Stress… We are all familiar with it, but did you know that not all stress is bad.
Stress enables our body to react fast and efficiently to challenging situations. As something stresses us, our body moves into fight-flight-freeze mode and enables us deal swiftly with whatever is in front of us.
Think of a near-miss as you are driving home or a conversation at work when you need to make you point.
Or an approaching deadline.
In these circumstances, stress will help you react quickly and efficient; and will also give you the extra stamina and motivation to do the job.
Without stress and the fast and furious way of our body to react, there would be a lot more accidents, missed deadlines and frustration as you didn’t manage to make your point.
Stress becomes a problem when it lasts for a long period of time.
Our body is geared for short bursts of stress to get over a challenging situation. Once that situation has been resolved, our body wants to relax.
You have probably experienced the intense tiredness after a heated conversation with somebody or after you have nearly avoided a car crash.
This tiredness is your body wanting to switch off the stress response and take some time to recuperate.
Unfortunately, our busy lifestyles tend to present us with many stress-inducing situations, but very little occasions to let it fade away.
Results of long-term stress are many: anxiety, depression, high-blood pressure and a weakened immune system to name a few.
Signs of stress
Fortunately for us, our body sends us clear signals when there is too much stress. It is up to us to recognise them:
- Body aches
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Catching coughs and colds regularly
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night and finding it hard to fall back to sleep
- Change in appetite
If you start noticing some of these signs of increased stress in your body, it is time to start doing something about it before it becomes more serious.
Yoga is a great stress reliever, and some yoga poses are particularly good at helping us release the stress from our body and mind.
Top 5 stress-busting poses
This posture is amazing at releasing blockages anywhere along your spine. It promotes a sense of positivity and wellbeing and can also be very meditative when you focus on timing the movements to your breath.
As it releases the blockages in your spine, this posture will let your energy flow freely.
You can perform it on your hands and knees; or standing with your knees bent and your hands resting on your thighs.
Start with your back in a neutral position, in other words, not curved either work.
Engage your core muscles on an outbreath.
As you breathe in, lengthen your back from the tailbone all the way into your neck. As you next breathe out, round the spine from the tailbone into the neck.
Keep this flowing movement going, making sure that you start each wave from the base of your spine.
Visualisation to support it: As you focus on the movement of your spine, you might want to visualise a river of golden light running up your spine with each spinal wave.
Affirmation to support the pose: I flow with life.
Lying down twist
Twists are excellent at releasing tension from the lower back, helping you feel more in tune with your body and your emotions.
Start lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat against the mat. Take your arms out at shoulder height with your palms facing up.
As you breathe out, take your knees over to the right side and, if it is comfortable for your neck, turn your head to look in the opposite direction.
On an inbreath, take your knees and your head to the centre. As you next breathe out, take the knees over to the left and turn your head to look along the right arm.
You might want to experiment with the pose.
You have the choice between staying in the twist for a little while and using the outbreath to relax into it more deeply, or you might want to move from side to side with your breath.
Affirmation: I relax. I am grounded.
Sitting forward bend
The sitting forward bend is such an amazing pose for letting go. It also helps you release fear and anxiety and amplify your courage and inner strength.
Before getting into this pose, you might want to stretch your hamstrings (back of your thighs). For this, lie on your back and stretch your right leg up in the air. Get hold of the back of your thigh or the back of your calf and pull it gently towards you until you feel a stretch at the back of your thigh. Repeat on the other side.
For the actual pose, start by sitting with your legs out in front of you and your feet pointing up. Make sure you sit with a nice tall back and that your sitting bones are pressing against the mat. Have your hands resting on your lap, palms facing up.
Breathe in and stretch your spine up, taking your hands to the level of your heart with the palms facing you. As you breathe out, start stretching forward over your legs from the base of the spine.
On your next inbreath, scan the outside of your legs with your hands and take them back in front of your heart. Make sure you lengthen the spine as you come up.
Repeat this movement with your breath. Breathing out to move forward and breathing in to come back up and lengthen the spine.
As you breathe out and move forward, feel yourself letting go of any stress and tension.
Breathe in a sense of peace and calm.
Affirmation: Outbreath: I let go. Inbreath: I am calm. I am relaxed.
Standing forward bend
Easier to do when you have a few moments and without unrolling your yoga mat, the standing forward bend has the same benefits of helping you let go of stress and tension. It is the perfect pose to calm an anxious mind.
Start in your mountain pose, with your feet hip width apart and crown of the head pointing directly to the sky.
Place your palms on your thighs. Breathe out to engage your core muscles. As you breathe in, lengthen the spine. On your next outbreath, start bending forward from the hips, let your hands slide down your thighs and pause with your hands at the level of your knees and your back parallel to the floor.
Breathe in here and as you breathe out, fold forward into your lowest comfortable forward bend.
Allow your arms, hands, neck and head to hang down. Stay in this position for a few minutes and focus on relaxing and letting go with each outbreath.
To come out of the pose, start by breathing out to engage your core muscles. Bend the knees and as you breathe in, uncurl back to standing. Take your time as you come back up.
Affirmation: The more I let go, the stronger I feel.
The crocodile pose is a relaxation pose. It is perfect to fit in when you have a few minutes (2 minutes is enough) at some point in your day. It enables you to completely let go and to surrender to being held by the earth beneath you.
In order to preserve our energy levels, and bolster our resistance to stress, you would ideally want to take some time every day to completely relax.
Start by lying down on your abdomen. Have your feet at least as wide as your mat, with your heels rolling in. Bend your arms and place your hands on top of each other. Rest your forehead – or your cheek – on your hands.
Take your awareness to your breath. Feel your abdomen expand as you breathe in and relax as you breathe out.
Stay there for as long as you feel comfortable.
Allow yourself to relax and let go a bit more with each outbreath.
Affirmation: I am supported.
I have tried and tested these 5 poses in a variety of stressful times in my life and they have never disappointed me.
To learn another 3 techniques I have used again and again to manage my stress and anxiety, click on the link below: