I have a super important question for you: Who decided it’s cool to be stressed? Somewhere along the line, someone decided that our value is tied to how packed our calendar is.
Here’s an even more super important question: Why do we accept this?
The truth is stress is bad for you on so many levels, and we aren’t doing ourselves or anyone else (family and friends, coworkers, dogs) any favors by constantly showing up stressed out.
Luckily, there are pretty easy ways you can return to a balanced state. A little more calm and collected. A little less cuckoo and crazed.
One of those ways is yoga. It’s a powerful tool to combat stress, and there’s a ton of poses for both the mental and physical effects of stress.
Here’s your disclaimer: I’m not a certified yoga instructor. But I do have a damn-near daily yoga practice, and I’m damn-near always stressed out. And I’ve found these five poses damn-near always slow my breathing and let me relax.
Seriously, in just a few minutes, you’ll feel calmer, happier, and lighter. No unhealthy vices or illicit drugs required.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Sit your ass down. On a yoga mat, on the couch, on your chair – wherever you feel comfortable.
You don’t have to use any special mudra or gang sign, but I like to use my thumb and ring finger for this one.
Plug your right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in through your left nostril. Hold that inhale for a beat or two.
Then, plug your left nostril with your right ring finger and slowly let that breath out through your right nostril.
Give it a little pause and then breathe in through your right nostril again. Keep on repeating that process for a few minutes.
Get on all fours, and get your mind out of the gutter. This is yoga, my friend.
Line your knees up under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders.
Start with a few deep breaths. Then, breathe in as you drop your belly (kind of like when you put on sweatpants and a baggy shirt, and you no longer feel the need to suck it all in) and gaze upward.
I like to wiggle my hips from side to side a little bit here in cow pose.
Exhale slowly as you arch your back (you know, like a cat) and lower your gaze.
Keep up the cat/cow-ing for several cycles. And don’t forget to move with your breath.
If you can do this pose without breaking into a smile at some point, you must be a monster. (Come on, just think how ridiculous this looks. Especially if you’ve rolled out your yoga mat in your office and you’re wearing a dress and granny panties.)
Anyway, whether you’re in the office, at home, or in the middle of the airport, lie flat on your back. Press your lower back into your yoga mat.
Slowly bring your knees in toward your chest so you can grab the outer (or inner, wherever you can actually get a good strangle hold) arches of your feet.
Rock back and forth, side to side. This one feels ah-mazing on my lower back and what I like to call my nubbins. (There’s probably an anatomically correct term for those bones, but you and I both know I’m no scientist.)
If you’re fresh off your stint at Cirque de Soleil, feel free to straighten your legs. One at a time or both, you little circus freak.
When you’re happy with your happy baby, slowly let go of your feet and let them drop back to your mat.
One of my favorites. Usually because it means practice is almost over. (I’m a clock watcher. Bad habit I picked up after years of slowly watching my life tick away in the office. Is it 5 o’clock yet? Totally defeats the purpose of letting go and being in the flow, right?)
Kneel on your yoga mat and slowly sit back onto your heels. You can also widen your knees about as wide as your mat if that’s more your speed. Whatever feels better and doesn’t start a fire in your knees.
Stretch your arms out on the mat in front of you and let your upper body just sort of melt in to the mat.
I like to rest my forehead on my mat, but you do you.
You can keep your arms outstretched, or you can swim your arms behind you, keeping them tucked in by your thighs.
Take a few long, slow breaths, breathing deep in to your belly.
We’ll wrap this mini yoga session up with my favorite yoga pose of all time: shavasana. Also known as corpse pose. Or really just lying on your mat.
You’ve got this.
Shavasana is a restorative pose that ends most classes and is pretty much guaranteed to calm your hyper ass down.
Lie flat on your mat or floor…hell, even on your bed if you want. Stretch your legs out toward the corners of your mat and let your arms rest on the floor, palms up. You want that good juju coming in.
Now all you’ve gotta do is lay there, relax, and breathe.
Keep playing dead as long as you’d like.
Practiced on the reg, yoga can lower your cortisol levels and improve your stress response. Meaning you might not fly off the handle every time your inbox dings with yet another email.
You might not be able to practice all of these poses in your cube. (Legs in the air like you just don’t care…but HR might care.)
But maybe you can find an empty office (or your own, if you’re lucky enough to have a door and a lock and maybe some blinds that you can close) or use the building’s gym. Maybe you just try these poses out three or four times a week at home.
Either way, I bet you’ll feel calmer, happier, and more relaxed. And it’s definitely better than eating your emotions and downing yet another sugar-coated, sprinkle-dusted donut and a double shot of espresso.
Oh, and hey, if you like your yoga with a side of crudely drawn stick figures, you're in luck. This week's freebie is a semi-illustrated version of these poses for your viewing and yoga-ing pleasure.