If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I recently wrote about my experience acting as a mental health consultant for a website during the Covid-19 crisis, and one of the biggest takeaways from my role was that people are anxious. Of course they are. And sadly, at a time such as this, activities that we’d typically rely on to help relieve tension – meeting up with friends, going for a walk, or booking a spa appointment, for example – are no longer options. So I’d like to introduce you all to a quick and simple way to reduce tension that you can easily try out in your own home:
Yoga has its origins in Hinduism, but today many people view it as less of a spiritual practice, and more as a method for maintaining strong physical and emotional health.
How Can Yoga Help?
People do yoga for all sorts of reasons, from expanding their range of flexibility to losing weight and even stopping smoking. But one of the main benefits of yoga is stress relief. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 86% of those practicing yoga believe that this form of exercise helps to reduce stress, while 67% say that it results in healthier emotional feelings. But what’s the science behind it?
Stress breeds stress. When we feel stressed, the body naturally triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response; an essential tactic that’s responsible for keeping us alive in risky situations. This results in a more rapid heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and faster breathing… and these factors themselves create tension in the body. It becomes a never ending cycle.
While nobody really knows for sure how yoga works (which is why it’s considered to be a complementary treatment), it’s widely understood that these stretches work to regulate the stress response system by instructing the body to shift from the ‘fight or flight’ response to the relaxation response. When this happens, the body slows its breathing, lowers blood pressure, and brings the heart rate down, returning to normal.
And at times such as this, isn’t that what we all need?
So here are a few simple yoga poses to try out that can make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and more capable of handling everything that’s been thrown at you…
… all in less than 10 minutes!
Also known as the ‘Child’s Pose’, Balasana is one of the easiest of yoga poses for beginners. To assume this position, kneel down and then lean forward so that your forehead is touching the floor. Straighten your arms out behind you or, if it’s more comfortable, stretch them outwards in front of you. While it may not look like much, this simple pose actually stretches the back, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles all at the same time. It also has the added bonus of providing an almost cocooned feel; your own private space free of distractions where you can practice mindfulness or meditation.
How long? – Stay in the pose for 1 to 3 minutes, focusing on your breathing.
Sometimes called the ‘Eagle Pose’, Garudasana is more complex than Balasana but can have a significant impact on physical tension, particularly in your hips and shoulders. To assume this pose, start by crossing your arms then twisting gently so that your palms meet (if this is uncomfortable, touch the back of your hands together). Next, bend your knees slightly, and bring your left leg up and around your right leg so you are balanced on your right leg. You should feel stretching in your arms and legs. You’ll need to focus on a still object, which can help redirect your mind from stressful thoughts.
How long? – Try and hold the pose for 3 to 5 minutes, although it’s not always easy.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana
Sometimes, feelings of stress can be felt all over the body. Other times, the tension is highly concentrated in specific areas. If you’re feeling tense in your lower body, try the Supta Baddha Konasana pose, or the ‘Reclined Bound Angle’ Pose. To assume this pose, lie down and keep your knees bent. Allow your knees to ‘flop’ to the sides (you may find it more comfortable to support your knees with cushions). This helps to release tension in hips, thighs, and groins. Place one hand on your stomach, and one on your chest. This helps you to regulate your breathing, feeling the up and down movements.
How long? – Anywhere up to 10 minutes. Stand up if you start to feel uncomfortable.
If you’re interested in targeting the effects of your tension before tackling the root of the tension itself, try the Vajrasana pose, or the ‘Thunderbolt Pose’. This position can help to maintain a healthy digestive system, so it’s ideal if you’ve been experiencing stomach cramps or toilet troubles as part of your feelings of stress. Assuming this pose is easy. Kneel down, and sit back onto your feet (you can sit cross legged if that is more comfortable). Cross your arms and place your hands under your armpits before closing your eyes. Focus on your breathing, or practice meditation or mindfulness in this pose.
How long? – However long it takes you to do 10 slow and steady breaths in and out.
The whole point of practicing yoga to relieve tension and stress is to stimulate the body’s natural relaxation response… and you can’t do that if you’re putting your body under even more pressure than it’s already under! So if you’re feeling uncomfortable in a position, or you’re experiencing pain, stop. Instead, try practicing meditation, mindfulness, or regulated breathing techniques which can have a similar effect, and which can also be done in less than 10 minutes; ideal for when you’re busy.
Right now, we’re all having a very difficult time, and tension is a natural response to the situation. But we don’t have to suffer in silence. By taking just 10 minutes (or less) out of our days, we can empower ourselves to come out of this stronger on the other side.