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Top 10 Yoga Poses to Relieve Stress

Updated on March 28, 2014

Yoga and Stress

Stress has become a major buzz word in wellness, and for good reason. It seems that study after study shows us that stress is the root of almost every current ailment, and stressors in our lives continue to persist. How does one live in the world while maintaining mental and physical health? Learning how to manage and release stress is the key, and through its focus on breath and the body, yoga is a powerful tool.

Most modern yogis will cite release of stress as one of the top reasons they love their practice. Try these ten poses, either all together in a sequence, or individually as needed. Many can be adapted to fit into your work day!

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1) Easy Pose (Sukhasana)

Getting into it:

  • Sit cross legged, ideally on a cushion or yoga block to help tip your hips forward and protect your lower spine.
  • Lengthen through your spine and place your hands on your legs, wherever comfortable.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath - feel your belly expand and contract.

Duration: 1-5 minutes.

This is referred to as easy pose for a reason - it seems that there isn't all that much to it. This is your opportunity to transition from the activity of your day to your practice and begin to release the stresses that plague you, through the simple act of sitting and focusing on your breathing.

It can be beneficial to use visualizations. Imagine your breath pouring into your torso, like water into a pitcher. Imagine your breath moving in and out of every pore on your skin. Imagine your spine growing tall and strong, while all the rest of your skin and muscles melt and release down into the ground.

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2) Cat/Cow

Now let's get the breath and body moving together with cat/cow. Technically two poses, done together in flow with the breath, cat/cow stretches and contracts the spine, releases the mind, and helps let go of stress held in the neck.

Getting into it:

  • Move onto your hands and knees with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips.
  • Inhale and let your belly drop down, lifting your head, so that your body looks like a banana or a hammock.
  • Exhale and use your abdominal muscles to arch your body up and drop your head, stretching from your sacrum around to the top of your head.
  • Inhale, drop back down. Follow your own breath, moving slowly and gracefully between cat and cow.

Duration: 5-10 sets.

3) Melting Heart Pose (Uttana Shishosana)

We hold a lot of stress along the spine and neck, and melting heart pose (also known as extended puppy pose) is a fantastic opportunity to safely stretch and release those areas.

Getting into it:

  • From your hands and knees, walk your hands forward slightly until your body is stretch forward.
  • Angle your body forward and extend your tailbone up towards the ceiling - like a downward dog with your knees on the ground, or a child's pose with your bum in the air.
  • Place your forehead on the ground, or look forward and place your chin on the ground, adding a stretch to the front of your neck.
  • Draw your shoulders down your back and let your heart release towards the ground.

Duration: 5-15 full breaths

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4) Child's Pose (Balasana)

Everyone's favourite relaxation pose, this provides a gentle stretch to your hips and spine while allowing you to completely release tension and focus on your breath.

Getting into it:

  • Come to a comfortable kneeling position.
  • Walk your hands forward until your forehead is resting on the ground.
  • Release and breathe.

Duration: as long as you like.

Focus on your breath and allow all your muscles to release. It can be nice to visualize a bubble around your body, like you are enclosed in your own little world. Allow your thoughts and tensions to melt into the mat.

If getting your forehead on the ground feels like a challenge, you can use a block, book, or your hands to support your head. If sitting back on your feet is too difficult on your hips, place a block, cushion, or folded blanket on your feet for extra support.


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5) Wide-Angle Seated Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana)

Upavistha Konasana stretches your inner thighs, hamstrings, and back. Like all forward folds, it also provides an opportunity for "cocooning" in on yourself, a great way to relieve stress.

Getting into it:

  • Sit on the ground, on a block or cushion if needed.
  • Stretch your legs out to the sides, as far open as you are able to while keeping your knees pointed straight up and your lower spine tall and long without pain.
  • Extend your body forward, keeping your back long and strong as far as you are able.
  • After a few breaths, release your head towards the ground, rounding your back and letting your neck go.

Duration: 5-20 breaths.

Notice the two different qualities to the stretch when you keep your spine long and straight versus rounding your back and releasing your head.

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6) Fire Log Pose (Agnistambhasana)

This is a bit more of a challenging pose, especially if you have tight hips, but allows for release of a lot of tension, stress, and emotions held in your hips. This one might feel a bit more stressful while you're practicing it, but it feels like gold when you release out of it.

Getting into it:

  • Sit tall, ideally on a block, cushion, or folded blanket to elevate your hips and lengthen your lower spine.
  • Start in a cross-legged position and then simply take your right ankle and place it on top of your left knee.
  • Adjust your legs so that your shins are stacked one on top of the other and your legs form a triangle in front of you.
  • If your top knee feels like it's flying really high, that's okay - you can support it with a blanket or block if it feels good.
  • If this is way too intense for you, try extending your bottom leg so it's straight out in front of you. You'll get more of a stretch in the back of your extended leg and it will release some of the pressure on your hips.
  • Sit nice and tall to start, and then tip your body forward as much as is comfortable before releasing your head to curve your back into a forward bend.
  • Breathe!

Duration: 5-10 breaths.

When you're getting out of the pose it can be a little intense. Try leaning back and slowly stretching your legs out. It can help to move your knees side to side like windshield wipers to release the pose.

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7) Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Bridge pose stretches out the front of your body, elevates the heart, and reverses the day-to-day forward bend we do with our spines.

Getting into it:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet as close to your bum as you can get them. (Your legs should be parallel from the hips with knees pointing straight up to the sky.)
  • Allow there to be the natural curve in your spine, specifically your lower back and neck (there should be space underneath them, don't push them into the ground.)
  • Bend your arms so that your fingers are pointing up to the sky with your elbows pushed firmly into the ground.
  • Push into your feet, elbows, and the back of your head into the ground, lifting your hips into the air.
  • You may extend your arms at your sides and clasp your hands under your body if you like.

Duration: 5-10 breaths.

Prevent injury by making sure that your neck is not pressed down into the mat (keep the natural curve), and your head is looking straight up to prevent possible injury (no looking side to side!)

Imagine your body is a suspension bridge - press into your feet, arms, and head as the pressure points and let your body suspend weightlessly between these points.

This pose is a bit more work, and by contracting your muscles while stretching you can release more of the stress held within.

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8) Legs Up the Wall

Legs Up the Wall is a lovely restorative and restful pose. It elevates your legs providing an opportunity for partial renewal of your lymph system (the heart must be elevated as well for the full effect, like in shoulder stand below).

Getting into it:

  • Lie on your side in a fetal position with your bum against a wall.
  • Roll over onto your back and extend your legs up the wall.
  • If you need to, shuffle in so you're right up against the wall.

Duration: 1-10 minutes (or as long as you want!)

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9) Shoulder Stand

Shoulder stand elevates your heart, lowers your blood pressure, relaxes your mind, and provides an opportunity for your lymph system to regenerate. The full benefits of the pose are achieved after a longer period of time (around five minutes), but a little can still go a long way, and you can do variations as you work up to that time.

Getting into it:

  • Start near a wall to give yourself support in various stages of the pose. Get into Legs Up the Wall to start.
  • Walk your feet up the wall, raising your hips up into the air until your body forms an angle against the wall, supporting your hips with your hands.
  • If it feels like enough work there, do an assisted shoulder stand with your legs on the wall.
  • If you want to continue, simply push your legs off the wall until your body is upright, supporting your hips with your hands.

Duration: 10 breaths - 5 minutes

If you've done shoulder stand before, feel free to enter the pose without the support of the wall to start, however, if you'd like to hold the pose for the full five minutes I recommend doing so near a wall so that you are able to use its support if needed throughout the pose.

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10) Savasana

Savasana is the ultimate resting pose. It is often referred to as the easiest pose to do and the hardest pose to master, because physically you just lie there, but psychologically you're doing a lot more. Or should I say, attempting to do a lot less. In savasana you release everything - every muscle in your body and every thought in your mind.

Getting into it:

  • Lie down on your back with your arms at your sides, palms up.
  • Let your legs fall open and let go of every muscle in your body, allowing the ground to hold you up.
  • Feel free to use a blanket, socks, or anything else to keep you warm and cozy throughout.

Duration: 5-10 minutes.

It's a great idea to set timer for this one (or any other pose you want to hold for a few minutes or more), so that you don't have a part of your brain trying to keep track of the time.

Don't worry about whether or not your mind wanders or you start getting caught up in a thought. The practice of savasana is letting go, so if you realize that you're holding on to anything - a thought, a feeling, or even some muscles, draw your attention to your breath and let it go.

When coming back out of savasana, do it slowly and don't force yourself to sit up right away. Roll onto your side and then gently push yourself into a seated position.

© 2013 Andrea

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    • profile image

      Alison 22 months ago

      thank you for this information! I found a great youtube channel, which posts videos with yoga music to improve relaxation. It´s really cool, here´s a link, if you´re interested :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1GJbi2CR_U

    • andreajoy profile image
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      Andrea 3 years ago from Canada

      jpcmc - Do give it a try to let me know how it goes! There are so many benefits to the practice.

      Jean - So sorry to hear that, but meditation is at the core of it all. That's where yoga began and what it's all about!

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 3 years ago from New Jersey

      I'm not able to do a lot of yoga poses, as I have scoliosis and my range of motion is limited. But I do meditate, and find it very relaxing! Thanks for a very thorough article!

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      My wife introduced me to yoga even before we got married. It's been a while but it brings back memories. It's time for me to get into this habit again.