Hatha yoga is one of the most common forms of yoga in the West, designed to promote calm and balance in life. The word “hatha” literally promotes balance--the word is a combination of the words for “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha). It can also be translated as either “willful” or “forceful,” and hatha yoga poses are often married to meditation and willful intention.
The mindful nature of hatha yoga makes it a great and effective practice for relieving stress. Just give any one of these hatha yoga poses a try after a long day--you’ll see just how a little yoga brightens your mood:
Tadasana - Mountain Pose
A simple, yet powerful pose--and a wonderful way to begin your practice, too! Tadasana may look to the untrained eye like the yogi is simply standing: feet shoulder width apart, arms extended at the sides, eyes looking straight ahead. However, the mountain pose is a wonderful way to strengthen the ankles, thighs, and knees. This pose also helps the yogi focus on his or her posture and breathing, setting the intention for the remainder of the practice.
Vriksasana - Tree Pose
Vriksasana is an advanced mountain pose, intended to improve the yogi’s balance and concentration. Take one foot and place it above the thigh of the supporting leg. Not only will this pose help strengthen the balancing muscles in the legs, it is a great way to let your stressful day go. You can’t dwell on an irritating co-worker when you’re trying to balance on one foot!
Utthita parsvakonasana - Extended Side Angle
A foundational pose, the extended side angle (or utthita parsvakonasana) again brings balance and strength to the yogi while also trimming the waistline. Now you may be thinking that a smaller waist has nothing to do with stress relief, but think again; the side angle stretch is also credited with helping digestion, and anyone with a nervous stomach knows that a healthy digestive system can really reduce stress.
Adho Mukha Svanasana - Downward Dog
The downward dog is one of the most well-known poses in hatha yoga. Like most hatha yoga poses, it seems simple enough: put your hands and feet on the ground and straighten your legs, so you make a reverse “V” on the mat. But this pose is more than just a great hamstring stretch. The pose encourages yogis to focus on their breathing as their heads are inverted, allowing for relaxation and a calm mind.
Marjaryasana - Cat Pose
Does anyone else carry their stress in their back muscles? Sometimes, the best way to relieve your stress is to stretch out those knotted up parts. Marjaryasana, or the cat pose (the rounded back portion of what your instructor usually calls “cat and cow”) massages your lower back and spine. This can be a great way to physically feel your stress lifting off you as you breathe deeply and focus on the movement of your body.
Setu bandha sarvangasana - Bridge Pose
When it comes to stress relief, the bridge pose is truly the motherload. This pose has been credited with reducing anxiety, fatigue, backaches, headaches and insomnia. In fact, it has even been thought to be therapeutic for high blood pressure! Begin by laying on your back on the mat with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Then, simply lift your hips so that your body slopes in a line from your knees to your head and upper body. Don’t forget to breathe!
Bhujangasana - Cobra Pose
The cobra pose is, in a way, the opposite of the bridge pose. You begin on your stomach rather than you back, and you lift with your upper body rather than your lower. But while the poses may be different, the benefits remain. Bhujangasana is said to help relieve depression as it strengthens your arms, shoulders, and upper back. It opens up the upper body (making it easier to take in deep, nourishing breaths) and can help the meditating yogi become more aware of his or her heart as they continue their practice.
Viparita Karani - Legs-Up-The-Wall
While cobra pose makes the yogi aware of the heart, this pose lays claim to the heart’s real nourishment. Viparita karani--a pose in which the yogi lays supine on the mat with his or her legs straight up against a wall--is traditionally believed to “renew blood and lymph drainage back into the heart area." Whether or not this is true, the pose is still incredibly relaxing and great for relieving stress.
Balasana - Child’s Pose
Excellent for relieving stress and anxiety, child’s pose involves curling up into a ball with your knees tucked under you and your chest near the mat. For many, this pose can be soothing, as it relieves strain in the back, shoulders, neck, hips. It is also a restorative pose for the nervous system, and after a long, stressful day, we all could use some nice and easy restoration.
Savasana - Corpse Pose
If you opt out of every other pose, please don’t miss out on this one. Savasana involves simply laying down on your mat with the eyes closed. But from this small, deliberate movement come big changes for your stress levels. The corpse pose can trigger “relaxation responses” in the body, which help to relieve stress and release tension throughout. With this pose you will find that your breathing is slowed, your blood pressure reduced, and your overall mood improved. Those benefits are just too good to miss.
The benefits of yoga to your mental health, physical health, and relationships are too long to list. Relieve the stress in your life with these simple hatha yoga exercises.