11 Calming Yoga Poses That Yoga Teachers Recommend For Soothing Stress Relief
It’s not always easy to get into a yoga flow when you’re feeling stressed. In fact, if you’re overwhelmed and anxious, it might feel like the last thing you want to do. But if there’s one thing we know about yoga, it’s that you should never underestimate its power for relieving worries and creating calm. And if you don’t have the time or motivation for a full flow, dropping into a few key yoga poses is a good way to relieve stress fast. We consulted with yoga instructors to find out which poses are most effective – read ahead to get their expertise and try out these ultra-relaxing postures for yourself.
Samora Suber, RYT 200, said Child’s Pose is her favorite for stress relief. It “helps to calm your nervous system with nurturing signals of being ‘safe and supported,'” she explained. The pose also stretches your legs and hips while relieving tension in your neck and head, Suber added.
- Kneel on your mat with your knees hips-width distance apart, and your big toes touching behind you. Take a deep breath in and, as you exhale, lie your torso over your thighs. Try to lengthen your neck and spine by drawing your ribs away from your tailbone and the crown of your head away from your shoulders.
- Rest your arms beside your legs, with palms facing up, or try extending your arms out in front of you.
- Stay here for five breaths.
Cat Cow Pose
This simple pose “helps to create an opening of the spine,” said yoga instructor Maya Breuer, E-RYT 500, vice president of cross-cultural advancement at Yoga Alliance. “This movement of the spine removes blockages and strengthens the arms, shoulders, and neck.”
- Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your knees are under your hips and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin in a neutral spine position, with your back flat and your abs engaged. Take a big, deep inhale.
- On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling, and imagine you’re pulling your belly button up toward your spine, really engaging your abs. Tuck your chin toward your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-like shape.
- On your inhale, arch your back, let your belly relax, and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up toward the sky – without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is the Cow portion of the pose.
- Continue flowing back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, and connect your breath to each movement – inhale for Cow Pose, and exhale on Cat Pose.
- Repeat for 10 rounds.
“I love the inner strength and confidence that this pose cultivates, along with the humility and willingness it signifies,” said yoga therapist and instructor Huma Gruaz, RYT 500. “It helps cultivate stillness in my mind and body while improving my stamina, endurance, balance, and concentration.”
- Begin on your hands and feet in Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward between your palms and come into Warrior 1.
- Extend your arms out in T-position as you rotate your torso to the left, coming into Warrior 2. Ideally your front thigh should be parallel to the ground and your right knee directly over your right ankle. Make sure your shoulders are stacked directly above your pelvis.
- Gaze past your right fingertips, holding for at least five breaths. Then return to Downward Facing Dog. Step your left foot forward and do this pose on the other side.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Gruaz says this is the perfect pose to shift into after Warrior 2. Wide-Legged Forward Bend “relieves tension from our lower back as well as our cervical spine and our neck, while gently reversing the blood flow in our upper torso and brain,” she said. The pose is an inversion that “promotes grounding while releasing stress.”
- Stand with your legs wider than your hips with your heels turned out wider than your toes.
- Fold your torso over your legs, pressing into the outsides of your feet and keeping your inner arches lifted.
- To increase the stretch, reach for your ankles and gently draw your chest towards your thighs.
- For a more relaxed position, fold your arms and grab your opposite elbows, letting your body hang down.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
“Tree Pose is a pose of balance that requires focus and brings awareness into the present moment,” said Pilin Anice, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, a yoga instructor who teaches virtual classes with Ailey Extension. “The attention this pose requires anchors the mind to present and slows down racing thoughts while cultivating feelings of calm, grounding, and stability in the body.”
- Stand with your feet together in Mountain Pose. Put all your weight into your left foot and lift your right foot off the ground. Grab onto your right ankle with your right hand, flex your foot, and place your heel as far up your standing leg as possible with your toes pointing down.
- To prevent your right foot from sliding down, actively press your left leg and the sole of your right foot against each other. Draw your right knee back to open your hip.
- Press your palms together in front of your heart or raise your arms into the air, gazing forward. Hold for five breaths.
Standing Forward Fold
Standing Forward Fold relieves stress and tension in the spine, Suber said. “Anytime you allow your head to hang below your heart, you get quick calming benefits to ease tightness and anxiety.”
- Begin at the front of your mat, feet hips-width apart and hands on your hips. Inhale and reach your arms straight above you.
- As you exhale, engage your abs, and fold forward with a straight back. Tuck your chin in toward your chest, relax your shoulders, and extend the crown of the head toward the floor to create a long spine. Shift weight forward into your toes, straightening the legs as much as possible.
- Let your hands hang toward the floor or use them to cup your opposite elbows.
- Hold here for 30 seconds.
“This pose is great for opening your hips and breathing deeply,” said Zac Armstrong, E-RYT 500, NASM-certified personal trainer and master trainer for YogaSix.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and hold onto your feet, ankles, or backs of the thighs.
- Gently pull your legs toward the floor, holding still or gently rocking side to side. Hold here for five breaths.
“This pose gives your hips an opportunity to really open up and sink into the floor,” Armstrong said of Pigeon Pose. Madeline Sperber, RYT 200, yoga instructor and fitness director at the Seagate Fitness Club, added that this pose is beneficial for stress release because it calms your nervous system “while also working to loosen the low back, hips, and glutes.”
- Sit with your right knee bent and your left leg extended behind you. Pull the right heel in toward your left hip, or if your hips are more open, inch your right foot away from you. Make sure your left hip is always pointing down toward the mat. If it begins to open up toward the ceiling, draw your right foot back in toward your body.
- Stay here with your hands resting on your right thigh or your hips, or walk your hands out in front of you, allowing your torso to rest over your right knee.
- Hold here, breathing into any areas of tightness and tension for at least one minute and as long as five minutes.
- Repeat this pose with your left knee bent.
Lying Spinal Twist
This soothing pose will open up and stretch your back muscles while lengthening the spine and promoting relaxation, Breuer said.
- Lie on your back, bending your knees into your chest.
- Extend your arms out in T-position.
- Slowly lower both knees to the right. Rest them on the ground, and turn your head to the left. You can increase the stretch by crossing your left knee over your right thigh.
- Hold here for at least five breaths, feeling your spine lengthen and twist. You may even hear some “cracks.”
- Use your abs to lift your knees back to center, then repeat on the other side.
Legs Up the Wall
This relaxing pose is a good one to end your day with, said yoga instructor Vivian Doan, RYT 200, creator of ScolioFitness. “It’s a refreshing pose that promotes healthy circulation, provides pain relief, lowers stress and anxiety, and stretches your legs, hips, and back.”
- Sit down as close as you can to the wall. Lie down on your back, place your feet on the wall with your knees bent, and scoot your butt against the wall.
- Extend your feet straight up, resting your heels on the wall. Keep your arms by your sides or by your head if you want to stretch your shoulders.
- Close your eyes and allow your entire body to relax, feeling gravity pulling you down as the wall supports you, holding for five or more breaths.
This “crowd favorite” pose “allows you to lay still and focus on your breath,” Armstrong said. “For this pose, all you have to do is lay on your back and place both hands down at your sides, with palms facing up. As you breathe deeply, your chest will open up and your mind will find calm.”
- Lie on your back, and close your eyes. In order to relax and open your body fully, extend your arms a few inches away from the body, with your palms facing up.
- Bring about 15 to 20 inches between your feet, allowing your feet to fall open with your toes pointing out. Actively shrug your shoulders and shoulder blades down toward your hips. Lengthen through your spine as much as possible, and try to press the small of your back into the floor.
- After you’ve found a comfortable position, enjoy the stillness for five to 10 minutes.