Yoga has long been touted as one of the best antidotes to stress, and it’s true. Of the many benefits that practicing yoga can offer, reducing stress really is one of them.
Here’s the surprise, though: You don’t need much time on the mat to get the stress-relieving benefits of yoga. Doing just one pose for a minute or two can help your system switch out of its stressed-out, fight-or-flight mode and shed some of that psychological tension. Here’s how it works, and why this movement practice is so helpful for managing stress.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga, translated from Sanskrit as “union,” is an ancient mind-body practice that originated in India. Not only does it involve movement, but also breathing techniques and meditation to help improve your mind-body connection and boost physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
There are many different types of yoga, all of which rely on poses, or asanas. Yoga practices can range from gentle, restorative sessions to more vigorous workouts.
Benefits of Yoga for Stress Relief
All forms of physical activity have the potential to help you feel less stressed, but yoga has several unique advantages. This is because yoga is more than just physical exercise: “It’s a lifestyle with a philosophy and psychology of its own, which helps manage stress,” says Shweta Jain, India-based yoga instructor with MyYogaTeacher, an online yoga platform.
Numerous studies support yoga’s stress-relieving effects. Take, for instance, one from the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, which found that women who did 12 sessions of a form of yoga called hatha yoga experienced significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression.
The reason? “The practices of restorative asanas combined with breathwork, relaxation techniques, and meditation create a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems while releasing happy hormones in the body,” Jain says.
7 Best Yoga Poses for Stress Relief
Below are seven poses to help you relieve stress and decompress. Do all of them in one session or pick one or two poses to do as needed. How long you hold each pose will depend on your body. Jain recommends holding a pose only for as long as your body allows. The more tension you have in your body, the more time it may take you to relax.
Stick Pose (Yastikasana)
Lie face up on the floor with your legs extended and feet together. Extend your arms above your head so they’re resting on the ground, arms parallel with each other. From this position, inhale and stretch your body as long as you can, extending through your fingers and toes as if you’re trying to reach something at each end of you. Hold for five to 10 seconds, breathing deeply. Release and repeat two to three times.
How it helps relieve stress: You know that when you’re stressed, your muscles tense up, and that can lead to all sorts of issues, including bad posture. By doing stick pose, you help relax some of the muscles leading to faulty posture, help improve circulation throughout your body, Jain says. It also improves breathing to ease stress.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
away from your torso with palms turned up. Relax your entire body from head to toes. Keep your spine neutral; if necessary, place a pillow under your knees to reduce lower back strain. Now relax. Stay here for five to 20 minutes.
How it helps relieve stress: There’s a reason yoga classes often end with this pose. “It’s believed that 20 minutes practice of corpse pose has the capability to energize the body worth the equivalent of eight hours of sleep, if done correctly,” Jain says.
Reclining Bound Angle With Bolster (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Place a bolster (you can also use several folded-up blankets, or a rolled up towel) lengthwise on your mat and lie back on the bolster/blankets so they support your spine, neck, and head. Your tailbone and hips should be off the bolster and resting on the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall open wide. (Place blocks, pillows, or rolled-up towels under each thigh or knees for added support.) Extend your arms to your sides, below shoulder height, palms facing up. Close your eyes and stay here for up to five minutes.
How it helps relieve stress: For women who are experiencing menstrual discomfort, this pose stretches and relaxes muscles in the pelvic area. Opening up the chest also allows for better breathing and thus, reduced stress. You will also get a nice inner thigh and hip stretch.
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Sit with one side of your body against a wall. From this position, lie onto your back and move your legs so they’re extended up against the wall, feet either together or hip-width apart, and your ankles relaxed. If you have any lower body stiffness, you can move your hips a couple of inches away from the wall. Relax your arms at your sides, palms turned up, and hold for one to five minutes. If, though, you feel tingling or numbness in your feet, come out of the pose sooner, moving slowly.
How it helps relieve stress: This pose reverses the movement of the body and blood circulation to induce relaxation. “It also calms the brain into a state of being without thoughts,” Jain says.
Rag Doll Pose (Uttanasana Variation)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and fold forward from your hips. Let the crown of your head hang toward the ground and be heavy. Bend your elbows and grasp each elbow with the opposite hand. Hold here for 10 seconds to a minute, going deeper into the pose with each exhalation.
How it helps relieve stress: Stress and anxiety in most people are concentrated in their lower back, neck, or shoulders, Jain says. By doing this pose, you let go of that weight in the upper body. One caveat: People with a herniated disk or high blood pressure should avoid this pose.
One-Legged Seated Forward Bend (Janu Shirasasana)
Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and place your right foot against your left thigh. Sitting tall, extend both arms over your head as you stretch up. Exhale and bend forward from your hips over the left leg, keeping your neck elongated and shoulders relaxed. Rest your hands comfortably wherever you can reach on your left shin (no need to prove anything—listen to your body and stop where you’re comfortable). As you inhale, extend your spine longer, and as you exhale, fold over your leg more. Hold for 10 to 60 seconds. Release and repeat with the opposite leg extended.
How it helps relieve stress: When you’re stressed and anxious, you probably overthink, even hold onto thoughts, incidents and emotions. This pose works against that. “Like other forward bending poses, this one helps develop the letting-go attitude to release the limiting thoughts and emotions and calm the mind,” Jain says.
Revolved Abdomen Pose (Jathara Parivartanasana)
Lie face up on the floor with your arms extended to the sides at shoulder height, palms facing up. Bring your knees to your chest and slowly drop them to the right. Keeping your left shoulder on the floor, turn your head to the left and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Release your knees to center and repeat to the other side.
How it helps relieve stress: This gentle spinal twist massages your abdomen to relieve digestive discomfort, Jain says. It also helps release tension in your spine.
How to Incorporate Yoga into Your Daily Routine
Many people think they have to do yoga for an hour or many days a week to get the benefits. The truth is, though, you can take a break from whatever you’re doing, space permitting, to do one pose for one minute, repeating this mini yoga break several times a day. “If done across the day intermittently, it can help prevent stress from accumulating in your body and mind,” Jain says.
Find more easy yoga poses, stretches, and low-impact workouts for all levels here.