In my workshops on Yoga for Stress, I usually ask people to name their favourite poses for stress release. There are definitely firm favourites. For example, forward folds such as Child's Pose (balasana), Seated Butterfly (baddha konasana yin style), and Seated Forward Fold (paschimottanasana) generally seem to have a calming and grounding effect. They offer an opportunity to curl up, focus inside, and connect with ourselves. Also, in a forward fold position we can feel the movement of our breath and this comforting sensation helps us calm down and let go.
Some people name poses, which release tightness in certain areas in the body that are affected by stress. An example here would be Puppy Pose (uttana shishosana) to stretch the front of the shoulders and upper body. Then there are surprising poses such as Crescent Moon Pose (anjaneyasana) and Camel Pose (ustrasana). These poses are backbends and actually require a lot of effort, but can still be stress-releasing. Maybe this is because they often lead to a shift in energy: From stagnant to active, from downwards to upwards, from collapsing to extending.
Last but certainly not least, twists are firm favourites for stress release, too. Whether that is a supine twist, seated twist, lunge twist, standing twist, kneeling twist: A twist a day sends the stress away.
Top 10 poses for stress release
Here is a list of stress-releasing poses suitable for beginners and regular yoga practicioners alike. If practiced in this order, you have a nice, flowing full-body practice which you might like to finish with 5 minutes of relaxation in Corpse Pose (savasana), a meditation or with listening to a favourite piece of music.
Child's Pose (balasana)
Thread-the-Needle Pose (parsva balasana)
Puppy Pose (uttana shishosana)
Downward Facing Dog Pose (adho mukkha svanasana)
Supported Camel Pose (ustrasana)
Crescent Moon Pose (anjaneyasana)
Triangle Pose (utthita trikonasana)
Standing Wide Angle Pose (prasarita padottanasana)
Seated Butterfly (baddha konasana Yin-style)
Legs-up-the-Wall Pose (viparita karani)
More than poses
There is more to stress management than practicing poses, of course. NHS recommendations for reducing stress levels include:
Exercise (and yes, yoga counts as exercise)
Connect with others
Set yourself goals and challenges
Avoid unhealthy habits and coping strategies
Manage your time well
Practice positive thinking
Stress counselling looks at the role of our thought processes. Our thoughts – expectations, assumptions, and judgements – shape the way we experience a situation and contribute considerably to our emotional and mental health. When we cannot do anything practical about the problems we are facing, changing our way of thinking can make a big difference.
How yoga can help you manage stress better
The word ‘yoga’ derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘yoke’ – to join. Practicing yoga brings together body, mind, and heart. Yoga offers a framework for spiritual guidance as well as physical exercise, breathing, relaxation techniques, and meditation. It is therefore not surprising that research into the lifestyle effects of yoga has shown that yoga practitioners smoke less, eat more fruit and vegetables, sleep better, report greater interpersonal relationships and have fewer physical and mental health problems.
Yoga is effective for overcoming stress problems because it has many physical benefits as well as boosting the mood, teaching mindfulness, offering a broader view on life, and encouraging a healthy dose of self-compassion. One of the main concepts of yoga is to be non-judgemental towards ourselves and others. This is a powerful attitude as much of our stress can come from being too harsh on ourselves and too intolerant towards others.
A great way to harness the magic of yoga is a home practice. This does not have to be an extensive yoga session of 1 - 2 hours. Instead, try focussed daily practices, about 15 minutes long. If you are unsure about this concept, try my 12 Days of Yoga programme, which will provide you with 12 short pre-recorded yoga sessions as well as motivational emails and inspirational quotes to help you stay healthy, balanced, calm, and relaxed.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. (Chinese Proverb)