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6 Calming Yoga Poses for Stress Relief

Stress is a killer! You’ve heard this saying over and over again, but how does it get to the point that stress affects you so much that it causes health issues and controls so many areas of your life?


This is the question I'll try to answer for you today, as well as give some easily accessible solutions if you find that you are feeling overwhelmed with your current levels of stress.




There are so many forms of stress that you carry around daily and perhaps you don’t even realise. According to the NHS website, if you are stressed or on the verge of burnout you may:

  • Feel overwhelmed

  • Have racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating

  • Be irritable

  • Feel constantly worried, anxious or scared

  • Feel a lack of self-confidence

  • Have trouble sleeping or feel tired all the time

  • Avoid things or people you have problems with

  • Be eating more or less than usual

  • Drink or smoke more than usual


I don’t know about you but when I read this list, it made me feel even more stressed at the idea that these are signs of stress and I deal with at least 4 of these “symptoms of stress” daily.


So here is what I'll cover in this months blog:



What causes you stress?

Just like everything else in life, stress shows up differently in each individual, and what causes you stress might not be the case for someone else.


There are many factors that could account for your resilience towards stress and how you react to it at different stages of your day, week, or life in general.


Some possible causes of stress are:

  • Life experience and general upbringing

  • Challenges in your personal life

  • Big or unexpected life changes (moving house, having a baby or caring for someone)

  • Financial difficulties

  • Health issues of you or someone close to you

  • Issues with security and basic needs like housing

  • A difficult working environment

  • Feeling lonely or unsupported


When you get stressed out, you disconnect from your physical body. It’s the way that your body and mind protect you from discomfort. This is why you may find yourself subconsciously distracting yourself when you experience uncomfortable emotions.



You may experience this in the form of endless social media scrolling, watching excess amounts of TV, eating when you’re not hungry, or tiding the space around you over and over again.



 

Eliza’s quick tip:

Here is my little tip for when this happens to you; firstly, notice that this is happening, this is probably the hardest part, especially if this has become a part of your natural state. With some awareness, eventually the time it takes you to acknowledge this distraction energy will become shorter and shorter.


Once you've brought your attention to your distraction behaviour, pause, stop what you’re doing, and notice where you feel discomfort in your body. It’s natural for this to be uncomfortable and for you to want to avoid it. Once you notice where you feel the discomfort, focus on your breath. Consciously send your breath to that space in your body.


Continue to consciously breath naturally into that part of your body. Notice if this makes you feel better, worse or the same. This is a great way to get to know yourself better, why you react the way you do to certain circumstances, and how you can empower yourself to work through your own discomfort without the need for external validation or support.


After this mindfulness exercise, notice how you feel and perhaps write down a few sentences or words about what came up for you in this moment. Repeat this process whenever you catch yourself in your distraction energy.

 


How does stress affect your physical body?


When you're stressed your body releases the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, these hormones reduce your body’s immunity, digestive function and sleep patterns.


When your body is unable to rest and digest the events and nutrition from your day you start to develop unease in your body that might show up in the form of mood swings, digestion difficulties and physical pain, to name a few.




Yoga can help to soothe persistent pain. Pain is not only a physical sensation, but also a full body experience. When you feel pain, your nerve pathways send signals to a variety of areas of your brain, namely, the limbic system (aka emotional centre) and the thalamus (to evaluate the pain). This is how physical pain sensations get linked to thoughts and emotions.


As time passes, trauma, accidents, illness, and stress can create muscle tension that can lead to postural changes, which can lead to limited breathing patterns, this is your body’s protective response kicking in.



"Over time, your nervous system response to pain becomes heightened and this creates persistent pain experiences..."



I see this all the time with students who are protective of their injuries, and for good reason, as they are in pain. During a Yin or Restorative yoga class, students are invited to relax and let go, sometimes the pain is reduced as your body and mind are at ease, safe and your nervous system is calm.


Over time, your nervous system response to pain becomes heightened and this creates persistent pain experiences such as lower back pain or neck aches, these are the most common pain complaints that I’ve heard.




How does yoga reduce stress?


There have been a number of studies over the past few decades with regards to the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practices. MBSR is a healing approach that combines meditation and yoga.


The studies have shown improvements in:

  • Blood pressure and heart rate

  • Fight or flight stress response

  • Activating the rest and digest response

  • Digestion

  • Inflammation

  • Immunity


Physically, you might find that your muscles are sore after a yoga class; especially those muscles that don’t tend to get a lot of attention. This sensation allows you to reconnect to your physical body and grounds you.



"Yoga helps to develop body and thought pattern awareness and it's here that you start to learn how to regulate stress..."




Yoga helps to develop body and thought pattern awareness and it's here that you start to learn how to regulate stress and not allow it to be absorbed by your body and mind. Mentally, yoga helps to calm your mind and stay present.





In a restorative or yin yoga class your body in still, the space you practice in is dark, quiet and warm. This is a recipe for deep relaxation and this allows your body and mind to unwind.


Restorative Yoga allows you to feel safe again by calming your nervous system, enhancing your breathing and assisting with your body posture alignment.


Yin Yoga allows you to feel supported, so you don’t have to hold yourself up or control what is happening.


All you need to do is stay present, which in itself is a challenge. However, as you pay attention to your breath and allow it to slow down, you might find that stress begins to evaporate.


Yoga unites your body and mind and promotes peace, relaxation, and reflection. It’s in this reflection that change occurs.


So now that you know how stress affects your body and how yoga can help you to reduce stress, here are some practical poses for you to try at home.



6 calming yoga poses for stress relief


All the poses below have a variety of ways that they can be practiced, so please choose a version that feels good for your body. Read my quick tips for additional information and advise on how to gain deeper layers of relaxation.


Focus on how the poses feel in your body instead of how they look. Focus on feeling supported, and comfortable.


Childs Pose


Believe it or not, child’s pose is an inversion. An inversion is any pose that allows your head to come below your heart. Inversions are great for stress relief as they increase oxygen-rich blood flow to your brain. This regulates neurotransmitters (your bodies chemical messengers) and nourishes brain cells.



a woman wearing green leggings and a sports bra, doing childs pose on a bed with a pillow under her torso
Childs pose in bed


How to do the pose:

  • You can do this pose on the floor or in bed.

  • Kneel and sit on your heels.

  • Bring your knees wide, possibly place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your seat for some extra support.

  • Pile pillows up in between your legs and drape your torso onto them. If it’s uncomfortable to place your forehead on the pillow or you struggle to breathe, alternate placing each cheek on your pillow.

  • Stay in the pose for 4 – 6 minutes and reverse out slowly.



 

Eliza's quick tips:

  • Allow your hips to lower towards your heals with no force.

  • Let your torso be heavy on your pillows to aid deeper relaxation.

  • If you find it tough to relax, breathe deeply into the back of your body. Match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale.

  • Allow your arms to relax alongside your body to find a release in-between your shoulder blades.

 


Childs Pose in a Chair


You can also try this pose in a chair if the floor or bed is not an option for you.


How to do this pose:

  • Place your feet on some blocks or books to bring your knees in line with your hips.

  • Widen your legs and drape your body in between your legs.

  • Allow your head to hang heavy or support your head with a bolster or another chair with a pillow on it.



a woman wearing leopard bring leggings and a black sports bra, seated in a chair with feet resting on  cork blocks.  She is folding forward with her head between her legs and hands resting on the floor
Childs pose in a chair


Forward Folds


Caterpillar (seated forward fold) is a yin yoga pose that allows you to draw your senses inward. This creates a kind of cocooning sensation that emulates a feeling of safety and comfort.


If you ordinarily struggle with this pose in a yoga class, try this one in bed with all your pillows; having your mattress as a foundation makes a big difference to how your body responds to this pose.



Seated forward fold

a woman wearing green leggings and sports bra, seated on a bed with her legs straight and a pillow on her lap.  Her head rests on the pillow as she folds forward.
Seated forward fold


How to do the pose:

  • Sit on the floor or your bed with your legs extended.

  • Start by walking your hips back to find your sit bones. You want it to feel like your pelvis is tilted slightly forward.

  • If you feel a lot of restriction in your hamstrings and back, perhaps place a rolled up blanket or pillow under your knees.

  • Tuck your chin towards your chest and allow your spine to round forward.

  • Support your head with blocks or pillows, what ever you have around.

  • Stay here for 4 - 6 minutes, and slowly reverse out and lie down on your back.



 

Eliza's quick tips:

  • Bring your feet a little wider than your hips and allow them to flop out to the sides to let your legs rest, with a soft bend in your knees.

  • Pile your pillows up in between your legs and let your head and body be as heavy as possible on them.

  • Find a soft bend in your elbows and allow your palms to face towards to the ceiling. This activates a relaxation response in most people, as your hands are one of the areas in your body where you hold tension, no pun intended.

  • Soften your jaw and belly.

  • Come up very slowly and lay down on your back in stillness to allow your body to absorb the benefits of the pose.


 


Standing forward fold

a woman wearing leopard print leggings and a black sports bra doing a standing forward fold.
Standing forward fold


How to do the pose:


Try this one with some movement.


  • Stand with your feet a little wider than your hips.

  • Visualise a ball of light in front of you, this light represents your stress, anxiety, overwhelm, or whatever you would like to release.

  • Hold the ball of light above your head.

  • Take a deep inhale, and as you exhale, bend your knees, fold forward and allow your arms to swoosh in between your legs, imagining that you throw the ball of light away.

  • Do this a 4/5 times and on the final time stay down in forward fold, allow your head to hang heavy and breath naturally.



Crescent Moon


Crescent moon is a gentle side bend that has such a beautiful calming effect on your body and mind as your entire body is supported by the surface that you are lying on.


This is a yin yoga pose that opens the side of your body, and allows for easier respiration as you gain deeper access to your lung capacity. A few students have told me that this is their favorite pose as it helps them to fully relax and let go.



a women wearing green leggings and sports bra, laying on her back on a bed, bending to the side with her arms above her head.
Crescent moon












a women wearing green leggings and sports bra, laying on her back on a bed, bending to the side with her arms above her head.
Crescent moon















How to do the pose:

  • Lie down on your back on the floor or in bed.

  • Bring your legs together.

  • Raise your arms over head and take ahold of opposite elbows.

  • Shift your hips over to the right.

  • Shift your feet, head, and arm to the left.

  • Creating a C shape or banana shape with your body.

  • Once you've found your comfort in the pose, release any gripping that you may be experiencing around your hands, hips and legs.

  • Stay on each side for 4 – 5 minutes and move slowly to the other side.



 

Eliza's quick tips:

  • Allow the full length of your arms to make contact with the surface that you are lying on. If you notice your elbows, for example, are hovering, bring your arms down until they are supported.

  • If you notice any twinging in your lower back, lessen the depth of the pose.

  • Visualise your breath sweeping over your body, from your outer ankle to your outer elbow and back down again. Match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale.

 


Butterfly


Butterfly pose is great for releasing tight hips and when you do this pose in a restorative way, and allow gravity to do the work for you. It’s a little bit kinder on your lower back as your knees are bent so there’s no a lot of push and pull happening between your hamstrings and your lower back.


How to do the pose:

  • Sit on the floor or your bed with your legs extended.

  • Start by walking your hips back to find your sit bones. You want it to feel like your pelvis is tilted slightly forward.

  • If you feel a lot of restriction in your lower back, perhaps place a rolled up blanket or pillow under your seat

  • Bring the soles of your feet together and support your knees with more pillows.

  • Tuck your chin towards your chest and allow your spine to round forward.

  • Support your head with blocks or pillows, whatever you have around.

  • Stay here for 4 - 6 minutes, and slowly reverse out and lie down on your back in reclined butterfly.



a women wearing green leggings and sports bra, seated on a bed.  The soles of her feet together in butterfly pose and her knees out to the side. her head rests on a pillow between her legs
Butterfly pose in bed


 

Eliza's quick tips:

  • Bring your heels a bit further away from your seat to create some space in your body.

  • Place pillows under your knees for added support.

  • Bring the pillows up to meet your head rather than forcing your body down.

  • Bring your arms to the inside of your legs for deeper access into your upper back and to activate a relaxation response.

  • Soften your jaw and belly.

 


Reclined Butterfly


Reclined butterfly can be a very supportive pose for your hips, especially when you place pillows under your knees. With the front of your body exposed, you may find it comforting to cover yourself with a blanket or perhaps place another pillow on your chest, if you haven’t run out of pillows by now, haha!


How to do the pose:

  • Lie down on your back on the floor or in bed.

  • Bring the soles of you feet together.

  • Support your knees with pillows.

  • Rest your hands and arms anywhere that’s comfortable for you.

  • Once you've found your comfort in the pose, release any gripping that you may be experiencing around your hips and legs.

  • Stay in the pose for 4 – 5 minutes and slowly straighten one leg at a time.



a women wearing green leggings and sports bra, laying on a bed.  The soles of her feet together in reclined butterfly pose and her knees out to the side. her hands rest on her belly
Reclines butterfly pose


 

Eliza's quick tips:

  • Spread your arms as wide as is comfortable for you and turn your palms to face towards the ceiling.

  • Allow your legs to be heavy on your pillows.

  • Let your hips and lower back soften.

  • Don’t worry if your feet slide down; allow them to be wherever they land.

 


Legs up the Wall


Legs up the wall is said to be a very calming pose for your heart as gravity sends the blood flow in the opposite direction, so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood through the rest of your body.


If you struggle with swollen ankles, poor circulation or spend a lot of your day standing then this pose can offer you some relief for your legs and lower back.


How to do the pose:

  • Sit with the side of your body next to the wall.

  • Lay down on your side with your glutes up against the wall.

  • Roll onto your back and swing your legs up the wall.

  • Allow your heels to rest against the wall.

  • Stay in the pose for 5 – 10 minutes and reverse out the same way you came in.


a women wearing green leggings and sports bra, laying on a bed., with her legs extended up a wall.
Legs up the wall


 

Eliza's quick tips:

  • Rest your glutes right up against the wall for extra support.

  • Place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your lower back for an extra layer of comfort.

  • Tuck your chin towards your chest to lengthen the back of your neck.

 


What styles of yoga are good for stress reduction?


All yoga is great for stress reduction as the goal of yoga is to connect your body and mind and when this connection is strengthened you become more conscious of your mental and physical state. This could help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed.


I've found that the following styles of yoga are the most effective in allowing you to activate your rest and digest response:


Restorative Yoga


“Restorative Yoga involves holding poses for longer periods of time while being completely supported by props so you can release all muscular effort and relax. As you do so, you remain awake and aware of your breath, and the subtle sensations that arise, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.”


(Restorative Yoga, C. Baginski 2020)


In restorative yoga your body is supported with soft props like bolsters and blankets and the aim is deep relaxation in order to bring your body into its rest and digest response.


Yin Yoga


“Yin Yoga allows us to work the other half, the deeper “yin” tissues of our ligaments, joints, deep fascia networks and even our bones. All of our tissues are important ta need to be exercised so that we can achieve optimal health and vitality.”


(The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, Bernie Clark. 2020)


In Yin Yoga you are holding deep stretches with the support of props for lengthened periods of time. Each pose is countered with a rebound pose allowing your body to absorb the practice and rest.



Yoga Nidra


“Yoga Nidra is systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. The term yoga Nidra is derived from two Sanskrit words, yoga meaning union or one-pointed awareness, and Nidra which means sleep. During the practice of yoga Nidra, one appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness.”


(Yoga Nidra, Swami Satyananda Saraswati. 2012)



“Relax, and the rest will come” Eliza Bella , Room of Rest.



Love and Light

Eliza


xxxx

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