The other day I was walking down a main street in San Francisco and ran across a sign outside a fitness studio that said this: “no pain. no champagne”. I’m pretty sure my eyes almost rolled out of my head. A few blocks later I came across another sign in the window of another fitness studio challenging people to not wait until the new year to kickstart their weight-loss goals. At that point my neck almost rolled off my shoulders.
I’ve spent the last several years committed to following and interacting in a body positive space. I engage with people who support my belief that your weight is a) not the most important thing about you and b) your weight is not any kind of indicator of your health. So I find it very jarring when I come across messaging that challenges this belief. It certainly doesn’t change my mind…but I do end up with a strained neck and eyes!
Fitness is not a weight-loss tool in my life. I am likely bigger than I’ve ever been in my life (I don’t own a scale) but I’m also stronger, more secure, more confident and happier than I’ve ever been. The things that I would have to do to manipulate my weight are not worthy sacrifices in my life. I use fitness as a means to manage my stress levels and simply because it’s fun. The choices I make with my diet have more to do with my health and the health of the planet than how many calories/carbs/fat is in something. Yoga especially is more than just a way for me to move my body. It’s connected me to the most incredible community, helped to guide me through some important decisions and helped me manage a very stressful year.
So when Stonyfield and I began discussing our December content we decided that the best way to use this platform was to remind you to make time for YOU this holiday season (and every other day too!). Even if it’s a simple 5 minute yoga sequence, managing your stress is one of the best things you can do for yourself. This is the sequence I do when I just need to feel grounded, catch my breath and remind myself that all things in life will pass- both the good, but especially the bad. Here are 8 Yoga Poses for Stress Relief…
What it is: One of the keys to a mindful yoga flow is beginning the practice by assessing where you are at and building the mind-body connecting. Breath work does just this. And yes, it’s as simple as it sounds, you focus on your breath.
Start by sitting up tall, or laying down on your back. Close your eyes and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Take a deep breath in and then exhale everything through your mouth. Repeat x 3. Then breathe in for 3, hold at the top and then exhale to 4. Repeat x 10 or until you feel grounded. Place the emphasis on the exhale.
How it helps with stress: Slowing your breath down calms your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode) and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Emphasis on the exhale helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite is true of inhalation) which is why you focus your breath on the exhale.
Helpful tip: Try incorporating a mantra as you breathe. I like to say (to myself) “I invite in” on the inhale and “I release” on the exhale.
What it is: One of the classic resting postures, child’s pose is key feeling grounded in a yoga practice. On bent knees simply fold over with your arms in front of you laying flat on the floor. Sit back on your heels. Release your shoulders so they aren’t at your ears. Breathe for 10 breaths.
How it helps with stress: Child’s pose helps to calm the mind and releases tension from the neck and shoulders.
Helpful tips: Place a pillow or two underneath your belly to make this posture more restorative.
What it is: Come onto all fours. Plant your shins and palms firm into the mat with all 10 fingers spread wide. Keep your knees at a 45 degree angle and your shoulders over your hands. Inhale and begin placing a curve in your back bringing your navel to the earth and your heart open in front of you (cow). On an exhale reverse the movement bringing an arch into your your spine pulling the center of your spine up to the ceiling (cat). Repeat x 3 or as desired.
How it helps with stress: Provides a gentle massage of the spine while also helping to relax the neck and shoulders.
Helpful tips: If you have any pain in your knees place a blanket underneath them.
Standing Forward Fold
What it is: Forward fold is pretty straight-forward and accessible to most people. Start by standing hips distance apart and slowly roll down folding at your hips or if coming from cat/cow push up on your heels and walk your hands to your feet. Keep your knees as bent as you need and clasp opposite elbows to release the neck. Pull your heart towards your thighs and breathe for 10 breaths. Slowly release and roll up or walk forward into downward facing dog.
How it helps stress: stretches hamstrings and releases tension in lower back. Can also help reduce blood pressure but be cautious coming in and out.
Helpful tips: The goal is not straight legs, but a straight spine pulling towards your thighs. This can also be done seated if preferred.
Downward Facing Dog
What it is: From hands and knees lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Push the tops of the thighs back and stretch your heels toward the floor. Straighten your knees but don’t lock them. Pull your shoulder blades down your back and spread all 10 fingers in the earth. Breathe!
How it helps with stress: Stress can often be associated with back pain. Down dog stretches the entire length of the back helping to relieve tension associate with back pain.
Helpful tips: If you’re having wrist pain come down onto forearms. Drop down to your knees at any point.
Low Lunge (both legs)
What it is: From all fours or down dog step one leg between your hands, keeping a 90 degree angle at your knee. Lower your back leg down to the earth. As you continue to breathe deeply, soften the weight of your body down into your hips, and draw your tailbone down toward the ground. Stay here for three breaths. Push back into downward facing dog and step through with the opposite foot. Repeat other side.
How it helps with stress: I don’t know about you but I carry all my stress in my hips. Oftentimes we’re stressed out by work where we’re sitting all day. It’s only natural we hold tension in our hip flexors. A gentle low lunge can help release the tension in addition to stretching out the quads.
Helpful tips: place a blanket under your knees if you have any knee pain. For an advanced posture reach hands toward the sky.
Repeat child’s pose –> forward fold –> downward dog –> low lunge x 3
What it is: The ultimate relaxation pose! Many people associate savasana with sleep which can absolutely be true, but the special thing about savasana is that it’s one of the few postures where our muscles are 100% relaxed (including our mind) which is untrue of sleep where our muscles are actually still working!
How it helps stress: When was the last time you intentionally allowed yourself to relax without any kind of distraction? Probably not as often as you’d like. This is your chance.
Helpful tips: Get yourself as cozy as possible so you can relax entirely into the posture.
Pin this or download it to your phone the next time you’re having tummy trouble or you need some additional help with getting a restful night’s sleep.
Huge thank you to Stonyfield for teaming up with me on this yoga for stress relief sequence. Both Stonyfield and I want you to have a stress-free holiday season and hope this 5 minute flow can give you the permission that you need to make time for yourself. As always, I can’t encourage you enough to reach for Stonyfield yogurt at your grocery store. Not only is their organic yogurt top quality, but the team is committed to leaving a positive impact on the planet and their community. Here are a few holiday recipes to incorporate them:
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Stonyfield. I was compensated for my time, however all opinions expressed are 100% my own. I’m so excited for our partnership and appreciate all your support for THM.
How do you manage your stress? Feel free to drop some tips below!
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