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Effective Yoga Routine For Stress Relief: Stretch The Stress Out

Laura Finch on June 26, 2020
Laura is a yoga teacher who completed 200 hours of training.

Do you have a job, a family, and outstanding bills?

Congratulations, you’re probably as stressed as Britney in 2007.

Britney Spears cringing (animation)

Getting into a fight or flight nervous response from time to time is not necessarily a bad thing. Apart from keeping us safe, that’s probably one of the main reasons we procrastinators get things done.

In old times, the stress response was the main tool that kept us alive. When a wild bear attacked, the chances of survival for those who chilled in their caves were dramatically lower than for those who got stressed out and either fled or prepared for a fight.

As humans evolved, wild bears are hardly a threat to the majority.

Instead, their place got filled with desk jobs, social media, traffic jams, and seemingly innocent holiday family gatherings. All neatly crammed one after another to keep you on your toes.

"The Lord Is Testing Me" animation of stress

So if you’re:

  • fit to be tied, cranky, and irritated out of nowhere
  • exhausted and cheesed off with everything from the moment you get out of bed
  • in a black mood and easily fall into road rage

This yoga routine for stress relief is for you.

Let’s get started.

Download A FREE Printable Of The "Stretch The Stress Out" Yoga Routine

Yoga routine for stress relief: preview

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Yoga Routine For Stress Relief: Step-By-Step Instructions

Deep Breathing

1. Begin with Deep Breathing (aka Three-Part Yogic Breath).

Sit tall in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Root your sit bones into the ground and soften the face.

Place the palms of your hands on both sides of the abdomen, just below the ribcage.

Slowly and evenly breathe in through your nose and visualize as the air travels all the way from your nostrils and into your body. Feel the chest and belly expanding. As you slowly exhale through your nose, engage your abdomen and bring it back to the spine.

The secret to deep breathing is to focus on your exhales rather than your inhales. The inhales will happen naturally.

As you continue with your breathing, try to make your inhales and exhales slightly longer each time, even if it’s just a millisecond. You can also try holding your breath for a second or two before each inhale/exhale.

This is the best time to set an intention for your yoga practice.

Stay in the position as long as comfortable. Depending on time limits, I generally stay in the position for 5-10 full breaths.

 

Crescent Moon pose

2. Stand up into Mountain pose. Breathe in as you clasp your arms overhead. As you exhale, transition into Crescent Moon pose.

Bump your hips to the left and arch to your right, feeling a gentle stretch on your left side.

On an inhale, return to the center and switch sides.

 

Cactus Arms Pose

3. Exhale as you bend your arms and draw your elbows down to the sides into Cactus Arms.

Roll your shoulder blades down and puff up through your chest. Inhale and return to Mountain with Raised Arms.

Repeat Crescent Moon pose and Cactus Arms two more times.

 

Standing Forward Bend Pose

4. Exhale as you move forward into Standing Forward Bend.

Bend your knees as much as needed to let your belly rest on the top of your thighs.

 

Halfway Lift Pose

5. Inhale into Halfway Lift and move back into Standing Forward Bend on an exhale.

 

Upward Salute Pose

6. As you breathe in, sweep your arms overhead into Upward Salute.

If comfortable, gently arch back and look up at your fingertips.

 

Mountain Pose

7. Exhale and return to Mountain pose with arms by your sides or hands in Prayer Position.

Inhale as you raise your arms overhead into Upward Salute and repeat steps 4-7 two more times.

 

Garland Pose

8. In Mountain Pose, widen your feet to the sides of your mat. Point your toes to the front corners of your mat at about 45-degree ankle. Bring the hands at your heart. Exhale as you squat down into Garland Pose or Deep Yogi Squat/Malasana.

Gently press your elbows into the knees, inviting your hips to open. Stay active in your glutes (buttocks).

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Standing Forward Bend Pose

9. Raise from your deep squat into Standing Forward Bend.

You can grab onto your elbows with the opposite hands and gently sway from side to side, alternating between straightening your legs.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Downward-Facing Dog

10. Step back into Downward-Facing Dog. Press firmly into your palms and broaden through your collarbones.

Bend the knees if needed, but keep pressing back through your heels.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Forearm Plank

11. From Downward-Facing Dog, slowly ripple forward into Forearm Plank.

Press firmly into your forearms and palms. Broaden through your collarbones and stay engaged in the front of your thighs, core, and buttocks.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Side Forearm Plank

12. On an exhale, transition into Side Forearm Plank.

Draw your shoulder blades down the spine. Gaze up to your fingertips.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths. Switch sides.

 

Sphinx pose

13. Return to Forearm Plank. Slowly lower your belly and tights to the ground, coming into Sphinx pose.

Place your shoulders over the elbows, lift through your heart, and extend out of the crown of your head.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

From Sphinx, lay your head on your forearms for a quick rest.

 

Locust pose

14. Bring your arms alongside your body and start pressing firmly through the tops of your feet. Inhale and lift your chest, arms, and feet of the ground, coming into Locust pose.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Child’s Pose

15. Place your hands near the shoulders and press into your palms. Breathe out as you send your hips to the heels, coming into Child’s Pose.

Extend your arms long and draw your shoulder blades down your spine.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Downward-Facing Dog

16. From Child’s Pose, come to a neutral tabletop position. Lift your knees and send your hips up and back to Downward-Facing Dog on an exhale.

Hold for about 3 full breaths.

 

Three Legged Dog Pose

17. Breathe in and lift your right leg up to the sky, moving into Three Legged Dog.

 

Warrior II Pose

18. Exhale as you bring your right foot to the front of your mat and between your hands. Place your back foot on the ground at about a 45-90 degree angle. Lift into Warrior II as you breathe in.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Five Pointed Star Pose

Goddess pose

19. From Warrior II, inhale and open into Five Pointed Star Pose with your arms stretched to the sides and feet wider than hip-distance apart. Press your palms together at heart center and squat into Goddess pose.

Sweep your arms above, straighten the legs into Five Pointed Star Pose as you inhale, and squat down into Goddess as you exhale.

Repeat 3-5 times.

 

Goddess squat with the side bend

20. Settle down into your Goddess squat. Rest your right elbow on the top of the right thigh. Raise your left arm and side bend to your right on an inhale.

Return to the center on the exhale and alternate between sides.

Repeat 3 times on both sides.

 

Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend

21. From Goddess squat, clasp your hands behind the lower back, inhale as you puff up your chest. Bring your feet parallel to each other. Exhale, straighten your legs and bend forward into Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend.

You might want to widen your stance if your hamstrings are tight, or shorten your stance for a deeper stretch. Move the weight of your body to the balls of your feet for a deeper hamstring stretch.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Low Lunge Pose

22. From Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend, release the clasp of your hands and turn to your right, transitioning into Low Lunge.

Keep your legs engaged as if you’re trying to scissor your thighs together. Keep your hips squared to the front of the mat.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Three Legged Dog Pose

23. Place your hands on both sides of your front leg and lift your back knee off the ground. Firmly press into your palms, inhale and lift your front foot up and back into Three Legged Dog.

 

Half Pigeon Pose

24. On an exhale, move into Half Pigeon Pose.

Place your right knee behind your right wrist and your right ankle behind your left wrist. Breathe in as you puff up through your chest for a slight backbend.

Bend forward on an exhale or stay where you are for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Downward-Facing Dog

25. From Half Pigeon on the right side, return to Downward-Facing Dog.

Repeat steps 17-24 on the left side.

Goddess with a twist

Tip: As you move into a static Goddess squat, you can choose to repeat the same variation with a side Bend as in step 20 or do Goddess with a Twist. Place your hands slightly above your knees with your thumbs on your inner thighs. Inhale. As you inhale, press into your hands and twist to your right looking over your right shoulder. Inhale as you return to the center. Switch sides. Repeat the twist 3 times on each side.

 

Bridge Pose

26. Lay on your back with your arms alongside your body, feet on the mat, and knees bent. Press your arms into the ground, firm up your buttocks, and come into Bridge as you inhale.

Lift your head away from the chest to take the tension off your neck.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Shoulderstand

27. On an exhale, slowly roll your spine back onto the mat. Move into Shoulderstand.

Breathe in, lift your legs and hips, and curl your back toward your face. Place your hands on the lower back, fingertips pointing up to the sky, elbows on the ground. Start reaching your legs up to the ceiling, trying to bring shoulders, hips, and feet in one line.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Plough Pose

28. Exhale and slowly move into Plough Pose.

As you breathe out, bend from your hips and gently lower your toes beyond your head. Avoid moving your head and draw your chin slightly away from the chest.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

 

Knee To Chest Pose

29. Move into Wind-Relieving Pose.

Clasp your hands around your knees. Inhale and draw them to the chest. On an exhale, start using the strength of your hands to bring the thighs closer to the belly.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths.

Then, stretch your left leg long on the mat. Interlace your fingers and gently draw the right Knee To the Chest. Keep your elbows close to the sides.

 

Spinal Twist

30. Stretch your left leg long on the mat. Loosen the grip on your right leg. Stretch your right arm to the side with the palm faced down. As you exhale, start slowly drawing your right knee to the left to get into Spinal Twist.

Softly gaze to the right. Keep your shoulders glued to the mat.

Hold for about 3-5 full breaths. Repeat on the other side.

 

Legs Up The Wall pose

31. Finish in Legs Up The Wall pose.

Lie on your back and scooch your buttocks towards the wall so your legs and torso form an L-shape. Alternatively, rest your feet and lower legs on the chair at a 90-degree angle.

Breathe naturally. Hold the pose for as long as needed.

Congratulations! You've made it until the end 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this short yoga routine for stress relief as much as I did. Here’s a timelapse version of me doing the flow.

Yoga For Stress Relief: Does It Even Work?

You bet!

Science confirms that yoga, along with other mind-body practices (think Thai Chi, meditation, guided imagery), is one of the most effective ways to fight off stress and induce relaxation. See the full breakdown of studies in this post about 43 health benefits of yoga.

Wonder why yoga and what's so magical about it?

Everything! (Literally)

Simpsons doing yoga (animation)

Here's the deal:

  • Yoga balances our nervous system. It decreases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (=stress response) and induces parasympathetic activity (=relaxation). What's more, regular yoga practice makes your nervous system more "resilient," making it easier for you to switch between the two states faster and more efficiently.
  • Yoga affects your hormones. Research has shown again and again that yoga increases happiness hormones serotonin and dopamine and decreases stress hormone cortisol.
  • Yoga changes your brain. Several studies have shown that yogis display a decreased activity in the amygdala region of the brain responsible for emotional response. Which means that bad things might be happening, but yogis know how to take them easy.

How Exactly Yoga Helps Stress

One word - breath.

Breath is what ties our mind and body together.

When we're under physical or physiological stress, our breath becomes rapid and shallow. The heart starts beating faster, blood pressure goes up, and digestion shuts down.

It might feel like we absolutely have no power over what's going on in our bodies at the moments of distress.

And it is partially true.

We can control neither our hearts nor our intestines. And none of the physiological systems for that matter.

Except one.

Have you already guessed which system I am talking about here?

It's the respiratory system – the only system that we can control consciously. And that's where the magic happens.

If we can control our breath, then we can use this breath to manipulate stress and influence other physiological systems.

Breathe in light, breathe out dark - animation

From a physiological point of view, yoga breathing is an effective and simple way to stimulate the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve runs all the way from the brain through the back of the neck and down to the stomach. Think of the vagus nerve as the highway through which your brain communicates with your body and its internal organs. The more you stimulate your vagus nerve, the calmer and more relaxed you'll feel.

But great news doesn't end there.

The vagus nerve can also be "strengthened" or trained, sort of like a muscle.

Well-trained vagus nerve makes you more resilient to stress and makes it easier for your body to switch back to relaxation after a fight or flight response. Which means that you're less likely to get stuck in stress response and develop chronic stress and accompanying diseases in the long term.

Isn't it just amazing how simple yoga for stress relief can have such an impact on our long-term well-being?

What Are The Best Yoga Poses For Stress Relief?

I'll be brutally honest with you.

There is no such thing as the best yoga poses for stress relief.

Do you know why?

Because the best yoga postures for stress are the ones that work for you.

Let me explain.

I love Shoulderstand, and they say that it calms down adrenal glands – the major source of stress hormones. But maybe you feel discomfort in your neck. Or maybe you can't breathe naturally in the pose. So, it might happen that instead of reducing stress, Shoulderstand will make you even more nervous.

Besides, I always remind my students about one crucial truth:

Yoga for stress relief is not about the poses. It's about the quality of your breath. And it's about how present you are at the given moment.

Animated lamp symbolizing idea

Often lying still in Savasana (Corpse pose) has a much stronger calming effect than racing through 20 best yoga poses for stress relief that you've seen in some journal.

That said, there are some simple yoga poses for stress relief that work for (almost) everyone. These include:

  • Cat-Cow
  • Knees To Chest (aka Wind-Relieving Pose)
  • Reclined Butterfly
  • Supine Twist
  • Legs Up The Wall Pose
  • Savasana

Try your best not force any of the poses. Instead, focus on softening your body, releasing the tension, and watch the quality of your exhales.

How did you like this simple yoga routine for stress relief? Share in the comments!

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