As COVID-19 continues to spread we’ve all experienced change and stress in our lives. Social distancing is a term many of us had never heard of, but are now using multiple times a day. Races have been cancelled as well as our usual outlets for stress like gyms, fitness studios and group runs. But there are things we CAN do when confined to our homes, and luckily yoga is one of those things. In addition to being a form of exercise that doesn’t take up much space or equipment, there are specific poses that can help reduce stress in the mind and the body.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety and manage stress. One of my favorite techniques is called “three-part breath” which literally breaks the breath into three parts which by nature requires some focus and allows you to slow down. You can practice three-part breath at the beginning of your yoga practice to get you grounded, or use it as a technique to calm yourself whenever you need it.
First, find a comfortable position. An upright seat or reclined back in shavasana or Supta Baddha Konasana (a.k.a. butterfly — knees wide, feet together). Then, close your eyes and start to focus on each breath. Focus on the breath moving into your belly, ribcage, and chest — these are the three parts of the breath. Feel the expansion on your inhale, and the compression as you exhale.
Feel free to place your hands directly on the areas you breathe into and repeat the process as many times as you’d like.
Standing Forward Bend
Whether you’re working from home or sitting in front of the TV, there’s no doubt that your body is feeling some stress. We hold a lot of this stress in our shoulders and neck. Use this pose to release that stress.
Stand with your feet hip width distance apart and fold over your legs. Allow your knees to bend enough so you don’t feel any tension in your lower back and take any arm variation you’d like (reach for opposite elbows, interlace hands behind your neck, or reach hold of your feet). Let your head and neck completely go and if it feels right, gently nod your head yes and no to further release tension in the neck.
Downward Facing Dog
This staple yoga pose is a staple for a reason! It’s an inversion while also allowing the spine to lengthen and the legs to stretch — releasing tension throughout the body. Come into the pose from a table top position, then tuck your toes and send your hips to the ceiling. Create a generous bend in your knees to release tension in the hamstrings and relax the head, sending your gaze to the back of your mat. If you are experiencing stress in your hips, lift one leg and then the other to open the hips. If your calves are tight, you can bend one knee and then the other.
If you complain of tight hips, you are definitely not alone! Many people hold stress in their hips which makes it even more important to focus on them during times of stress. Half Pigeon targets the outer hips and glutes and can be pretty intense! To adapt the pose for your body, use blankets or pillows to prop up your hip or to rest your head on.
To get into the pose (from downward facing dog), send one leg forward and bring your shin parallel to the front of your mat. Send your back leg long and press your hip forward and down. If your front hip is really elevated, use those props! You can stay lifted or fold forward.
Legs Up the Wall
Missing all the props from your yoga studio or gym? Well here’s a pose that comes with a prop we all have — a wall! Legs up the wall is a gentle inversion that will increase circulation in the body while lowering your heart rate and reducing stress in the body.
To get into the pose, set up next to a wall or even the headboard of your bed or side of your couch. Send your legs straight up the wall and bring your hips as close to the wall as feels comfortable (on your hamstrings). From there, you can relax the arms, close your eyes, and relax.
The lower back is another area in the body where tension likes to sit. There are many twists that you can practice, but a supine twist is a little more restorative and gentle on the body.
Lay flat on your back, hug your knees into your chest, reach your arms out wide to a tee, and then let both knees fall over to one side (repeat on both sides). Keep both shoulders connected to the earth and enjoy the unwinding sensation.
Whether you’re ending your yoga practice, or just need a reset in your day, shavasana is the perfect pose. Completely relax your body on the floor or your mat and focus on your breath. This is the ideal time to come back to your three-part breath and enjoy stillness for a few moments!
During these times of stress, it can be really easy to let our anxiety take over. But taking just a few minutes to move your body or meditate can make a world of difference. So roll out your mat and enjoy a little “me time.”
Stay healthy. Stay home.