I have been practising yoga seriously for about eight years now. I say seriously as prior to that; it was something that I dabbled in from time to time as I had heard about its benefits and how life-changing the practice was. When it really stuck with me though, was when I was getting physically prepared for filming the movie Mad Max Fury Road. I wanted to be fit, flexible and strong of body and mind, so I thought yoga would be an excellent activity to include within that regime, along with running and weight training.
Out of all of the exercises that I was doing, I found yoga to be the one thing that not only honed and strengthened my body but my mind as well. Since then, yoga has been my go-to stress reliever. It really is effective in reducing tension and stress in both the body and mind and, I believe, has a positive flow-on effect into other areas of my life as well.
Stress is something that will present itself in our lives from time to time, and this year, I think we have all felt stress more frequently than ever before. How we manage it is crucial, and I personally welcome any suggestions that can assist me in that.
I also love passing on to others the tips that I’ve learnt over the years, so I thought I would share with you five yoga poses known to be effective in helping to lower stress levels and relieve tension from both the body and mind. Some are more energising, some are designed to be more calming and nurturing – it really just depends on what your needs are and what appeals to you. Give them a try the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed but please don’t force anything, especially if you have injuries and remember to BREATHE.
1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
This pose is excellent for releasing tension in the neck, through the spine and up the back of the legs, whilst hanging the head generates a feeling of stillness, weightlessness and calm. Be sure to add a little bend in the knees to reduce pressure on the joints and release from the pose carefully, slowly rising, vertebrae by vertebrae, to end in standing pose, Tadasana.
2. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
A beautifully soothing pose for the adrenal glands which can bear the biggest brunt of our stress levels. The pose can be quite passive with knees together, arms laying down the side of the body (see image at the top of this page) or a more active version with arms extending forwards and knees apart (as above) for a deeper more open variation.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
One of my favourites. A pose that’s fantastic for opening through areas where we all tend to hold a lot of tension and may not even be aware of it – hips, inner thighs and groin. You can support the legs by placing a bolster, yoga blocks or even cushions under the knees. Try laying with the soles of the feet together and knees falling out to the sides. If space allows, it’s also great to open arms wide to the side to allow the chest and heart to open and concentrate on deep belly breathing.
4. Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
This pose requires a lot of concentration so you don’t topple over, but that’s what I love about it – if you’re not present, aware and focusing on what you’re doing, it won’t work. Try and not get frustrated with yourself, use it as a mental challenge and a way to take your mind away from anything that’s not serving you. It’s also an excellent pose for opening up across the shoulders and upper back and great strengthening for the glutes. Make sure to repeat on the other side, reversing the leg positions (ie; start with left leg over right, then change to right leg over left).
5. Virabhadrasana (Warrior Two Pose)
One of the more energising poses, Warrior Two, similar to Eagle Pose, requires a lot of focus and attention. This is great for bringing you back to the moment and giving your mind a break from thinking, thinking, thinking all the time! It can provide strength, balance and stability to both the body and mind. Be sure to repeat on both sides, switching arm and leg positions.