Stress is an unavoidable part of everyday life, but when it becomes overwhelming and left uncontrolled, it can have negative impacts on our physical and mental health. To help combat daily stressors, the practice of yoga can alleviate muscle tension and restore our body’s sense of balance and well-being. Our bodies know how to heal themselves, but sometimes, they need a little push to get started.
Various studies published in the Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions have found that yoga may “down-regulate stress responses” and can be a “promising modality for stress management” across age and gender. And according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, yoga practices “help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly,” and can lower the heart rate and blood pressure, decreasing the body’s physiological arousal in response to stress.
To help relax your muscles and get the blood flowing back to common stress points like the neck, shoulders, lower back and jaw, here are five key yoga poses that can alleviate muscle tension and ease stress:
1. Downward- Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
One of the most well-known and often-practiced poses in yoga in which the body resembles an upside-down letter V, downward-facing dog pose can help alleviate lower back pain and tension, strengthen the wrists and elongate the shoulders. Many workaholics know tension headaches well, and this pose can be just the trick by increasing blood flow and circulation along the spine and throughout the entire body.
2. Child’s pose (Balasana).
This pose can be very relaxing, especially after a good stretch or workout, and is great to do before bed to help get the body in the mood for sleep. As it gently stretches the hips, thighs and ankles, child’s pose also relaxes the neck and shoulders and can alleviate neck and back pain and tension. Doing this pose will help center your mind and subdue busy thoughts that make it difficult to relax at the end of a long day of work.
3. Side twist (Bharadvajasana I).
For those who sit at a desk all day, this pose is great for re-aligning the spine, neck and lower back while stretching out the hips and improving circulation throughout the digestive system. For those who suffer from lower back and neck pain as well as sciatica, the simple side twist is great to do on each side for 10-15 seconds while breathing deeply through the nose.
4. Cat pose (Marjaryasana).
This gentle, simple poses is done alternately with cow pose and with a steady inhale and exhale through the nose, to help re-align the hips and lower back while stretching out the neck and spine
5. Cow pose (Bitilasana).
This pose is done alternately with cat pose. Relaxing and restorative, these poses are great to do in combination before bed or after a good workout.
Photo credit: iStock