You may or may not have heard, but stress isn’t good for us. Sure maybe it makes us more productive or work a little faster but it can also be extremely detrimental to our health. Even worse, it can keep us from getting a restful night sleep. Speaking as someone who needs a solid 8 hours to even closely resemble a human the next morning, I simply cannot afford to lose a few hours of rest due to stress. Of course there are plenty of other reasons for not getting enough sleep, maybe your back is bothering you, maybe your dog is taking up half the bed or maybe your significant others snoring is so loud that you can’t catch some zzz’s. I’m happy to report that the first of those I can help with. The other two, not so much, but I’m sure there is another blog out there somewhere that can offer some guidance. I’ll lay out some simple yoga asanas, postures, that help ward of stress and allow you get a restful night sleep.
Stress can seem to come from anywhere at anytime and unless you have developed a personalized skill set to cope with stress, it can negatively affect your immune system and your physical and emotional well being. The first thing to start to do when you feel stress creep into your body is to breath deeply. For a resting breath, on average, we only use about 8-10 percent of our total lung volume. When we exercise that number can increase to around 17 percent and a full inhale and exhale with only use about 75-80 percent of our total lung volume. Slowing down the breath and trying to focus on expanding the rib cage in 3 dimensions (top/bottom, front/back and side/side) can be an excellent first step to reduce stress.
Cat and Cow- many yogis already know these poses as a classic way to warm up the spine for a yoga class. These poses are used frequently for good reason, they help ground and center the body while relaxing the spinal muscles. Matching an inhale to cow position and an exhale to cat position starts to unify the breath with the body, letting the two work together instead of in opposition of eachother.
Inversions- Now before we get crazy with this one, inversion just means any pose that places the hips above the heart. Sure you could drop down into flying pigeon or fallen angel pose but if you haven’t warmed up the body properly before doing these asanas, chances are a pulled hamstring will only add to your stress not help you relieve it. If you practice crow this can be a great balancing inversion. This isn’t a resting pose, the body and the mind have to coordinate, but the idea here is to distract the mind with a task for the body. If you don’t feel like doing crow just pop into a downward facing dog or a forward fold. Here, the hips are still higher than the heart. We are passively sending freshly oxygenated blood straight to the brain and flipping our perspective. Make sure to always come slowly out of an inversion, but maybe when you release you’ll find a fresh solution to the problem that was plaguing you, or you’ll find it really wasn’t much of a problem at all.
Now for those of you working at jobs that might not be conducive to flipping onto your hands in the middle of your office floor, there are still some things you can do with minimal physical movement to relieve stress. Return back to the deep breathing that I mentioned earlier in the post. We can take this deep breath one step further by focusing on matching the length of the inhales with the length of the exhales. Count how many seconds a full, deep inhalation takes you, and then count your exhale. Trying to match these two can distract the mind from the millions of tasks it has to do all the time and reground your thinking. Maybe once the inhales and exhales are even in length you can start to find some noise through the back of the throat, your ujjayi pranayama or oceanic breath. Here is a small list of the benefits of ujjayi: increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, relieves tension, regulates blood pressure, detoxifies the mind and can increase feelings of presence/self awareness. Casual.
Eye massage- Okay, so this one isn’t technically an asana but it does feel pretty damn good. Close the eyes, and press the pointer fingers between the eyebrows. Now maintaining pressure against the forehead, drag your pointer fingers across the eyebrows all the way to the temples. Repeat as needed.
Now de-stressed, happy, and relaxed continue on your with your day returning to these poses whenever needed. Repeating these postures or massages right before bed is a great habit to get into. Not only will it increase your chances of a restful night sleep but it will also help you break the habit or checking your phone while laying in bed. Instead of scrolling through instagram, why not close the eyes take some ujjayi breaths and massage the eyebrows. Now if these poses don’t immediately reduce or clear your stress don’t worry. Stress after all is part of our evolutionary success story, it helped us to evade sabertooth tigers, and outsmart the wolves. It’s just important to not let the body live in a constant state of stress. Find the balance for yourself, and let the stress melt away.