Although practicing complex asanas (poses) can be fun, challenging, and invigorating, it’s important to know that the physical practice of yoga can help relieve the way your body physically responds to stress. And, stress, as I’m sure you’re aware, is connected to a number of health problems, such as migraines, ulcers, IBS, and even more serious issues such as heart attacks and diabetes.
Your body has two stress systems: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response. It increases the adrenaline and cortisol in your body, and raises your body pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. The PNS is also known as our “rest and digest” system. Stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate.
It’s healthy and normal for both of systems to work well in your body. Unfortunately, many of us live in a constant state of stress and anxiety. If you live a hectic, stressful, busy life, chances are your PNS is not activated as often as it should be.
That’s where yoga comes in! Below are three accessible poses that can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system and ultimately calm your body and mind.
1. Supported Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Any posture with the head below the heart has a calming effect on the nervous system.
Start on your hands and knees with a blanket under your shins for support. Move your knees wide apart, but keep your big toes to touching. Place a firm pillow or a few folded blankets between your thighs. Fold your torso forward so your forehead touches the ground. Reach your hands out in front of you. Your head and chest should rest comfortably on the pillow or blankets under you. Move your head to one side, and after 2-3 minutes, switch sides. Focus on the rhythm of your breath and keep your eyes closed.
2. Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Sit facing a wall with a firm pillow or a few blankets within reach. Move your butt as close as you can to the wall, lay your upper body on the ground, and stretch your legs up the wall. If you need the support, place the pillow or blankets under your hips and lower back. Try to keep your heels facing the ceiling. Stay in the pose 5-10 minutes, Breathe and relax each muscle.
If it’s difficult to keep your legs from moving away from each other, loop a strap around your calves and tighten to hold the legs together.
3. Corpse Pose (Savasana) with a Weighted Blanket
A study published in the Occupational Journal in Mental Health, tested 32 adults with anxiety disorders. They found that 63% of subjects reported less anxiety with a 30-pound weighted blanket over their body.
Lie flat on the floor. Place a couple heavy blankets over your body. If you have a yoga sandbag available or even a heavy pillow, place it over your hips along with the blankets. Make sure your body is completely supported and comfortable. Practice making each breath long and rhythmic.
Tip: If you have low back pain, place a rolled up blanket under your knees to take pressure off of the low back.
You can perform any of these poses right before bed to ensure a good night’s sleep. If you have time, try all three as an evening routine. If you have the time, space, and feel comfortable, try legs up the wall if you’re having a stressful day at work!