Stress is a killer. It increases the likelihood that you'll develop both physical (high blood pressure, ulcers) and emotional (depression) problems. We can't always avoid stress, but we can alleviate its effect on us.
Yoga is a healthy first step. Healthy breathing and gentle poses (also called postures) will alleviate the daily stress that builds up in your body. These relaxing positions relieve muscular tension and stimulate your body's immune system.
This common pose, used worldwide as a greeting, loosens and warms up your body.
- Stand with feet planted firmly on the ground and arms down by your sides.
- Inhale and bring your arms up and out — palms up — until they meet over your head, like a prayer.
- Exhale and bring your hands, still together, down past your face. Stop when you reach your heart.
- Repeat this simple movement three times, paying careful attention to inhaling and exhaling* at the appropriate times.
*Each breath should be deep and slow. Fill and empty your lungs as much as possible without altering your position.
Nowhere in your body is the stress more evident than in your neck and shoulders. After a day of sitting at the computer or in traffic, your upper body feels tight and shriveled up. Loosen it with this simple stretch.
- Stand slightly less than arm's length away from the wall.
- Place your left palm behind your body against the wall.
- With your hand firmly in place, begin rotating your body away from the wall to stretch your shoulder.
- Breathe deeply in and out several times.
- Take note of the tightness releasing from your neck, shoulder, upper back and upper chest.
- Inhale and stretch your left hand up, fingertips to ceiling.
- Drop your arm and let it loosely swing front to back at your side.
- Repeat on the right.
This posture can be done anytime. It relieves the tension in your jaw (great for those of us who clench our teeth when stressed) and in your lower back.
- Place your hands, shoulder-width apart, against the wall.
- Slowly step away from the wall, allowing your hands to slide down until they are aligned with your shoulders and hips.
- With knees slightly bent, press your palms into the wall while leaning your body away from it. Feel the stretch along the muscles of your back.
- Let your head drop and breathe deeply several times. As you exhale, relax your jaw.
- Walk back toward the wall to come slowly out of the stretch.*
*Coming out of the pose too quickly could cause lightheadedness.
Enjoy the peaceful benefits of this simple posture, which offers deep rest while stretching the muscles along your spine. Let your troubles roll right off your back.
- Come down on all fours, keeping your knees wider than your hips.
- Sit back onto your heels,* stretch your arms on the mat in front of you and lower your head to the floor.
- Breathe deeply, inching hands a bit farther with each exhale.
- To come out of the pose, walk your hands toward your knees and return to a seated position.
*If this hurts your knees, place padding between your heels and buttocks or beneath your forehead.
The savasana pose of relaxation is the traditional way to end every yoga session. This posture quiets the body, particularly your nervous system, and brings you to a restful state.
- Lie on your back* and focus on your breath.
- Stay in this position for as long as you feel comfortable.
*If your back feels strained, simply place a folded towel beneath your knees.
Taking time to experience the rest and calm that come from the healing practice of restorative yoga will help reduce your stress levels, improving your overall health and well-being.
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