Welcome back from spring break, Roos! Hopefully, you were able to dedicate this past week to relaxing and rejuvenating as we prepare for our last sprint of the semester.
I know just as well as you do that returning to classes can be stressful, especially with finals season rapidly approaching. In these last few weeks, we most often find ourselves flipping through textbooks late at night, trying to finish an essay during the early hours of the morning or sitting through exams and presentations over the course of the day. It’s tough! As a result of all this activity and stress, it doesn’t take long for our bodies to begin harboring both physical and mental tension.
Regardless, it’s still incredibly important to continue tending to your physical and energetic body — which is where yoga comes in. After four years of diligent practice and experience, I have selected some of my favorite asanas that are not only relatively simple shapes, but are also guaranteed to help relieve stress and promote relaxation. Check out the tutorials I’ve linked below for a step-by-step guide to each pose, and enjoy! (Although, please be cognizant of any physical strains or limitations you may have and consult your physician if you have any concerns.)
- Simhasana (Lion’s Breath)
This is probably the most convenient asana and definitely one of the easiest and most effective stress-busters out there. Not only does it help you concentrate on your breathing (or pranayama), but it also relieves tension in the face, jaw and mouth while stimulating the energy centers that might give you the extra lift or boost you need to get through the next hour or two.
It’s a great one to do during a study break, just before an exam or when you need to shut your camera off and regroup for a quick second during a Zoom call. This asana can also be done in conjunction with any of the other listed postures and poses.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
This is one of the most renowned and widely-recognized poses out there — and for good reason. Not only does it function as a full-body stretch, but it also builds strength in the arms, shoulders, hamstrings and calves. For me, the regular practice of this pose has improved the alignment of my spine, created space and flexibility in my hips and relieved stress and tension in my neck, shoulders and upper back.
If you haven’t done this pose before, I highly recommend watching the tutorial I’ve linked above. The way you move and the quality of your movement are super important, so following the instructions is vital for protecting your wrists, arms and spine.
- Marjaryasana-Bitilasana (Cat-Cow Pose)
I practice this asana at least twice a day, every day. Being students, much of our time is spent seated and hunched over while we read, write or hop on Zoom calls. Especially since transitioning to virtual learning, we’re not even afforded the little breaks of movement and physical activity during short walks to class or the Student Union. This sedentary lifestyle can be pretty taxing on your neck and spine, creating persisting tension and discomfort.
However, regularly practicing cat-cow is an excellent way to stretch and stimulate the neck and spine while also strengthening the muscles in your back and core. Even better: try incorporating your Lion’s Breath into this pose for some extra relaxation.
- Kundalini Shoulder Twist
I don’t regularly practice Kundalini yoga, but I love this movement and all of its iterations. This asana’s short-term benefits are wonderful; it creates space in the upper-back body by relieving tension in the neck, shoulders and spine. However, some of the long-term benefits include increased mobility, flexibility and energy.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed or like I’ve hit a wall, I often turn to this asana just to stir the pot a little bit. It definitely gets energy flowing and may help stimulate your creativity and thinking mind if you’re in a rut.
- Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Twist)
The supine twist is one of my favorite restorative poses. Traditionally, it’s practiced toward the end of a sequence and provides a nice full-body stretch. It opens the shoulders and lower back, elongates the spine, improves digestion and gently stimulates the core and back muscles.
This asana is a nice one to try as you close your day or head to bed. If you’re feeling weighed down by anxiety or emotional stress, this pose should help reconnect you to your internal energy systems, focus on your breath and quiet your mind.
While you may not have as much time in the coming weeks to dedicate to regular mindfulness and self-care, these asanas are excellent poses and postures that only take a few minutes to help reconnect you with your breath and ground you into the present moment. And if you enjoy these, I would encourage you to take up a regular yoga practice! There are plenty of free online resources (as you might be able to tell, Yoga with Adriene is my personal favorite) that can help you get started, and believe me, the benefits are astounding. Once you start, you’ll find it hard to stop.