Stress and anxiety is the most common cause of illness around the world, its the price we pay in this age of busy lifestyle, information overload and digital bombardment. It not only affects us emotionally but can exacerbate just about any health condition.
Stress seems to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma.
Before we reach such a state we can nip stress in the bud and improve our mental state with the practice of yoga, which is not only an effective stress reliever, but also a way to ease symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. By focusing our attention on the body and breath, yoga can release physical and emotional tension.
A study highlighting the benefits of yoga for stress, anxiety and depression, was conducted on 90 women who claimed to be emotionally distressed. They were offered 2 classes for 90 minutes on yoga every week and after three months, “the results included, “At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.”
There is significant evidence of the broad-ranging benefits of yoga, both as a treatment and as a preventative form of medicine and health care.
Here are six asanas that can leave you feeling calm and positive, with a sense of being able to cope with whatever life has to throw at you.
Padangusthasana or Big Toe Pose
Method: Stand upright with feet six inches apart, and your legs completely straight. Lifting your arms, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, bend forward from your hip joints, moving your torso and head as one unit. Wrap your index and middle fingers around the big toe, closing with the thumb to get a firm grip of your toes. Press your toes down against your fingers. If you can’t reach your toes, place your palms on the feet or calves, whichever position is more comfortable.
Ensure you are not putting extra pressure on your back. Also, the knees can be slightly bent for beginners. With an inhalation, lift your torso as if you were going to stand up again, straightening your elbows. Exhale, release your torso and bend towards your toes again. Repeat this a few times depending on your comfort. Slowly come back to the starting position by bringing your torso and head as a single unit back to upright. Repeat this asana 3-4 times or as long as you desire.
Benefits: Forward bends are excellent for calming our nervous system. This posture provides a release of the upper body and soothes the mind through gentle inversion. It keeps blood pressure under check, relieves back ache, and increases blood circulation to the brain. The Big Toe Pose increases muscle density and burn fat accumulated in them. It cures headache and insomnia, making the body more flexible at the same time.
Contraindications: Avoid this pose with lower back or neck injuries.
Prasarita Padottanasana series or Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend pose
Method: Prasarita Padottanasana is an extension of the big toe pose. Stand in Tadasana, spread your feet 3-4 feet apart, balanced and firmly grounded. As you inhale, lengthen the spine, stretch arms overhead. Exhale, bend forward from the hip joints, keeping the spine straight. Place your hands on the floor first in front of you to form a 90-degree from your elbow and touch your head to the floor (in between your hands). You can also use a block or bolster to place the head on it. If your hands reach the feet, get hold of your big toes and pull on them to get a deeper bend. Ensure your back is straight all the time. Gently exhale as you revert to the starting position.
Benefits: This pose relaxes the back, tones the abdomen and legs. It improves blood circulation in the upper body thereby, relieving from mild headaches, fatigue and depression. Additionally, it promotes good digestion, calms the mind and central nervous system.
Contraindications: Those suffering from sinus, congestion, backache or knee pain should avoid this pose.
Supta Baddha konasana or Reclining bound angle pose
Method: Come in a seated position with your soles pressed together. Keep your knees bending outward and your heels pulled in as near to your body without any strain. Keep the back straight and place the hands on top of the feet. This is Butterfly pose or Baddha Konasana. Now, exhale and lower yourself gently to the yoga mat and/or blankets.
The inner groin is pushed inside to help the pelvis settle smoothly on the floor. Bring your arms out to your sides to open the heart chakra and close your eyes and breathe normally. Beginner’s can place a bolster underneath the torso to avoid overstretching the inner thighs or groin muscles. So your entire back along with the head rests on it.
Also, the knees have a tendency to lift up, don’t try to push them towards the floor because this might harden the groin and thigh muscles even more. Stay in this pose for a few breaths. Initially, you can remain in this pose for a minute, but you can gradually increase the amount of time to around 10 minutes.
Benefits: On a hectic day, this is a great restorative pose to perform when you are back home. You will feel the lower body opening up and relaxing completely. It relaxes your mind, stretches your inner thigh and groin muscles, frees energy flow in your pelvic area and stimulates your abdominal organs. It also helps relieve the symptoms of stress, mild depression, PMS and menopause.
Contraindications: People suffering from lower back, groin or knee injuries should perform this pose with bolster underneath both their knees for extended support.
Balasana or Child’s pose
Method: Child’s pose is one of the must do poses for people who are looking for deeper relaxation. Come in thunderbolt pose (Vajrasana), inhale and lift your hands up. Stretch as high as you can to elongate the spine and as you exhale, slowly rest your torso over your thighs so that your forehead touches the mat. Lift your buttocks slightly and stretch your arms over your head.
Place your palms on the floor and reach your arms until you feel your shoulder blades stretching across your back. Sit back down on your heels without changing the position of your arms. Feel your torso lengthening. Close your eyes, steady your breathing and sense a deeper level of relaxation. Stay here as long as you like. Once you are done, inhale and lengthen the torso forward over the thighs and rise up as the tailbone presses down into the pelvis and towards the heels.
Benefits: It calms the mind and alleviates anxiety and stress as it releases tension and deeply relaxes your back muscles, spine, shoulders and neck. Child’s pose also increases blood circulation to your head which reduces headaches. It flexes the body’s internal organs and keeps them supple.
Contraindications: Pregnant women and people suffering from diarrhoea or knee injury should not perform this pose.
Viparita Karani or Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
Method: Before you begin, make sure you have either one or two thickly folded blankets or a firm round bolster for your support. Sit sideways on the right (or left) end of the support, depending on your comfort. On an exhale, gently lie down on your back and pivot yourself so that the back of your legs is pressed against the wall and your feet is facing up. You may need to adjust the support to find your way into this position.
If you have any discomfort in your lower back, adjust your body slightly back from the wall so that your sitting bones are not touching it. Keep your spine straight and rest your head on the mat or floor, forming a 90 degree angle. Place your hands down by your sides, palms facing upwards. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. You can also bend your knees a little so your kneecaps don’t lock. Stay in this pose for 5 to 15 minutes. To come out of this pose, slide off the support if you have used one, and gently roll to the side.
Benefits: Legs up the Wall Pose is a restorative pose and gentle inversion that eases anxiety and stress, calms the mind, relieves lower back pain and tired legs. It is also therapeutic for arthritis, headaches, high & low blood pressure and insomnia.
Contraindications: Women during menstruation and second & third trimester of their pregnancy should avoid this inversion. Also, people with serious eye problems, such as glaucoma should not perform this pose. With serious neck or back problems only perform this pose with the supervision of an experienced teacher.
Savasana or Corpse Pose
Method: Lie gently on your back, lift your pelvis and slide your tailbone away to comfortably spread your lower back. Keep just a light, natural arch to your lower back. Rest your pelvis on the ground. Place both the feet and the arms 3 to 4 feet apart with palms facing the ceiling. Support the back of the head and neck on a folded blanket, if you like.
Now close your eyes and take a slow deep breath. As you exhale, let your body relax and sink into the floor. Maintain stillness as you relax and quiet the mind. Loosen your whole body completely, like its sinking in the floor. Stay here for as long as you like.
Benefits: This pose gets its name from the posture of a dead body. It requires the stillness of a corpse, which makes it a challenging one. Savasana helps in the repair of tissues and cells and in releasing stress.
Contraindications: In case of back injury or discomfort, do this pose with your knees bent and your feet on the floor, hip-distance apart. Pregnant women must raise their head and chest on a bolster.
Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your yoga teacher or doctor before practicing yoga.
You can make this a part of your regular yoga routine, or you simply perform these poses before sleeping after a hectic day. Follow this routine with pranayama which can help free the mind of the unnecessary thoughts that breed anxiety. Or try these simple breathing exercises to improve your mental and emotional state, and help you to manage stress and anxiety.