Can I just say that yesterday, I most definitely needed and used many of these yoga poses for relaxation…especially the deep breathing. I spent way too much time at the doctor/imaging center with my five year old who twisted his ankle a few days ago. Since then, he’s refused to put weight on it and has been crawling. Turns out all he needed was some expensive x-rays and a ton of stickers from the doctor to magically cure his foot. He even thanked the doctor and kissed her when we left.
Then, when I got home, my daughter decided to play outside – which is great. Not great? She got her first bee sting. She screamed for about a half hour until I figured out that her cure included Dora and fruit snacks.
Today I want to share with you my salvation: yoga. Specifically yoga poses for relaxation. Life moves so quickly and the stress builds up. These simple poses are designed to help you chill. Which is a good thing. Way better than using a pint of Haagen Daaz to mellow out (side eye to me). Or an entire bottle of wine. Or just holding it all in until you lose your cool. Am I right?
So let’s get started:
1. Yoga Breath.
No, this isn’t how your breath smells after 90 minute hot yoga class. Yoga breath refers to conscious breath. And in all honesty, your breath is the most important part of your yoga practice. You need to be focused on your breathing – in and out through the nose – throughout your practice. Even if you’re doing something physically challenging, you MUST continue to breathe, even though the natural tendency is to hold your breath. This in and out breathing through the nose is also referred to as the ‘Darth Vadar Breath’.
For the sake of relaxation, one of my favorite breathing exercises is the Three Part Breath. Here’s what you do:
Sit on the floor in a comfortable position. Place one palm on your belly and the other on your ribcage. Close your eyes as you take deep slow breaths and focus on your body as you do so – feel your belly and lungs expand with air, then push all the air out like you’re deflating a balloon. Repeat a few times, then drop your arms to your side and just focus on your breath for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Upward Dog.
Among many benefits attributed to Upward Facing Dog, the one that I find most awesome is that is is thought to help to relieve depression and fatigue. It’s also a great spine and chest stretch and improves posture.
To do Upward Facing Dog:
Lie on the floor face down. Press the tops on your feet into your mat and place your palms on the sides of your shoulders. Slowly push yourself up, pressing your feet into the mat and keeping your arms tight into your sides. Push up until the only parts of your body on your mat are tops of your feet and your palms. Hold as long as it feels good and then release.
3. Triangle Pose.
Triangle pose engages your entire body, leading to wonderful feeling of calm when you release the pose.
To do the Triangle Pose:
Stand facing foward with your legs 3-4 feet apart. Pivot your left foot sideways and go into a low lunge on the left side. Bring your arms up and face your palms forward. Lean your upper body to the left, placing your left hand against your left foot and reaching your right hand to the sky. Turn your gaze to watch your right hand. Hold this pose 20-30 seconds (you can lengthen this pose as you get stronger) while concentrating on your breath. Release, then do the same thing on the your opposite side.
The standing forward fold uses gravity to give a deep yet gentle stretch to your back, legs and shoulders.
To to the Standing Forward Fold:
Stand with your feet together and your hands at your side. Circle sweep your hands above your head. Then, engage your abs and fold in half at the hips, keeping a flat back as you reach down. Let gravity pull your arms down for a deep stretch. Hang out here for about 30 seconds, then slowly bring yourself back up with a flat back.
5. Happy Baby.
This is probably my favorite pose. I honestly don’t think you can do it without smiling. You might feel ridiculous at first, but trust me…this feels great and is so good for you! It is a wonderful hip and groin stretch, and has the added benefits of calming the brain and reducing stress and fatigue.
How to do the Happy Baby:
Lie on your back, bend your knees, hugging them in toward your chest, and then take the outer edges of your feet in your hands, pressing your knees toward your armpits. (If this is too much, you can grab the back of your thighs instead.) Rock softly from left to right if that feels good, and stay here for 10 deep breaths. Concentrate on keeping a flat back – if you feel your back arching, tuck your tailbone.
Downward Dog is ridiculously good for you – there are a laundry list of benefits to this pose, but I’ll just mention a few: it relieves mild depression, helps with menstrual discomfort, relieves headaches, insomnia and fatigue and is therapeutic for high blood pressure. Good stuff!
To do the Downward Dog:
Keep your feet hip width apart and you fold forward and release your hands to the floor. Walk your hands forward until you’re an upside down V. Ground your palms and feet into the floor while engaging your abs and making sure not to arch your back. You will feel this pose everywhere, it engages the entire body. If your hamstrings are tight and you can’t get your heels to the ground, you may start this pose with bent knees.
Child’s pose is a wonderful way to just slow down and relax.
How to do Child’s Pose:
From kneeling, widen your knees to a little wider than your hips. Lean forward, using a pillow under your chest or belly if you need it, and rest your forehead on the floor. Allow your arms to relax to the ground, reaching a bit forward. Close your eyes and breathe here for 10 deep breaths. Roll your forehead back and forth on the ground if that feels good to you.
Other than breathing, I personally think that savasana is the most important pose in yoga. It forces you to slow down, to take inventory of your body and mind. And then? You relax, and let all your stress and worry melt into the ground. If you only have time for one stress relieving yoga pose, do this. By the way, it’s also called Corpse Pose.
To do Savasana:
Lie flat on your back with your palms turned upward and heels touching with your feet splayed out. Roll your shoulders under like you’re trying to touch your shoulder blades under your back as you stretch out your neck. Now, breathe. Lie there and tune in with your body. Where are you holding tension? Let it go. Go over your entire body as you lie in savasana. Slowly, when you’re ready, bring yourself back into the present and increase your awareness.
I hope you enjoyed this quick introduction to yoga poses for relaxation! For me, yoga is my sanity. Even if I can’t make it into class, I try to practice a little bit each day. Work a few of these moves in on those days that are getting the better of you and I guarantee, you’ll notice a difference in your anxiety and stress.
Disclaimer: Yo! We’re no doctors, so please check with your doc if your starting any new fitness routine.