The Anxiety-Easing, Stress-Busting Yoga Sequence You Need Now
When your mind is going a million-miles-an-hour, these yoga moves will bring stress relief in just 10 minutes.
Sometimes, life can feel batshit crazy. From work pressure to laundry pile-ups, tax forms and workouts you forgot to schedule, the to-do list seems never ending. In 2019, Gallop polled over 150,000 people worldwide on their stress levels, and found 55 percent of American adults experienced stress “a lot of the day” compared to the average 35 percent globally, making the U.S. tied for the most stressed-out country in the world. (Greek people, it turns out, have about the same level of stress.) And that was last year! The bottom line—if you’re feeling frazzled, you’re not alone.
What Stress Does to Your Body
When you frequently operate in a high-stress state, your sympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. fight-or-flight mode, gets busy. Your cortisol levels (read: stress hormones) go up and adrenaline (read: hit-the-gas hormones) rises. Stress increases your blood pressure and heart rate, and negatively impacts your sleep, digestion, mental focus and energy. In other words, chronic stress is serious.
“If you don’t slow down, eventually the body forces you to—you’ll get sick, have an accident or simply break down entirely,” says Erica Mather, a certified yoga instructor in New York City. Mather speaks from personal experience: A panic attack on New York’s subway during rush hour was her wake up call. “I knew that was my sign that my body simply couldn't do it anymore,” she says. “I had to make some changes.”
The Beauty of Breath
The trick to breaking the stress cycle, says Mather, is to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the counterpart to fight-or-flight and a system designed to help your body relax. Yoga is one way to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system. According to a study by researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia, yoga improves the regulation of the sympathetic nervous system by reducing cortisol levels, blood pressure and resting heart rate. In essence, through practicing the movement and breathing methods of yoga, you can slow your body’s natural stress response.
While all yoga is beneficial, some poses work better than others to help you manage anxiety and stress. The sequence below, suggested by Mather, features hip openers, core activation, spinal twists and more that slow your breathing, promote blood flow and calm the mind. Try these poses anytime, anywhere. “You'll work just a little bit, and very gently,” says Mather. “It makes the final resting pose that much sweeter.”
Pose 1: Deep Breath Sitting
Sit on the floor, legs crossed in front of you. Inhale through your nose and expand your ribs. Exhale through your mouth and imagine pulling your low abdomen back towards the spine. As you breathe, activate the “Ujjayi” breath—a yoga technique that involves narrowing the back of the throat to produce a whisper sound, which slows down the breath.
Pose 2: Bound Angle Pose
Sit on the floor, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Place your right hand against your right inner thigh and press lightly. Place your left hand on the floor outside your left leg, and lean into your left hand and arm. Inhale and lift your ribs, imagining your whole body rising off the floor, supported by your left side. Exhale and press lightly against the right thigh to open your hips. Take 5 to 8 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Pose 3: Abdominal Curl
Grab a yoga block or towel. Lie on your back, feet flat to the floor, knees bent. Squeeze your yoga block between your thighs. Interlace your hands behind your head as it rests on the floor. Inhale and press your back ribs into the floor. Hold this breath and curl the pubic bone towards the navel while squeezing the block between your legs. Exhale, curling your head and shoulders up off the floor and reaching your elbows forward toward your thighs. Inhale and slowly lower shoulders and head back to the floor. Repeat 8 to 10 times.
Pose 4: Bridge
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms and adjust your feet so that your fingertips touch the back of your heels. (This aligns feet beneath knees.) Turn your palms up and relax arms. Inhale, expanding your ribs. Exhale and press your feet into the floor while raising hips toward the ceiling. Inhale again, expanding ribs. Exhale. Stay for 8 to 10 breaths.
Pose 5: Reclined Spinal Twist
Lie on your back, knees pulled into your chest. Keeping knees bent and together, lower your legs to the floor on the right. Reach your left arm to the left side on a diagonal just above head height. Place your right hand on the left side of your rib cage. Inhale then exhale, pressing your right shoulder into the floor to deepen the twist. Take 5 breaths and switch to the other side.
Pose 6: Downward Facing Dog
Start on your hands and knees, then press back into Child's Pose (knees spread wide, hips on heels, forehead down to the floor). Straighten your arms out in front of you. Without moving your hands, return to your hands and knees. Curl your toes under and exhale as you lift your hips toward the ceiling, straightening your legs. Inhale, expanding your ribs. Exhale and press your chest toward your knees. Stay for 5 to 8 breaths.
Pose 7: Back Release Pose
Lie on your back and hug knees to chest. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh just above the knee. Reach your hands around the left leg and clasp them at the front of the shin, or the back of the thigh. Inhale, expanding the ribcage and imagining you are pulling your ribs towards your chin. Exhale, pull shoulders down and away from the ears. Stay for 5 to 8 breaths. Repeat on the other side. (Side note: this yoga pose is great for runners, too!)
Pose 8: Savasana
Lie on your back, legs and arms extended and relaxed. Spread arms a comfortable distance from your torso and separate your legs, letting the toes fall out slightly. Feel your body completely relax. Set a timer for 8 to 10 minutes. Close your eyes and rest. Inhale peace, exhale stress.