Yoga continues to grow in popularity as people experience its physical and mental benefits. Developing a personal yoga practice can help prevent and reduce stress, which is a common goal among people who want to create positive growth and focus on self-improvement.
In addition to physical postures, your yoga routine can include breathing, meditation, and relaxation techniques like yoga nidra. Continue reading to learn more about the stress-relieving benefits of yoga and how you can use your practice to enhance your well-being.
How does yoga help alleviate stress and anxiety?
Yoga encourages mental and physical relaxation, which helps reduce stress and anxiety. The physical postures promote flexibility, relieve tension, and alleviate pain.
Yoga poses may help you release physical blockages like muscle knots, helping release emotions and tension. They also promote the release of mood-boosting endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones that can positively affect how you handle stress.
Focusing on the present moment during your yoga practice enhances your awareness, boosts your concentration, and centers your mind.
As you become aware of the transitory nature of your bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings, you may find it easier to let go of attachments to positive, negative, and neutral experiences. You may also learn to cultivate feelings such as love, joy, and serenity.
What does the research say about yoga for stress?
Plenty of scientific evidence supports the stress-relieving benefits of yoga. According to a 2018 study, yoga had a positive result on women who practiced Hatha yoga 3 times a week for 4 weeks. After 12 sessions, they experienced significant reductions in stress, depression, and anxiety.
These results suggest that yoga can be a complementary medicine and may decrease the need for prescription drugs. More in-depth studies are required to investigate the long-term role of yoga in treating stress, depression, and anxiety.
A small 2020 study in adult men suggested that yoga stretches reduce cortisol levels and have a positive effect on parasympathetic nerve activity, which encourages relaxation.
Researchers in another 2020 study found that people who did an 11-minute yoga nidra meditation for 30 days reduced their stress levels, enhanced their overall well-being, and improved their sleep quality.
Practicing yoga nidra also boosted mindfulness and reduced negative emotions. These benefits stayed the same at a follow-up 6 weeks later.
How to use yoga breathing to alleviate stress
Breathing exercises, known as pranayama in Sanskrit, teach you to relax, regulate your breath, and breathe deeply. This helps reduce stress and calm your body and mind. Breathing techniques can also enhance your sleep quality and encourage mindfulness.
You can do breathing exercises during your yoga practice or when you want to focus on relaxation throughout the day. These techniques are also useful when you experience uncomfortable emotions or difficult situations.
A few popular types of pranayama include:
alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana)
breath of fire (kapalabhati)
lion’s breath (simhasana)
humming bee breath (bhramari)
Yoga poses for stress relief
You can get started with the following yoga poses to relieve stress.
1. Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana to Bitilasana)
This pose allows you to connect your breath to your movements as you calm your mind and release stress. Allow your breath to guide each movement.
Begin in a tabletop position.
Place your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
As you inhale, turn your gaze toward the ceiling and allow your belly to move toward your mat, arching your back. This is Cow Pose.
As you exhale, draw your chin in toward your chest and bend your spine toward the ceiling, like a cat.
Continue to flow between these two positions for 1 minute.
2. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s pose helps create an inward focus and restore energy. It also supports mental and physical relaxation. For more support, place a cushion under your forehead, torso, or thighs.
From a kneeling position, place your knees together or slightly apart.
Sit back on your heels.
Hinge at your hips as you fold forward, resting your forehead on your mat.
Extend your arms in front of you or alongside your legs.
Allow your torso to sink into your thighs.
Breathe deeply and focus on relaxing your body.
Hold this pose for up to 5 minutes.
3. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose provides deep relaxation while boosting lymph flow and circulation.
Sit on the floor facing the wall, with your body as close to the wall as possible.
Lie on your back and place your legs up the wall with straight knees.
Position your hips next to the wall or a few inches away.
Place your arms alongside your body, or place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
Hold this pose for up to 15 minutes.
4. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
During this pose, focus on breathing deeply as you calm your mind and let go of tension.
Lie flat on your back with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
Allow your toes to splay out to the sides.
Position your arms next to your body at a 45-degree angle.
Align your head, neck, and shoulders with your spine.
Breathe deeply as you allow your body to fully relax.
Stay in this pose for 10–20 minutes.
Yoga meditation for stress relief
You can practice meditation on its own or include it as part of your asana routine. Meditation positions include sitting on a chair or on the floor. You can also do standing, walking, and lying-down meditation.
Experiment with a few types of meditation on your own or seek the guidance of a teacher who can help you create a structured, consistent routine. Once you’ve established a meditation practice, stick to this routine for some time instead of changing regularly.
Yoga nidra, known as yogic sleep, is a guided meditation that you do in-person with a teacher or via a recording. It promotes deep relaxation, alleviates stress, and helps you sleep better.
Yoga nidra is a fantastic option when you’re too tired for an asana (moving through poses) or seated meditation practice but still want to dedicate time to your yoga routine.
Tips when using yoga for stress relief
Yoga can be very effective when trying to calm your body and mind. To get the most out of your stress relief, remember these tips.
Release negativity during your yoga practice
Negative thoughts are bound to arise when you do yoga. You can practice awareness, acceptance, and detachment to create positive mental patterns. This may help you have fewer negative thoughts and be less affected by them.
Learn to focus on the present moment and bring your attention to your thoughts as they arise and pass, which helps you recognize their fleeting nature.
Each time you find yourself getting lost in your thoughts — whether they’re positive or negative — bring your awareness back to your breath and body. Over time, you can make it a habit to detach from both positive and negative states of mind.
Employ stress relief techniques off the mat
To manage stress off the mat, take a look at your schedule and lifestyle to see where you can make changes. This may include allowing yourself more free time, developing a healthy eating plan, or spending more time in nature.
While yoga can provide tremendous benefits, it’s important to remember that you will still experience the ups and downs of life. It’s natural to experience a wide range of feelings and emotions.
If you find your yoga practice creates more stress in your life, talk to an instructor who can help you develop a routine tailored to your needs.
The bottom line
Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are wonderful ways to reduce stress, replenish your energy, and enhance your overall well-being. Enjoy the process of discovering which techniques and practices bring you the greatest benefit.