Stress relief: Try meditation or yoga

Simple at-home exercises for quick stress relief

Everyone experiences stress and whether you’re at home or at work, you know stress when you feel it. But do you know how to quickly relieve stress? Chronic stress has been proven to raise blood pressure by a few points in just one year, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke and a puts you at major risk of heart disease.

Meditation and yoga not only relieves common symptoms of stress like muscle tension, headaches and insomnia, but also helps sooth an anxious mind. To manage stress, try this quick meditation exercise plus six easy yoga stretches. The Canadian Mental Health Association says that some of the best relaxation techniques are meditation, yoga or massage. You’ll have to get someone to help you with the massage part, but meditation and yoga can be done on your own, at home, or virtually anywhere.

Ready to exhale

Seven steps to clear your mind and reduce stress

Studies show that meditating can help you achieve a deeper level of relaxation, improve your ability to focus, decrease the stress hormone and increase productivity. These are all positive qualities and especially useful when tackling everyday tension.

There are hundreds of methods and styles of meditation, but here’s a quick and easy exercise from Philip Starkman, founder and meditation teacher at Spring Rain Sangha (in Ontario and B.C.) to get you started.

1. Take 5 – 10 minutes for yourself.
2. Go into a private room. If you’ve done this a few times, it can even be done in the presence of company, or in a car while stuck in traffic.
3. Start by focusing on the inhale and exhale of your breath. Take note of whether it’s strong or soft, short or long. Focus on the pauses between each breath.
4. Next, focus on the rise and fall of your abdomen and notice how your muscles are expanding and contracting. Place your hands on the abdomen to get a sense of what’s happening and to keep your mind focused.
5. After a few minutes of concentrated breathing, you should notice your breath starting to slow down.
6. If it’s not slowing down, direct your attention to your breathing again. Ease your mind’s focus back to rise and fall of the abdomen. This concentration technique brings tranquility and strengthens your concentration. Each time your mind wanders from the focal point – the breath – just bring the attention back to it.
7. Once you’re feeling more relaxed and at ease, ensure you continue to be aware of your breathing.

Strike a pose

Six simple at-home yoga poses

Along with providing a clearer mind, the benefits of yoga have been well-documented to improve posture, circulation and flexibility. Here are six simple poses that Denyse Green, yoga instructor and part-owner of Roots Yoga Studio recommends.

Warrior 1

Relieve back tension by strengthening your abdomen, back and leg muscles with this move.

A. Stand with your feet about one metre apart. Turn your right foot 90 degrees so that it’s pointing right. (Your right heel should be aligned with the middle of your left foot.) Rotate your chest so it faces the direction of your right foot. Bend your right knee, being careful not to go past a 90-degree angle.
B. Raise your straight arms toward the ceiling, palms facing each other. Stretch your upper body tall. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds; release and switch sides.

forward fold

Loosen tight hamstrings and fight backaches with this modified version of a traditional standing forward bend.

A. Stand facing the back of a sturdy chair with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on the back of the chair.
B. Step away from the chair and slowly bend from the hips, leaning forward until your chest faces the floor and your arms are extended in front of you, hands still on the chair. Avoid hanging your head, tensing your shoulders or rounding your spine. Knees should be slightly bent. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

Cat stretch

Improve your posture and flexibility by gently stretching your neck, abs and back (weight-bearing exercises such as this one also help stave off carpal tunnel syndrome).

A. Position yourself on all fours with your hands aligned directly under your shoulders, palms on the floor, and your knees under your hips. Begin with your spine in a neutral position.
B. Round your back, tucking your chin into your chest. Imagine your spine arching like a rainbow. Then straighten your spine.
C. Now arch your back, lifting your chin away from your chest. Alternate movements at a slow pace, 10 to 12 times.

spinal twist

Release stiff hip muscles and ward off tension in your upper body with this simple pose. (Make sure you’re warmed up a bit before attempting this pose).

A. Sit tall on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right leg, placing the sole of your right foot on the floor, with your knee pointing to the ceiling. Place your right arm slightly behind your body, keeping your arm straight and your palm on the floor.
B. Gently rotate your torso toward the right as you bend your left arm and place it on your right leg, close to your bent knee. Avoid leading the twist with your head and neck, or rounding your spine in a slouch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds; release and switch sides.

Inverted leg posture

Improve blood and lymphatic circulation in the abdomen. Reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs and prevent varicose veins. Regulate blood pressure.

A. Lie down on your back bringing your legs to rest on a wall or the foot of a bed. You should be at a ninety degree angle, with your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Make sure that your lower back is comfortably supported by the floor.
B. Keep your legs straight, but relaxed. Place your arms out to your sides with the palms turned up.
C. Close your eyes and take several long slow breaths. Practice this pose for a minimum of five minutes.
Note: If this pose is causing you lower back pain, move about one foot away from the wall and bend your knees, resting the soles of your feet on the wall.

Child’s pose

Increases circulation to the abdominals and lower back. Relieves lower back tension and rests the legs and arms. (Try to do this pose at the end).

A. Sit on your heels. Bend forward and rest your arms and head on the floor
B. As you exhale, let your hips drop down toward your heels. Let your knees open side ways, resting your forehead on the mat. Relax your arms and hands beside you. Stay in this position for as long as you feel comfortable. Keep breathing regularly.
Note: If you can not get your head down to the mat, place a pillow in front of you and rest your forehead on it.