8 Yoga Poses to Help You Manage Stress

man doing yoga

No matter who you are, where you live, or what type of work you do, chances are good that stress is a regular part of your life. Stress takes the form of anything that prevents the fulfillment of a desire, or how you respond when your needs are not being met.

Stress can put a strain on your health, emotions, relationships, and overall well-being. Finding strategies to manage or mitigate its damaging effects can be a vital component to a healthy, happy life.

In addition to meditation, hatha yoga poses provide a powerful strategy to control and down-regulate the fight-or-flight response brought on by stressful life conditions. By its very nature, yoga (as a physical exercise) is soothing on both the body and mind.

Practicing yoga can help alleviate stress by:

  • Activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of the fight-or-flight response)
  • Supporting the elimination of toxins from the body
  • Releasing muscular tension and rigidity
  • Releasing energy blockages
  • Deepening breathing
  • Stimulating circulation
  • Drawing attention inward

Several yoga poses are especially effective for managing stress and can provide real-time relief during challenging situations. Try one of these eight poses next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

1. Happy Baby Pose

man doing yogaThe Happy Baby pose is a wonderful pose for calming the mind and relieving fatigue and stress. It also provides a comforting stretch to the lower back and spine, while creating space in the inner thighs. 

How to do it:

•  Lie on your back and, as you exhale, draw your knees in toward your chest. 
•  Inhale and, with your hands on your knees, comfortably lower them out to the sides. 
•  Reach up to grasp the outsides of your feet or toes with your hands. (If you have limited flexibility, hold on to a strap or belt looped over the sole of each foot.) 
•  Try to keep your ankles over your knees and press your feet up into your hands or the strap. 
•  Lightly rock yourself from side to side as you breathe deeply for five to seven breaths, embodying the pristine innocence and security of a baby in its crib. 

2. Legs Against the Wall Pose

man doing yogaA very relaxing pose, Legs Against the Wall gives the body a much-needed rest, calming the nervous system, aiding in circulation, calming the mind, and taking pressure off the spine and neck as the body sinks into the floor.

How to do it:

•  Position your body with knees close to your chest next to a bare wall that’s free of any potential obstacles. (Use a folded blanket or towel placed beneath your hips for comfort and support.) 
•  Exhale and, in one smooth movement, roll onto your back as you swing your legs up against the wall. (Your distance from the wall will depend on your height and what feels comfortable for you. Experiment with finding the ideal distance for your body.)
•  Keep your legs straight and relatively firm as you sink your shoulders and back into the floor. 
•  Draw your head and neck away from your shoulders, and extend your arms out to the sides, palms facing up. 
•  Remain in the pose between five and 10 minutes, breathing in a gentle and relaxed manner. 
•  When coming out of the pose, bend your knees as you easily roll to your side and off your support.

3. Bridge Pose

man doing yogaBridge pose is helpful for calming the brain and alleviating stress and tension. It reduces anxiety while stimulating the thyroid, lungs, and abdominal organs. 

How to do it:

•  Lie on the floor with your knees up and the soles of your feet near your buttocks. (If needed, place a thickly folded towel or blanket beneath your shoulders to protect your neck.) 
•  As you exhale, press your feet down into the floor or mat as you raise your hips up toward the sky. Engage your thighs and actively press your shoulders down into the mat. 
•  Clasp your hands below your hips and “walk” your shoulder blades under you so your arms are extended.
•  Feel the opening of your chest and keep your chin tucked in and downward, avoiding turning your head to the side. 
•  Take five to seven long slow breaths before exhaling and gently rolling back down to the mat, coming down one vertebra at a time.

4. Seated Forward Bend

man doing yogaSeated Forward Bend folds the body over itself, creating a feeling of retreating from the over activity of the world. It lengthens the back while calming the mind and aiding in digestion. 

How to do it:

•  Sit with both legs together and straight out in front of you, toes pointing upward as if they were up against a wall.
•  Inhale and extend your arms straight up overhead, lengthening from the hips and through the spine. 
•  As you exhale, fold your upper body down from the hips toward your legs, reaching with your hands toward your feet. 
•  Allow your hands to rest wherever they can comfortably reach. 
•  Relax your shoulders down and away from your ears and soften your elbows. Withdraw your senses and let your awareness soften into the pose. 
•  Relax and breathe for five to seven breaths. 

5. Cow-Cat Pose

man doing yogaCow-Cat pose is a gentle up and down flowing posture that brings flexibility to the entire spine. It stretches and lengthens the back, torso, and neck, and is a wonderful and easy movement that establishes a steady breathing rhythm and calms the nervous system. 

Here’s how to do it:

•  Come down on all fours into a neutral, table-top position. (Be sure to align the hands below the shoulders and knees directly beneath the hips.) 
•  Looking straight ahead, inhale and slowly extend through your spine as you look up and forward, softly arching through the back and neck. (Take care to expand through your chest and lower your shoulders down and back.) 
•  Move into cat pose by reversing the movement as you exhale and bring your chin towards your chest while gently hunching and rounding your back. 
•  Repeat this sequence for seven to 10 cycles, softly flowing with your breath.

6. Child’s Pose

man doing yogaChild’s pose is a deeply restorative pose that can be very relaxing for the neck and back. It can also help reduce stress, anxiety, and mental tension. 

Here’s how to do it:

•  Start in an all-fours position.
•  Exhaling, sink your hips back toward your heels and reach your arms out along the floor in front of you. 
•  Lower your hips only as far as your body will comfortably allow. 
•  Reach through your arms, extending into your shoulders as you bring your forehead to the floor between your hands. (As an alternative position, you may choose to stack your hands or make soft fists to rest your head.) 
•  Relax completely and allow any bodily tension to release. 
• Remain in the pose, breathing easily for any length of time between 30 seconds and several minutes.

Note: Child’s pose is an inversion that places the head below the heart. Avoid this pose if you have high blood pressure or eye problems. 

7. Easy Pose

man doing yogaA soothing seated pose for cultivating deep calm and groundedness, Easy pose also helps align and straighten the back, while lightly stretching the ankles and knees. It allows the hips to open and strengthens the muscles of the spine.

Here’s how to do it:

•  Sit comfortably with your legs crossed on the floor. (You can lightly fold one foot on the floor tucked in front of the other. If you need additional support, sit on a folded towel or blanket.) 
•  Press your sitting bones down into the floor.
•  Elongate your spine and sit up tall as you relax and roll your shoulders downward to open your chest. 
•  Feel the crown of your head lifting up toward the sky and close your eyes as you breathe deeply and steadily for as long as comfortable. (If you sit in Easy pose for a prolonged period of time, be sure to alternate the cross of your legs for balance.)

8. Corpse Pose

man doing yogaCorpse pose, or relaxation pose, is arguably the most restorative yoga pose in existence. Typically practiced at the end of a yoga class, this pose is powerfully beneficial for stress and anxiety relief. It helps you experience deep peace as your mind-body integrates the subtle changes in physiology from practicing various poses. 

Here’s how to do it:

•  Comfortably make your way to the floor and lie on your back. 
•  Extend your legs straight along the floor. (If your back is uncomfortable with your legs straight, draw your knees up and place the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees softly touching.) 
•  Extend your arms down at your sides, palms facing up.
•  Make any adjustments you need to feel comfortable—wiggle your hips, roll your head from side to side, or position your shoulder blades slightly closer to each other. 
•  Close your eyes and breathe naturally and effortlessly. 
•  Relax your face and jaw and let go of any remaining tension in your neck or spine. 
•  Drift into the stillness for five to 15 minutes.

Used singularly or together in sequence, these poses can go a long way in helping you manage the debilitating effects of regular stress on your system. Give them a try and experience the ways yoga can help you maintain a state of calm and centered balance in times of stress.


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About the Author

Adam Brady

Vedic Educator
Yoga teacher, author, and martial artist Adam Brady has been associated with the Chopra Center for nearly 20 years. He is a certified Vedic Educator trained in Primordial Sound Meditation , Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga , and Perfect Health: Ayurvedic Lifestyle , and regularly teaches in the Orlando, Florida, area. Over the last several years, Adam has worked to introduce corporate mind-body wellness programs into the workplace within a large...Read more