6 Yoga Exercises for Stress Relief That You Need to Know

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Life is full of challenges that can cause stress. Triggers are everywhere: at work, at home, even during your free time. On top of that, high personal expectations, performance pressure, or lack of time make it difficult for you to relax. 

To make sure that stressful times and situations don’t become harmful to your body and lead to health conditions such as burnout, you have to take active measures.

Here are some examples of how you can take action against stress:

  • Yoga for stress relief
  • Physical exercise
  • Regular breaks
  • Restful sleep
  • No Multitasking
  • Meditation

Yoga is an excellent mindfulness practice, with a calming effect on your body and mind. In fact, science has confirmed that regular yoga has a positive impact on your cortisol (stress hormone) level. (Source)

This article will explain what stress is, what you can do about it, and why we recommend yoga as a treatment for stress. In the end, we will show you different exercises from yoga that aid in stress relief.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Is Stress?

Stress is, simply put, a reaction of your body to an unpleasant or unfamiliar situation.

Stress reactions are very demanding for your body. In such situations, your body needs more energy and oxygen, and your breathing accelerates.

The sympathetic nervous system is a part of your central nervous system that puts your body in an alert state. It activates certain organs that increase the natural performance of your body.

Stress is, therefore, a normal reaction to which your body has specific biological processes in place. Often a slightly increased stress level is sufficient to feel symptoms like slight muscle tension. 

Stress Factors: Where Does Stress Come From?

Old man holding his head and looks stressed

Each person reacts differently to possible stress factors. While you may be stressed by social burdens such as bullying, others might be more sensitive to environmental factors such as noise.

A huge factor is job-related stress. A European study found out in 2014 that stress at work is increasing, especially among employees. Time pressure and approaching deadlines, a negative working atmosphere, pressure to perform, competition, and the urge to be always available are the most common triggers for stress at work.

No matter how different the triggers are, the results for your health are always negative. Your body releases increased amounts of stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. Over an extended time, your body can no longer process these levels of stress hormones. This shows itself in the form of:

  • Muscular tensions
  • Hair loss and premature gray hair
  • Abdominal pain
  • Skin rash
  • Impaired vision
  • Nausea
  • Pressure on the ears
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmia

Most effects, such as high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmia, usually only occur when stress turns into chronic stress. To avoid this, it’s crucial that you actively seek stress relief.

Why Yoga for Stress Relief?

Young blond woman stretching

There are many ways to reduce stress. Yoga is one of the more popular ones. 

Yet what makes yoga for stress relief so effective? Yoga, especially breathing exercises (Pranayama), ensures that your brain releases neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This substance is a sedative produced naturally in our body, guaranteeing that stressors do not hit your nervous system too hard. Furthermore, GABA reduces feelings of stress and anxiety and the release of cortisol and adrenaline. (Source)

By focusing on the exercises and the relaxing effect during yoga, the parasympathetic nervous system is also stimulated. The parasympathetic nervous system regulates everything that has to do with calmness, relaxation, and digestion and brings the body back into balance. Your muscles relax, and you instantly feel calm. (Source)

If you want to reduce stress with yoga most effectively, you should try quiet yoga types such as Yin Yoga or Hatha Yoga.

An Australian study monitored 131 people with mild to moderate stress symptoms for 10 weeks. The test persons did Hatha Yoga for one hour every week. At the end of the study, the participants experienced not only an improved quality of life, but also a reduced stress level and less anxiety.

Yoga Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief

Depending on how you breathe, your body is more relaxed – or more tense. You can go ahead and do a little self-experiment: Take three deep breaths and feel how relaxed you are afterward.

If you influence the way you breathe, you can control your heartbeat and calm it down. Faster breathing during stressful situations leads to an accelerated heartbeat and vice versa.

In yoga, breathing is called Pranayama and is one of the easiest and, simultaneously, the most effective yoga exercises for stress relief. These exercises are suitable for everyone, and you can do them anywhere and immediately relieve acute stress symptoms.

Breathing Exercise 1: Purna Breathing

This exercise is a cornerstone of Pranayama, and you can do it either as a beginner or advanced yoga practitioner. You can practice it while lying down or sitting.

Instructions:

  1. Place your hands on your stomach. 
  2. Breathe in and out deeply and feel your belly moving with each breath.
  3. Now bring your hands a little bit up, on your chest. Your thumbs should point towards the breastbone. 
  4. Breathe again and feel your chest rise and fall.
  5. Place your hands above your chest and below your collarbone. Again, feel your upper chest move as you breathe.
  6. Breathe in and out about 5 – 10 times.
  7. Take another deep breath and consciously feel how your breath flows into your chest, ribs, and abdomen. If you wish, you can also hold your breath briefly before exhaling. 
  8. As you exhale, consciously feel the breath leaving your belly.

There are many occasions where you can use this breathing technique: If you feel anxious or sense that you’re under time pressure. Before important exams or interviews (job interviews, salary negotiations) or just in between as a short break.

Our tip: If your thoughts are always wandering and you feel you can’t find peace, count every breath you take. Take a deep breath and count to four. Exhale again and let the breath flow until you have counted to four. 

By focusing on counting, you can calm your mind even better since you give your mind something to do.

Breathing Exercise 2: Abdominal Lock (Uddiyana Bandha)

With this practice, you can quickly release inner restlessness and tension. You can do it in between as a short break or in the evening to relax after work.

Instructions:

  1. Stand up straight. Spread your legs hip-wide.
  2. Breathe normally in and out through your nose. Repeat this step twice.
  3. Breathe in again and breathe out through your mouth completely. While doing so, kneel slightly and pull your stomach inwards. Lower your head until your chin rests on your chest. Let your tongue fall loosely to the palate.
  4. As soon as you inhale again, breathe through your nose and straighten up to your starting position.
  5. Repeat the exercise up to five times.

Our tip: Uddiyana Bandha is also an excellent morning pick-me-up, especially on days when you didn’t sleep well.

Further Yoga Exercises for Stress Relief (Asanas)

Most yoga exercises calm the body and mind, while Pranayama mainly trains the mind.

The combination of breathing and physical exercise in the Asanas is even more effective when it comes to stress relief. The physical movement reduces the release of the stress hormone cortisol, just like it’s the case when you do sports. 

Yoga Asanas are therefore particularly useful for people who are restless and can’t relax by only doing the breathing exercises.

Certain poses are particularly suitable for relieving not only stress but also muscular tension.

Asana 1: Hero Pose (Vajrasana)



This pose works best for people who suffer from stress-related digestive problems. By standing upright, you loosen your organs and give them back the space that was previously lacking due to prolonged, bent sitting.

Our tip: If late or too unhealthy food keeps you awake at night, try this Asana before bed. Its opening effect loosens the digestive tract and can help you fall asleep easier.

Asana 2: Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)



Stress often forces you to turn around or to rethink. In yoga, “turning around” stands for taking a new perspective. 

With this exercise, you literally do so. 

Uttanasana has a calming effect because it directly affects your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of your nervous system responsible for relaxation. (see above)

Asana 3: Child’s Pose (Balasana)



The child’s pose affects your adrenal glands significantly. The adrenal gland produces and releases certain hormones, including stress hormones. (Source)

When this organ is stressed or overactive, you will feel tired, exhausted, and suffer from insomnia. 

Your spine, back, neck, and underside of your feet are gently stretched, and you take the pressure off your adrenal glands. By stretching, you loosen your muscles, strained by sitting or standing all day long.

Asana 4: Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)



When you encounter stress, you unconsciously tense your body. Your shoulders, back, and neck suffer most. The Bridge Pose releases muscle tension and stretches your lower back, shoulders, and chest. 

This yoga exercise calms the nerves and has a positive and stimulating effect at the same time. 

Like the Hero Pose, it loosens your organs, allowing blood to flow more smoothly and relaxing your digestive system. The stretching opens the chest and lungs, and you can breathe easier again. 

You will find more detailed instructions for these poses in this article.

Conclusion

Yoga and Pranayama are ideal for everyone who is looking for ways to cope better with daily stress. 

All the exercises we presented have a calming effect on body and mind. They relieve tension caused by stress and anxiety and give you a clear head again.

You will achieve the best results through regular practice. Integrate yoga and conscious breathing exercises into your daily routine to improve your stress level and well-being in the long run. 

Please remember that stress doesn’t disappear just because you do yoga regularly. Yoga is the right way of healing your body of the causes of stress, but it’s best to eliminate stress factors before they become a permanent part of your life. For this, you’ll need Mindfulness to identify the most significant stress factors in your life.

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