Try these five asanas and savor the soothing benefits!
As humans, we live in a busy, complex, oftentimes chaotic world. It always has been, and probably always will be, just part of the existential experience. We’re all here to learn things, but sometimes it gets more than just a little overwhelming. No matter what your everyday life is like – whether you are a parent, a student, you have a 40+ hour work week, or a combination of important responsibilities – slowing down can be a challenge in and of itself.
This is where a simple, 10 minute yoga practice can come in handy. I’d like to share five of my favorite poses (asanas) that I’ve found helpful during stressful times. These poses have a very calming effect and give you an opportunity to just relax into the moment.
#1 Easy Pose (Sukhasana) with Forward Fold
There’s something about forward folds that feels incredibly relaxing and de-stressing, and this one is a favorite of mine.
Start by sitting cross-legged in basic Easy pose. Inhale, elongate your spine, and gently allow yourself to bend forward as you exhale. Walk your hands forward and allow your upper body and hips to relax. Only bend as far forward as feels comfortable to your body – don’t push yourself to get your forehead to the floor. Flexibility will come with time and continued practice. For those who want a deeper hip stretch, place one leg in front of the other, move your ankles forward slightly, and relax into the forward fold. Whichever method you choose, be sure to repeat on the other side.
#2 Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Side Plank is a great arm-balancing pose that is not only calming, but it also promotes the building of strength in the arms and core. Both of its variations gently open up the chest. This is important for instilling a sense of calm, as it allows the heart to relax and release. When feeling overwhelmed, this tension often settles in the chest area; so opening it up through a pose like Side Plank can be quite beneficial. Relaxation can be enhanced by focusing your attention on the balancing aspect of this pose.
I want to add a variation for those who want to work with Side Plank, but have minor wrist injuries or issues. I’ve personally dealt with this on a few occasions, and making a modification proved helpful. Instead of using your hands, you can also try using your knuckles to support your bodyweight in the pose.
Start out in Table Top pose, on your hands and knees. Shift your weight onto your left knee and left hand as you step your right foot back and straighten your right leg. Open your body to the right and bring the inside of your right foot to the floor. Inhale as you raise your right arm up and gaze up toward your fingertips. When you’re ready to come out, exhale and lower your right hand down. Resume Table Top. Repeat on your other side.
For the intermediate version of Side Plank, start in Table Top and step back into Plank pose. Shift your weight onto your left hand and turn so that you are on the outside edge of your left foot. Start to open your body to the right by stacking your right foot on top of the left, and raise your right arm up to the sky. Gaze up at your right fingertips and breathe into the pose. Make sure that your body is in alignment, with hips gently raised, and you’re not putting too much pressure on your supporting arm. To come out, exhale as you lower your right hand back down to the floor, coming back to Plank. Lower your knees to resume Table Top, then repeat on your other side.
#3 Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Tree pose is a great, simple standing pose for feeling rooted, balanced, and calmed. If you’re working on your balance, this is a wonderful asana to practice.
Start by standing in Mountain pose. Shift your weight onto your left foot, and bring your right heel to your left ankle. If you’re working on your balance, you can keep your right toes closer to the floor and gradually start to move the sole of your foot up your left leg to whatever point is most comfortable. For the full pose, bend your right knee, open up your right hip, and position the sole of your foot against your right inner thigh. For a simple variation, you can place your hands in prayer position over your chest. If you want an arm stretch, you can inhale and lift your arms up overhead – making sure to relax your shoulders. Relax and hold. To come out, exhale and gently lower your arms and leg back down to Mountain pose. Repeat on the other side.
#4 Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana)
This is another standing pose. Though it is considered intermediate level, I will include a few tips for those who wish to give it a try. This particular pose works wonders for my mind – as I find myself calmed into a gentle, void-like state when I relax into it. Like Side Plank, it opens the chest, which in turn opens up the heart. Half Moon also promotes stillness and a sense of calm centeredness through rooted balance.
Start by standing with your feet apart, hands resting on your hips, in a comfortable Wide-Leg Stance. Turn your left foot out and shift your back foot to about 45 degrees, as if you’re ready to assume a Warrior stance to the left. Bend your left knee slightly as you lower the fingertips of both hands to the floor. Place them alongside your left foot. Shift your weight into your front leg, and gently start to raise your back leg up behind you to a comfortable height.
Beginner and Intermediate Variations
If you have difficulty with balancing, keep all of your fingertips touching the floor and the back leg low. If you are ready to assume the full pose, raise your right hand up to the sky as you open up your hips and chest. Once balanced, you can turn your gaze upward to look at your right hand. When you’re ready to come out of the pose, circle your right arm back down and place your fingertips back into their starting position on the floor. Gently lower your right leg behind you as you bend your left knee slightly. Circle your right arm clockwise to come back to Wide-Leg Stance. Repeat on your other side.
#5 Corpse Pose (Savasana)
This is perhaps one of the most well-known yoga poses. Basically, you are just lying down on your back, on a mat or on the floor, with your arms and legs open slightly to the sides of your body. If this hurts your back, you can bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. You can also place a soft cushion or folded blanket beneath you to relive any lower back tension.
Corpse pose is often the last asana in a yoga practice; allowing you to just lay there and surrender to relaxing your body and mind. Close your eyes, focus on your breath. If thoughts comes up, acknowledge them as thoughts and gently shift your focus back to your breath. Rest here for a few minutes, and allow a soft smile to add to your sense of rejuvenation.
Yoga is a great practice to develop and nurture for stress-relieving benefits. Countless studies have shown strong correlations between better health and wellbeing and those who are more frequent yoga practitioners. Yoga Journal is a great source to turn to for all things yoga. It also yields a wide array of ideas for more nutritious diets, meditation practices, and products to support a healthy lifestyle.
For those who wish to adopt (or enhance) a meditation practice, I recently came across a great app in the App Store that I’d like to share. Insight Timer is great because it has a collection of over 15,000 tracks – all for free! The app itself is free, and the website states that they offer the largest free library of guided meditations on earth. Whether you’re looking for something that’s less than 5 minutes, or up to an hour, you’ll undoubtedly find something great out there that’s to your liking. There’s a search option where you can find whatever type of meditation that you’d like to try. Rest assured – there are more than enough calming, stress-relieving meditations to choose from!
Yoga and meditation go hand-in-hand. They complement one another perfectly; and with daily practice they can really make a positive difference in your everyday life. Devoting some time each day to activities that calm and quiet the mind is an investment well worth making. Give them a try today!
Disclaimer and Credits
The information and exercises provided within this blog post are to be used at your own discretion and under professional guidance. They are not offered as a replacement or substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone, and making use of this or any other exercise program may result in injury. If you believe that you may suffer from a physical or emotional impairment, it is strongly recommended that you seek advice from a licensed health care professional before embarking on this or any other exercise program.
Feature image courtesy of neonow/Creative Commons
All other images courtesy of JMarie