March 15, 2023 | 10 min read

Mind and Body Practices to Manage Stress

Stress is inevitable. While most of modern life aims at adding convenience to our daily activities, stress somehow finds its way into so many of our waking (and sleeping) moments. Biologically we can manage stress, we have mechanisms to balance out the physiological stress response, however, the chronic nature of modern-day stress often leaves us crippled in our attempt to manage it - leading to larger bouts of anxiety and depression. We must find ways to tackle and navigate stress. Yoga is a practice that offers many types and methods to manage stress. Here are a few such practices. 

Yoga poses for Stress Relief
Forward bending poses like standing forward bend, child’s pose, head to knee pose, or folding forward in butterfly pose, allowing the forehead to rest on a prop like a block or a cushion are very good to help relieve stress and fatigue. It's essential that your head feels supported and rested when practicing specifically for relaxation. Other restorative poses done with props like reclined butterfly pose, reclined hero pose, child’s pose, reclined twist, supported bridge, and fish pose and legs up the wall are some examples of poses that can initiate deep relaxation while gently stretching the body. Props render a very different experience in a pose and are highly recommended while practicing yoga for stress and pain relief. 

Breathing Practices for Stress Relief 

Breath is the only involuntary function that we can voluntarily regulate and control, creating a beautiful avenue into the insides of our stressful working minds. Regulating the breath, and sustaining relaxed longer exhalations activate the parasympathetic nervous system, decreases heart rate, and relaxes muscle tension. Some of the simplest breathing techniques can start to initiate this response. Some of them are;

  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing - sitting in a reclined position, with legs and lower back supported and belly muscles relaxed. Taking deep breaths allows the gut to naturally expand and relax while engaging the diaphragm. 

  • Resonance breathing - regulating inhale and exhale for equal counts and then slowly when comfortable trying to make the exhale a few counts longer. 

  • Box breathing - breathing in, holding the breath in, breathing out, and holding the breath out all for equal counts of time. 

  • Bhramari breathing-  making a gentle humming sound during exhalation, keeping the jaws relaxed and focusing on the sounds you generate. 

  • Ujjayi breath - gently constricting the throat during exhalations, making a deep ocean sound allows you to breathe for longer sustained breaths while listening to the soft sound and very slightly heating the body. 

Mindful Movements combining Body and Breath 

Slow and simple movements like raising your arms on inhale, bringing them down on the exhale. The cat-cow stretch of looking up and arching the back on inhale, looking down and rounding the back on exhale. On the supine position, moving in bridge pose, hugging your knees, or dropping your knees to one side for a twist, synchronized to deep breathing are all very beneficial in relaxing the body and relieving tension. 

Yoga Nidra and other Guided Relaxation Techniques

Lying in a manner that is most comfortable to you, either on your back in corpse pose, or on your stomach in a modification of Crocodile pose, or even choosing a pillow for under your legs or head and with a light warm blanket on yours. Allowing your eyes to remain closed and your awareness to be awake listening to your teacher's guidance. Yoga Nidra and other practices like nada anusandhana are very calming and relaxing. While you are asked to stay awake and aware, falling asleep is a sign of tiredness and fatigue build-up and is perfectly natural. These practices can be as short as 15 mins and can even go on for about 90 mins. 

It's important to take the time to understand which practice works best for you. Managing stress might not seem urgent but it prevents the onset of a lot of chronic problems as you age. With so many yoga instructors online it's not hard to start your yoga practice today!

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