Stretches for Stress
While the holidays can be a really fun and exciting time of year, they also have the ability to raise stress levels. Our calendars become more full, we’re out shopping in crazy crowds, and things that challenge our health and wellness goals are in front of us consistently. Stretching is one way to reduce the stress response in the body. It also helps to loosen up areas that tend to get tense from the extra stress. Try these stretches this season to help target tight areas and find a little zen in the middle of the festive chaos.
We tend to hold a lot of stress and anxiety in our hips. A gentle stretch to open up this area of the body will benefit your entire well-being.
Bound Angle Pose/Butterfly
Start with feet together and knees out to the side. You can place blocks under your knees if that feels good. Sit up tall, back straight, then lean forward. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Stack the legs ankle-to-knee, ankle-to-knee. Sit on a block, or place blocks/a rolled blanket/towels under the thighs for if your hips feel too tight to comfortably sit in this pose. Once you are in the seated position, fold your upper body forward, reaching with a straight back. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Happy Baby Pose
Lie on your back and bend your knees in towards you stomach, soles of your feet reaching to the ceiling. Inhale and grip the outsides of your feet with your hands (if you have difficulty holding your feet directly with your hands, hold onto a belt looped over each sole.) Open your knees slightly wider than your torso, then bring them up toward your armpits. Position each ankle directly over the knee, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Flex through the heels. Gently push your feet up into your hands (or the belts) as you pull your hands down to create a resistance.
Gentle inversions, especially when held comfortably, are calming to the body and help reduce the feelings of anxiety.
With your feet hip-width apart, bend forward until your fingers or hands reach the floor. You can have a slight bend in your knees for comfort. Then bring opposite hand to opposite elbow, creating a box with your arms. Allow your head and neck to hang and release so your arms create a frame around your face. Your entire upper body should feel loose. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Legs Up a Wall
Lying on your back, sit your hips as close to where the floor meets the wall. Bring your legs up so they extend up the wall. Your body should be in an L shape. You can use a towel or blanket under your lower back for comfort. Allow your arms to rest to your side. Hold for 5 to 10 minutes and breathe deeply. This is also a great opportunity to practice mindfulness.
A common thread with these postures and stretches in the need to focus on your breath. It helps you deepen the stretch and re-connect with your body. Breathing also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to counteract our natural stress response. Practicing breathing on its own is also extremely powerful in combating the effects of stress on the body.
If you’re looking for a different approach to mindful breathing, try Alternate Nostril Breathing.
- Sit comfortably and let yourself breathe naturally for a few months.
- Rest your left hand on your lap.
- Make a “peace sign” with your right hand. Fold the two extended fingers toward the palm or rest them lightly on the bridge of your nose. Place your thumb gently onto your right nostril. Place your ring and little fingers gently onto your left nostril.
- Close your eyes and begin by softly closing your right nostril (using your right thumb) and inhale slowly, deeply, smoothly, gently and without strain through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril (using your ring and little fingers) and release closure of your right. Exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril.
- Close your right nostril and release closure of your left. Exhale through your left nostril.
- Try this for a few rounds. When you’re done, sit comfortably and allow yourself to breathe naturally before ending your mindful breathing practice.