Feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or anxious? We could all benefit from a little more rest and relaxation in our lives. Yoga can provide the perfect opportunity to wind down, release tension, still your mind and focus on your breath.
Why does yoga help you relax?
Do you ever wonder why you leave a yoga class feeling more at peace, less stressed, and perhaps a little more upbeat?
Research has consistently shown that yoga may help to support mental health by reducing stress and elevating mood.
On a scientific level, yoga and mindful breathing can help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, also often referred to as the body's “rest and digest” state.
When your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, signals are sent throughout the body, triggering a state of relaxation - your heart rate slows down, your muscles feel less tense, and your breathing is calmer and deeper. Yes, please!
Keep on reading to discover the best yoga poses for relaxation and stress relief!
1. Child's pose (Balasana)
Child's pose is a comforting, nurturing yoga pose that is reminiscent of the fetal position. It's often referred to as the “home base” for any yoga practice.
This relaxing yoga pose helps to rest and calm the body and provides a gentle stretch for your hips, back, and thighs.
Here's how to perform this easy pose:
Kneel on your yoga mat with your knees and feet together, sitting on your heels.
Reach your hands forward out to the mat in front of you.
Slowly lower your forehead to the floor.
- Take slow, deep breaths allowing your entire body to relax.
2. Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
One of the most well-known yoga poses, downward facing dog, elevates the heart above the head, improving circulation naturally with the help of gravity.
It also helps stretch out the back and neck, relieving tension, anxiety, and nervous energy.
This inverted pose provides the perfect opportunity to focus on a deeper stretch in the back of the hamstrings, helping to take your mind away from the worries of the day.
Here's how to perform this restorative yoga pose:
Start from a standing position and take a forward bend, placing your palms firmly on the ground about shoulder-width apart.
Take a few steps back, adjusting your feet to ensure they are hip-width apart.
Your body should resemble an upside-down “V” shape.
Make sure your upper body and back are straight, not curved, and that your arms are fully extended and not bent.
- Hold for 3-5 breaths and then walk your feet up to your hands and roll yourself up to standing.
3. Spinal twists (Supta matsyendrasana)
There's nothing quite like a spinal twist to wring out all the tensions, worries, and anxiety residing within your body.
This yoga sequence is also sometimes known as a supine twist, and you should feel a deep satisfying twist in your spine.
Try out this relaxing pose using these instructions:
Lie down on your back on a yoga mat.
Extend your arms outwards from your shoulders, placing your left hand and your right hand onto the floor.
Now bring both your left and right knee up to your chest and drop them to your right side as you turn your head to the left, focusing on keeping both shoulders firmly on the floor.
Allow yourself to relax and hold this pose for 3-5 breaths.
- Now, bring your knees and your head back to the center and repeat this yoga sequence on the other side.
4. Legs up the wall (Viparita karani)
Placing your legs up the wall is a restorative yoga pose that allows the mind and body to sink into relaxation. This posture can quickly settle the nervous system, moving you out of the "fight or flight" response.
Here's how to do this simple yet effective pose:
Move your hips as close to the wall as possible.
Lean back onto your elbows and lower yourself onto your back.
Reach your left and right leg up onto the wall, resting your heels against the wall, squaring your hips.
Spend a few minutes here, taking some deep breaths.
- Exhale out all the worries that are on your mind.
5. Reclined bound angle pose (Supta baddha konasana)
This is the perfect yoga pose to relax, open your heart center and get a gentle stretch. You can even practice some breathwork in this position, such as the 4-7-8 technique (breathe in for 4, hold for 7, and breathe out for 8).
Here’s how you can practice this calming pose:
Lay flat on your back on a yoga mat.
Bend both of your knees, dropping them to the side with the soles of your feet touching to make a diamond shape.
- Place one palm on your heart and the other on your belly as you slowly inhale deeply into your lower abdomen, activating your parasympathetic nervous system.