At times, it may seem impossible to find a little peace and quiet. As your busy life gains momentum during the holiday season, it's more important than ever to find time to pause, process and recenter yourself.
Whether you're at home or the office, it's important to take a moment to reclaim your balance. There's no need to light candles and incense to achieve inner peace. A quiet environment, a few minutes and some space to breathe is enough.
First, Stop and Breathe
You may be thinking, "Duh! I breathe all day." But how well are you actually breathing? When stress feels like it's getting the better of you, stop and breathe in for a count of five and exhale for 10. Practice this breathing technique in the stretches and poses listed below or anytime you need to recenter.
It's not easy to come back into balance when stress has built up, especially when you're caught up in the moment, but if you can make pausing and breathing a regular practice throughout your day in time you'll build resiliency.
Best Stretches for Stress Relief
Need to decompress further? Rita James, a restorative yoga teacher based in Encinitas, California, says all you need is a yoga mat and a blanket. She recommends these stretches and grounding yoga poses to come back into balance.
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Forward folds help create space between the vertebrae and counter gravity's downward pull. Dropping your head below your heart can also help lower blood pressure and calm your mind.
- Inhale as you reach your arms overhead.
- As you exhale, fold forward, hinging at the hips.
- Place your hands on the floor beside your feet, on your shins or on blocks, depending on your flexibility.
- Keep a slight bend in your knees and stack your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles.
- Fold in and breathe evenly.
2. Standing Side Bend (Parsva Urdhva Hastasana)
Lateral flexion of the spine helps open up the area around the lungs and heart. Bonus: It aids in better posture and breathing.
- From Mountain pose reach your arms up overhead.
- Either interlacing your fingers or keeping arms shoulder width apart, reach up tall as you root down through your legs.
- Bend to one side.
- Hold for three breaths.
- Return to center and bend to the other side.
3. Cat-Cow (Chakravakasana)
Cat-cow is a grounding exercise that helps recenter your mind. It's the perfect pose after a long day sitting at a desk, as it stretches the lower back, hips and thighs.
- Begin on your hands and knees.
- Exhale as you round your back, pull the belly button toward your spine and tuck your chin toward your chest.
- Starting at the tailbone, release one segment of your spine at a time, relaxing through the lumbar spine, thoracic spine (mid-back) and finally, your cervical spine as you lift your chin upward into full flexion.
- Then reverse the motion to return to flexion.
4. Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
The spine houses the spinal cord and the nerves that send information from body to brain and vice versa. This stretch helps decompress the spine creating space for the nerves and stretches the shoulders to help relieve tension.
- From all fours, walk your hands out in front of you while keeping your hips over your knees.
- Let your head hang between your arms and rest your forehead on the ground.
- Hold and breathe deeply for at least 10 breaths or longer.
Meditative Yoga Poses to Help You Recenter
If you're looking for something a little less active to help you shake off stress, try one of these four yoga poses combined with the breathing exercise described at the top.
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Mountain pose can be very empowering, especially when you're feeling overwhelmed. As you breathe deeply visualize standing on a mountain. Feel cool mountain air fill your lungs providing energy and vitality.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
- Externally rotate the arms so your palms face forward and let your arms hang by your sides.
- Roll the shoulders down the back.
- Tuck the chin in slightly and lift the crown of your head up.
- Stand rooted and aligned for 10 breaths or longer.
2. Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
When you're feeling overwhelmed mentally, come back into balance in your body and your mind will follow. Tree pose can help recenter an anxious mind as it requires focus, steady breath and awareness of the present moment to stay balanced.
- Start by standing in Mountain pose.
- Shift your weight into your right leg and bend your left knee to place your foot on the upper right thigh with your toes pointing down.
- Keep your hips level and pointing forward.
- Either bring your hands to your hips, connect your palms at heart center or reach your arms up overhead.
3. Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
"This pose is excellent for anxiety," says James. It's calming, revitalizing and helps lower blood pressure as it creates more blood flow and oxygen to the heart. It's also an excellent pose for women during their menstrual cycle to alleviate cramps and discomfort.
- Place a folded blanket against the wall.
- Sit sideways with your hip against the wall.
- Lie back and swing your legs up the wall.
- Get your hips close to the wall with your legs together.
- You can place a strap above the knees around the thighs for support.
- Lie back with your shoulders flush to the floor.
- Turn your palms upward.
- Close your eyes and soften your forehead, jaw and throat.
- Breathe into your lower abdomen.
4. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Savasana is a yoga pose usually at the end of a yoga class, but you can do it pretty much any time or anywhere, says James. If you're having stress in your lower back or shoulders and neck, you can lie down and place a blanket under your neck and allow your body to de-compress.
- Lie on your back.
- Place a small pillow or rolled-up blanket under your head and/or a bolster under your knees if you like.
- Find length through your lower back and relax the pelvis and hips.
- Let your arms rest by your sides with your palms facing up.
- Breathe with ease and relax every part of your body.