Worrying your way through your walks? Light exercise is a great stress-reliever, but if you really need to let go of your day, nothing beats yoga. It reduces stress and promotes relaxation, while making you stronger and more flexible. One of its hallmarks is deep breathing, which studies have shown reduces blood pressure and tension. Another is what Allison Ulan, yoga instructor and owner of Ashtanga Yoga Montreal, describes as “the mind moving into the body.” Known as the joy mind, it’s the state that allows us to feel and see things exactly as they are in the present moment, and release the tension of focusing on the past and future.
To find it, try Ulan’s relaxing, beginner-friendly Hatha yoga routine. Throughout the poses, try to slowly breathe deeply into your chest and stomach, drawing your stomach in when you inhale and letting it out when you exhale.
1. Child’s pose
This posture is good for people who have a hard time relaxing. Kneel on the floor. Roll up a yoga mat or a towel, and place it over your thighs. Lean forward, folding yourself over the mat. Place your elbows on the ground below your shoulders and your hands next to your head. Hold it for five breaths.
2. Downward facing dog
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, heels straight back. Bend forward and place your hands on the ground shoulder width apart, lifting your butt into the air. Spread your fingers wide and push your palms into the ground, and lower your head. This position can lower blood pressure. Hold it for five breaths, and then lower yourself back into child’s pose. Alternate another two or three times.
Crouch, with your hands and knees shoulder width apart. Flatten your back and look straight ahead. For cow pose, exhale, lowering your tailbone and stretching out your arms, while curving your back upwards, drawing in your navel, and lowering your head. Then inhale into cat: lift your head and tailbone, and arch your back, opening your belly. Continue for two to three minutes, or 10 to 25 breaths. These open the diaphragm, letting you breathe deeper.
Lying down, stretch your legs upward against a wall. Place a rolled up blanket under the base of your spine. For added support, tie a strap or an old tie around your thighs. Stretch your arms out to your sides and bend your elbows, placing your hands beside your head, palms up. Hold for two to three minutes. This relieves tired and cramped legs and feet and mild backaches.
5. Corpse pose
This position is better than sleep, says Ulan, because it promotes relaxation in a conscious state. Lay on your back on a blanket with your arms at your sides, palms facing upward. Let your eyes sink into their sockets, lower your shoulders, and focus on the flow of your breath and the deep relaxation of your muscles. Stay here for nine to 15 minutes.