Everyday life can get hectic. A typical week can mean balancing work, school, appointments, sports practice, errands, family life, and more! If you're busy with work, school, or other activities, you might know what it's like to feel frazzled. When your average day feels tense and tiring, it's time to hit the yoga mat. Keep reading to learn some yoga poses that will soothe and relax you at the end of a long day.
Benefits of Relaxing Yoga Poses
Challenging activities stimulate the body's sympathetic nervous system, which provokes what's known as the "fight-or-flight" response. This puts your normal body functions on hold (such as digestion), while your body prepares for survival. Yoga creates the opposite reaction. Relaxing your body and mind stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest-and-digest" response. Your internal organs return to their normal functions and your body can once again perform at its peak. Regularly practicing relaxing yoga poses can keep your body and mind in tip-top shape!
Those with chronic back pain, back injuries, or degenerative disk disease should approach these poses with caution. They should only attempt to practice them under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor.
Practice this sequence 2-3 times a week. It should take about 20 minutes to complete all of the poses. Take it slowly. Never force your body into any position. If you feel any sharp, pinching, or jarring pain, come out of the pose immediately and rest. Always keep in mind these general guidelines when practicing yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
Keep the exact order of this sequence, as it has been organized to bring you the most benefits. Do not change the arrangement of the poses.
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A simple breathing exercise, Three Part Breath — Dirga Pranayama (DEER-gah prah-nah-YAH-mah) — brings your awareness to the present moment and calms your mind. This technique requires no special sound or position to achieve a relaxed and focused state of awareness.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position on the floor, in a chair, or on a bed.
- Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your rib cage.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply, but naturally.
- Begin to focus your awareness on the breath as it moves in and out of your body.
- Feel the lift of your belly and the expansion of your ribs on your inhalations. Notice the slight compression of your ribs and the drop of your belly as you exhale.
- Next, bring your bottom hand to your chest, just below your collarbone. Breathe all the way into this area and allow your chest to rise slightly; then exhale and let it go.
- As you inhale, feel your belly lift, ribs expand, and chest lift. On your exhalations, notice how your chest drops, ribs contract, and belly lowers.
- Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath for 5-10 minutes, inhaling and exhaling fully.
Knees-to-Chest Pose — Apanasana (ah-pahn-AHS-uh-nuh) — stretches your back and releases spinal tension. Because your body is compact in the pose, your thoughts are more easily drawn inward, which calms the mind.
- Lie on your back with your legs and arms extended.
- Exhale as you draw both knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around them. If it is possible, wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand.
- Keep your back flat on the mat. Release your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Broaden across your collarbones.
- Draw your tailbone and sacrum down toward the mat, lengthening your spine even more.
- If it is comfortable for you to do so, softly rock backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage.
- Tuck your chin slightly and gaze down the center line of your body.
- Hold for up to one minute. Keep your breath smooth and even.
- Exhaling, release and extend both legs along the floor and rest. Repeat up to six times.
Reclined Bound Angle/Cobbler's Pose — Supta Baddha Konasana (SOOP-tah BAH-duh cone-AHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the hips, groins, and inner thigh muscles. It also opens the chest and improves oxygen flow while deeply relaxing the whole body.
- Lie on your back with your legs and arms extended.
- Bend your knees and draw your heels in toward your pelvis. Press the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop open to both sides. Allow your arms to drop open at your sides, palms up.
- Adjust your position so your spine lengthens along the floor while maintaining the natural curve of the lower back.
- Relax your buttocks and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels.
- Close your eyes. Let your awareness turn completely inward.
- Let your breath occur naturally. Allow your body to feel heavy.
- Stay here for 1-10 minutes. To come out of the pose, draw your knees together. Then roll to your right side and use your hands to press yourself up to a comfortable seated position.
Legs Up the Wall — Viparita Karani (VIP-uh-REE-tuh kah-RAH-nee) — stretches the back of the legs and calms the mind. Ancient yoga texts claim that this pose will destroy old age. Modern teachers agree to its many benefits, including relief from anxiety, headaches, insomnia, mild depression, and much more.
- Set a bolster or pillow on the floor against a wall.
- Sit sideways against the wall with your lower back against the bolster.
- Gently bring your legs up onto the wall. Use your hands for balance as you shift your weight as you lie down.
- Rest your shoulders and head on the floor. Your lower back should now be fully supported by the bolster.
- Hold for 5-10 minutes, breathing with awareness.
- To release, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs to the side.
This supine (lying-down) spinal twist — Supta Matsyendrasana (SOOP-tah MAHT-see-ehn-DRAHS-uh-nuh) — releases spinal tension, calms the mind, and soothes the nervous system. It is a great pose to wind down a yoga practice.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. You can rest your head on a pillow or blanket if your neck hurts. Extend your arms to the side, keeping your shoulder blades on the floor.
- As you exhale, drop your knees to the left as you gently turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze as you keep your shoulder blades pressing towards the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knees even closer to the floor.
- Hold the pose for several breaths. Then on an inhalation, slowly bring your knees to your chest. Exhale and release your legs to the right, turning your head to the left.
- When you're finished with the pose, hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths, and then slowly exhale as you extend your legs along the floor.
The final relaxation pose of a yoga practice, Corpse Pose — Savasana (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh) — aligns your body and helps you deeply relax. Placing a bolster underneath your knees will take weight off of your pelvis, which can allow the spine to release and relax.
- Lie on your back. Place a yoga bolster or a stack of folded blankets under your knees. Let your feet rest on the floor and allow your legs to drop open.
- Close your eyes. You may want to cover your body with a blanket.
- Allow your body to feel heavy on the ground.
- Release each body part from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head. Turn your awareness inward and relax completely.
- Stay in Savasana for 5-15 minutes.
Learning to relax your body and mind can take some practice, especially if you're used to a fast-paced lifestyle. Relaxing yoga poses and breathing exercises can help you find balance and serenity, no matter what your day is like. If you're pressed for time, just do one or two poses. By practicing these poses regularly, you'll learn techniques to help you unwind, extending the benefits of yoga to all areas of your life.