From soothing poses like Happy Baby and Child’s Pose to desk-friendly stretches, these yoga stretches provide a moment to pause and embrace relaxation.
For most of us, experiencing some level of stress at various points throughout the day has become a common occurrence. It might stem from an overflowing email inbox, a jam-packed calendar, household chores piling up, or unexpected issues like a stubborn clogged sink or health concerns.
Effectively managing stress doesn’t necessarily involve eliminating every potential stressor, as that’s often impractical. Instead, it’s about equipping ourselves with the right tools and techniques to handle stress without it becoming overwhelming. Stretching is just one such tool you can employ in your stress management arsenal.
One compelling reason why stretching proves effective in stress reduction is that our predominantly sedentary lifestyles often lead to muscle stiffness, which is a primary source of stress, as explained by Jessica Matthews, an assistant professor of kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and the author of “Stretching to Stay Young.” She notes, “The restrictions in our range of motion due to tight, rigid muscles not only impact our physical performance during exercise and everyday activities but also influence our physical and mental well-being.”
Conversely, stretching offers an accessible means to unwind and alleviate stress during or after a hectic day, according to Matthews, who is also a certified yoga instructor affiliated with Yoga Alliance, the world’s largest nonprofit yoga association that certifies teachers and schools. The stress that accumulates in your muscles often manifests as tension, and when you release that muscular tension through stretching, you can tap into your body’s capacity to alleviate mental stress, as outlined by Harvard Health Publishing.
Kelsey Decker, a personal trainer certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and an education coordinator for StretchLab in Orange County, California, further explains, “Stretching and movement enhance proper circulation, boost oxygen levels, and release muscle tension.” These combined effects contribute to relaxation. Enhanced circulation relaxes the muscles, sending mood-enhancing blood flow to the brain. Increased oxygen levels, achieved by deep breathing during stretches, slow down your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. Lastly, letting go of the physical tension during a stretch signals your brain to relax.
When practicing yoga stretches, Matthews recommends holding each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, repeating each stretch two to four times, following the guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine. During each repetition, take five slow and deliberate breaths, each lasting approximately 15 seconds.
Please note: If you experience tingling, numbness, or pain when attempting any of the following yoga stretches or if an illness or injury prevents you from safely performing them, it’s advisable to skip them or consult your doctor for appropriate modifications.
6 Quick Stretches for Stress Relief
Here are six yoga stretches that help your body and mind relax:
1. Happy Baby
This stretch offers the advantage of hip opening, addressing a frequent source of back tightness. As Kelsey Decker notes, “Our extended periods of sitting each day often lead to poor body posture.” Additionally, yoga stretches such as this one can be beneficial for easing persistent back discomfort, as suggested by the Mayo Clinic.
Here’s how to perform it: Begin by lying on your back, then elevate your knees towards your chest. Securely grasp the soles of each foot with your hands and draw your knees towards your chest and armpits.
2. Wide-Legged Forward Fold With Chest Expansion
This stretch, as noted by Matthews, targets both your upper and lower body, making it an all-encompassing exercise. It particularly benefits individuals with tight hamstrings, a common issue for walkers and runners, as well as those with tense chest and shoulder muscles, often prevalent among individuals who spend extended periods sitting at a desk and typing.
To perform this stretch:
- Stand with your feet positioned 3 to 4 feet apart.
- Gently bend your knees.
- Grasp one end of a small towel with one hand, ensuring your palm faces behind you. Extend your opposite hand backward to secure the other end of the towel.
- Inhale deeply and roll your shoulders back and downward.
- Exhale gradually as you fold forward, focusing on hinging at your hips.
- As you bend forward, move your arms forward, bringing your knuckles toward the ceiling (or downward toward the floor if you can achieve this comfortably).
- For enhanced stability, you can maintain your hands at your hips while bending forward.
3. Rotational Neck Stretch
When stress prompts the contraction of neck and scalp muscles, it can trigger tension headaches, as highlighted by the National Institutes of Health. To maintain a healthy range of motion in your neck and release tension, Kelsey Decker recommends a straightforward yet effective neck stretch that specifically targets the muscles at the rear of your neck.
Here’s how to perform it:
- Lower your chin towards your chest.
- Rotate your chin in the direction of one of your armpits.
- If you require a deeper stretch, Decker suggests placing your hand at the back of your head and gently guiding your head closer to the corresponding armpit.
- Repeat the stretch by rotating your chin towards the other armpit.
4. Child’s Pose
As per Decker, the lower back often becomes a primary reservoir for tension in the body. Stretches like this one, which elongate the back, work to alleviate tightness and stiffness in the lower back region. Additionally, this yoga pose may contribute to improved sleep quality, as suggested by Harvard Health Publishing.
To perform this stretch:
- Begin by kneeling on the floor.
- Bring your feet together and open your knees, creating a V shape with your legs.
- Sit back, ensuring your buttocks remain on the floor or reach toward your heels.
- Gradually walk your hands forward in front of you, allowing your chest to lower toward the ground.
- As you hold this position, take deep breaths, focusing on diaphragmatic breathing.
5. Seated Spinal Twist
A spinal twist is a dynamic movement that combines a deep breath with a twisting action, akin to wringing out stress from your spine, much like you would wring water from a soaked towel. Jessica Matthews recommends that you can easily perform this rejuvenating stretch right in your work chair, providing a much-needed break during a busy workday.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit at the front edge of your chair, ensuring your feet are flat on the floor.
- Place your right hand at the back of the chair, near the backrest.
- Position your left hand on your right thigh.
- Inhale deeply while lengthening your spine.
- Exhale and initiate a gentle rotation of your torso to the right, directing your gaze over your right shoulder.
- After completing the twist on one side, repeat the process on the opposite side.
6. Chest Opener Stretch
When you’re seeking a swift and effective stretch right at your desk, this one proves highly beneficial. Kelsey Decker clarifies, “This stretch encourages correct posture and alleviates tension in your chest, facilitating optimal oxygen intake and circulation.”
To perform it:
- Interlace your hands behind your back.
- Draw your upper shoulder blades together, squeezing them towards each other behind you.
- Simultaneously, push your chest outward.