When you encounter a perceived threat, a tiny region at the base of your brain — the hypothalamus — sets off an alarm system in your body. Through the combination of nerve and hormonal signals, the adrenal grands are prompted to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, attempts to aid the body by suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system and the growth process — functions that wouldn’t be needed in a fight or flight situation.
The body’s stress response usually returns to normal when the perceived threat has passed and you allow yourself to calm, but when stressors are constantly present, that fight or flight reaction remains. The overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all of the body’s processes, putting you at risk for numerous health problems including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and concentration impairment.
Finding your own way to unwind and de-stress is the key to keeping negative energy out of your life. Many people have found solace in yoga, using its relaxation techniques to calm their minds and find their balance. Try these eight easy yoga poses to help flush stress hormones from your body.
1. Child’s Pose
- Kneel on a yoga mat with your legs together, sitting back on your heels.
- Hinge forward until your chest rests on your thighs and your forehead is on the floor.
- Curl your shoulders forward and let your hands rest with your palms up, next to your feet.
- Hold for five breaths.
This pose calms by allowing the resting posture to quiet the mind and ease stress. Child’s pose benefits the nervous system and lymphatic system.
2. Bridge Pose
- Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart.
- Slide your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down.
- Press your feet into the floor; inhale; lift hips while rolling your spine off of the floor.
- Press your arms and shoulders down to lift your chest and engage your legs to lift the hips higher.
- Hold for 4-8 breaths, then release on an exhale, slowly rolling your spine back to the floor.
This pose calms by providing gentle stretching of the back and legs. Bridge Pose reduces anxiety, fatigue, backaches, headaches and insomnia.
3. Standing Forward Bend
- From a standing position, exhale forward and bend your knees enough to bring your palms flat to the floor with your head pressed against your legs.
- Feel your spine stretch in opposite directions; your head is pulled down and in.
- Press your hips up and straighten the legs for a deeper stretch.
- Hold for 4-8 breaths, then bend the knees, inhale and lift back into standing position.
This pose calms by stretching the hamstrings, thighs and hips. Standing forward bend is thought to relieve stress, fatigue and mild depression.
4. Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose
- Sit with your hips against the wall and roll onto your back, taking your legs up the wall.
- Your bottom should be pressed as close to the wall as possible.
- Hold for 5 minutes.
This pose calms by reducing stress and renewing blood and lymph drainage back into the heart area.
5. Cat Pose
- Begin on all fours, exhale and draw your belly to your spine.
- Round your back toward the ceiling.
- Lower the crown of your head toward the floor, don’t force your chin to your chest.
This pose calms by soothing and stretching the lower back, relieving stress and massaging the spine.
6. Eagle Pose
- Begin standing; bend your knees and balance on your right foot.
- Cross your left thigh over the right thigh, then hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf.
- Balance for one breath, then extend your arms straight in front of your body and drop your left arm under your right arm.
- Bend your elbows and wrap your arms and hands, pressing your palms together.
- Square your hips and chest to the wall and draw your belly in and up.
- Hold for up to 1 minute, then gently unwind your arms and legs and repeat on the opposite side.
This pose calms by warding off stress through improved focus and balance. Eagle pose is an empowerment pose that releases tension in the shoulders, legs and back.
7. Head-to-Knee Forward Bend
- Begin seated with your legs extended, then bend your left leg, bringing the sole of your foot to the upper inside of your right thigh.
- Place both hands on either side of the right leg and inhale, turning toward the extended leg.
- Exhale and fold forward; hold for 5 breaths then repeat on the opposite side.
This pose calms by relaxing the mind to relieve anxiety, fatigue, headaches, depression and insomnia.
8. Extended Triangle Pose
- Start in a standing position. Exhale, spread your legs 4 feet from each other and lift and hold your arms out at your sides with palms facing down.
- Turn your right foot out at a 90-degree angle; turn your left foot in toward the right.
- Tighten your thigh muscles and turn your right thigh outward, then bend the body from the hips toward the right leg.
- Twist your body to the left, keeping both sides long, then push your left hip slightly forward.
- Keep your right hand on your ankles, while stretching your left arm up toward the sky.
- Keep your head straight or turned slightly to the left; hold this position for 30 seconds.
This pose calms by stretching the entire body to relieve stress, improve digestion and lessen the symptoms of anxiety.