A Yoga Instructor’s 2 Favorite 2-Minute Poses for Melting Stress Away
I used to think that in order to really relax, I needed at least a solid hour to do nothing. Ideally, I’d take a long bath, do a full yoga practice, or take a quiet walk in the woods. Because of this belief, I rarely actually got to relax. Even though I had become a 200-hour certified yoga teacher at Kripalu, had completed a training in trauma sensitive yoga through The Trauma Center, and learned a number of methods to calm the nervous system quickly, I still wasn’t really practicing them myself.
A number of studies have suggested that yoga can be a helpful tool for managing anxiety and depression. Studies indicate that yoga appears to be most effective when practiced regularly — which can help reduce stress levels. The trick to creating a consistent practice is to make sure your goals are achievable. That’s why these yoga poses for stress relief can be done in two minutes or less, so even if your schedule is packed, there’s still something you can do to care for yourself every day.
1. Fold over into the stress-relieving “rag doll” yoga pose
This pose, uttanasana in Sanskrit, is also commonly known as “standing forward fold” or the “rag doll” pose. It’s one of my absolute favorite ways to quickly decompress. I should note that this pose is not for you if you have glaucoma, high or low blood pressure, osteoporosis, or lower back or neck injuries. As always, with anything, if you feel sharp pain, numbness, or tingling, you should stop. (That is not the vibe we’re going for. Safety first.)
Here’s how to do it: First, stand with your feet about hip width apart (you’re measuring from your actual hip bones, so it’s probably a shorter distance than you think). Make sure you’re sturdy where you stand. Take some deep breaths, and notice your feet on the ground. Maybe even visualize roots growing from your feet, connecting you to the earth.
Raise your arms over your head as you inhale. I like to sweep my arms up in a circle, like I’m tracing the shape of the sun or moon, but however you get there is fine. While you keep your arms raised, try to relax your shoulders so they’re not up around your ears. Instead, drop your shoulders down your back.
Now, as you exhale, fold at the hips with your knees slightly bent for stability and to protect those precious knee joints, and let your arms fall forward. You don’t have to touch your toes, so don’t even worry about that. (Touching your toes does not matter at all — you’re now free from that pressure!) If your arms feel like they’re just floating out in space, help gravity along by grasping alternate elbows, so your arms make a little box around your head.
This is the fun part: you can just hang out here and breathe. Make sure your weight is resting on the balls of your feet rather than your heels. A few things to try while you’re in a forward fold:
- Sigh loudly, letting out all your tension. Imagine your stress spilling out of you like a waterfall and washing away, becoming pure water.
- Sway from side to side to encourage your back and shoulders to release. This feels especially good if you’re holding onto your elbows.
- Nod your head yes and no. Sometimes it’s tough to get the neck to relax because a lot of people carry stress there. Shaking your head ‘no’ and nodding your head ‘yes’ makes the neck loosen up and give in to gravity. You can even work in a mantra here: “I’m saying no to stress; I’m saying yes to relaxation.” Or create your own yes and no mantra.
- Twist from side to side. Yes, this sounds similar to swaying, but it’s different. While you’re in your forward fold, try twisting and holding on to the outside of one calf and holding the twist for 15-30 seconds, and then twisting over the other side and holding. Maybe you grab onto the outside of your ankle instead, or place your hands on the floor in the twist. Wherever you land is good. Just make sure to breathe deeply and enjoy the stretch
When you come out of the fold, you can roll yourself up to standing, or stand with a straight back while tightening your abdominal muscles for support. Stretch your arms overhead again, and if it feels ok, move into a gentle backbend by arching your lower back and expanding through the chest for a counter-stretch. You can keep your arms raised, or you can bring your hands to your lower back for extra support.
2. Then try out a grounding yoga pose
Supta Baddha Konasana, or reclining bound angle pose, is practiced lying down, but if you’re not in an environment where you feel comfortable reclining, you can do this pose seated as well. According to yogic thought, this pose decreases anxiety and depression, increases circulation, and stimulates the heart and other internal organs. It’s also a good stretch for the groin and inner thighs, so if you have injuries in the area, this pose is not for you right now.
I like this pose in particular because of the way the soles of the feet are connected, which has a grounding effect on some people. Studies even suggest that yoga poses for stress relief can be used to support your main treatment for anxiety, so science agrees it can help ground you, too. If you’ve been working at a desk all day, taking a minute or two to dramatically change your position, especially in a reclining pose like this, can change your mood.
Here’s how to do it: Start by lying flat on the ground, a bed, or a yoga mat. Bring your awareness to your breath, and invite the breath to become deeper and slower. You can close your eyes if you like, or keep a soft gaze.
Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the ground. Then, bring the soles of the feet together and let your knees fall apart. Your arms can rest by your side, palms facing up for receptivity.
Breathe here, and if the stretch feels like it’s too much, you can place blocks or pillows under your thighs for support. You can also try this pose sitting up with the soles of your feet together and your knees apart, grasping your feet in your hands to create that circle of energy.
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