There’s no getting around it: Stress is really, really bad for us. When we're in a chronically stressed-out state—and stress is at an all-time high for Americans—our body systems just aren't able to function as efficiently. The adrenal glands work overtime, the body is in a constant state of preparing for fight or flight, and our digestion and sleep are negatively affected.
The good news? Yoga can counteract the negative impact of stress, and even just a few minutes of restorative yoga can be extremely helpful. Relaxation and breathwork activates the parasympathetic nervous system (also called the rest-and-digest system), which slows the heart rate, relaxes the gastrointestinal tract, and lowers the blood pressure.
So no matter how busy you are today, if you're feeling stressed out, take a few minutes at the end of your day to practice these poses. Make sure to take long inhales and exhales in each.
Twist on a bolster.
Twists are rad. They help with digestion by squeezing the abdominal organs, and once you're out of the twist, fresh blood and lymphatic fluids flood the area. Twists also strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine, and this particular restorative twist stretches the little muscles in between the ribs, making more space for the lungs to expand, making more room for more oxygen. This helps the body work more efficiently on a cellular level.
Come to a seated position on your mat with your right hip at the short end of the bolster and your feet to the left. Inhale and lengthen the spine, and on an exhale place your hands on either side of the bolster. Inhale once again and lift the low belly. As you exhale, lie the belly on the front of the bolster.
The forearms come to the floor, and the head can be turned in either direction. I personally like to use a blanket across the top of the bolster because it feels good in my neck and upper back. Use your props! If this feels too crunchy in your lower back, prop the top end of the bolster up with a block.
If you don’t have a bolster, couch pillows or blankets work in a pinch. Once in the pose, take a nice, full, deep inhale, then extend exhales, relax the shoulder blades, and release the weight of your body into the props. Longer exhalations stimulate the immune system, too. I hold this for anywhere from 30 seconds to 6 minutes, sometimes longer if I have the time. Hold this for as long as feels good for you, then repeat on the other side.
Legs up the wall.
A restorative inversion like legs up the wall has an amazing, calming effect on the body. Legs up the wall relieves swelling, balances the kidneys, and reverses the effects of gravity on the entire body. It's a really great pose after a long flight, when you've been standing in a long line, or when you just need to de-stress.
This is one of the easiest poses to practice, too, as the only prop you really need is a wall. I start by sitting with one hip up against the wall, then I roll onto my back and bring my legs up the wall. I like to scoot myself as close to the wall as possible. However, if my hamstrings are tight that day, I won't get quite as close so I don’t feel the stretch go into the backs of my knees.
I let my arms relax by my sides while I inhale and breathe into the top of the chest, then exhale and expand the lower back into the floor. I visualize the fluid in my legs draining down and imagine tension melting away into the floor. Sometimes my ribs puff up a little, so I make sure to release my bottom front ribs down. I like to have my head on a blanket or a little pillow and if I'm feeling fancy, I will have a little eye bag with some lavender essential oils. I hold legs up the wall for 2 to 5 minutes if I'm short on time, and if I have more time, I'll hold for up to 12 minutes. So long, stress!
Restorative yoga and focused breathwork are proven to relieve chronic stress. With the support of props, restorative twists, forward folds, and inversions, our relaxation response will immediately be triggered. So take a big inhale, and let out a long exhale. You've got this.