, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. One of the fundamentals of pranayama is to consciously learn to breathe deeply by expanding the diaphragm as we breathe. To do this, simply close your eyes and consciously expand your stomach and diaphragm as you breathe in and let them naturally contract as you breathe out. As you do so, you'll automatically feel yourself begin to relax.
- Tense and Relax: Another easy way to quickly de-stress with yoga is to tense your whole body as you breathe in and then relax as you forcibly exhale. Many meditation instructors recommend doing this 5 or more times at the beginning of a meditation session, to energise the mind at the same time you relax the body.
- Watch Your Breath: One of the most recommended types of meditation is to simply "watch your breath" as you sit comfortably with your eyes closed. What this means is to simply observe your inhalations and exhalations as they occur. After your mind wanders (and it will), simply re-focus your attention on your breathing without stressing about having become distracted. You will probably find yourself destressing in as little as 10 minutes and with repeated practice, you will become even more deeply relaxed.
Simple Yoga Postures
The physical postures (asanas) of yoga are collectively called hatha yoga. One of the most important yoga asanas also happens to be one of the easiest to do. Called savasana (the corpse pose), it basically involves little more than lying flat on your back. In actual practice, doing savasana correctly can be more difficult, because the goal of the posture is to become completely relaxed. One variation on the classic savasana is to place a bolster under your lower back. This expands the chest cavity and helps you breathe more deeply. 10 minutes in this position is recommended. To get even greater benefits, yoga instructors recommend focusing your attention on your heart chakra (the vibrational centre in your chest) as you relax, imagining your heart opening and expanding with every breath.
Another simple yoga posture that's great for stress relief is called bhujangasana or the cobra pose. To do this pose, start by lying on your stomach with your arms palms down against your yoga mat under your shoulders and your legs together. Slowly arch your neck and back, using your outstretched arms for support. Sustain this position for up to 5 minutes, focusing on controlled deep breathing as you do so. A variation on the cobra pose that is excellent for older or less flexible yogis is to let your elbows support your weight.
The child pose (balasana) is another great asana for relaxation. To do this, simply sit on your yoga mat on your knees, with your buttocks resting against your heels. Now bend forward until your head rests against the floor. Bring your arms behind you, resting them palms up against the floor. Relax into this position for 5 minutes as you inhale and exhale deeply.
While these yoga asanas are easy and safe, it's best to get instruction first from a qualified yoga instructor. If you do undertake them on your own, do not attempt to push yourself beyond your personal comfort level. The whole idea, after all, is to de-stress with yoga. If you can do that, you'll find you can enjoy all the benefits of yoga even if you can't tie your body into knots like expert hatha yogis.