by Chelsea Low
As the fall semester dawns upon us, our stress levels skyrocket from the summer laze of not even knowing what day it is to the fall’s barrage of exams, homework, and papers. With that comes inevitable stress: no matter how prepared you are it’s always an unpleasant shock. And let’s face it; we don’t always know how to deal with the overwhelming stress. Forgoing studying in order to mindlessly scroll down your Facebook news feed? Putting off all of your assignments in favor of unappealing tasks that suddenly become urgent (cleaning the house, perhaps)? Procrastination is certainly not the only harmful way of dealing with stress, but it’s perhaps the most common.
But what about dealing with stress in a healthy way? Most dismiss this as being too difficult, too time consuming, or whatever excuse they come up with.
While an hour long class of anything from high-impact vinyasa to soothing yin will do wonders for any frazzled student’s mind, we don’t always have the spare time and effort that is required to drive to a studio and participate in a long practice. The good news is that yoga can be practiced anywhere for any amount of time. Even just a few simple poses can have a radically positive effect. These beneficial poses—listed in order of generally easier resting and stretching poses to slightly more challenging stretches and balancing poses—are easy to do, calming, and perfect to try when you simply need a few minutes of peace. They’re completely accessible even if you’ve never stepped on a yoga mat in your life.
When doing these poses, remember that the important thing is not whether it looks “perfect”, but whether you’re breathing deeply. Take ujjayi breaths, a deep inhale and exhale through the nose, constricting the back of the throat when exhaling, like you’re trying to fog up a mirror. (It should make an ocean/Darth Vader sound.)
1. Child’s Pose.
What it does: Child’s pose is the basic resting pose in yoga. It relaxes the body and mind, and the forward bend is designed to be comforting, calming, humbling, and restorative. In other words, exactly what is needed when school gets tough and we start to feel overwhelmed. It calms your nervous system, which can be wrecked by too much stress. Finally, it stretches out a sore back.
How to do it: Kneel with your knees hip width apart and your big toes touching. Lower your torso and forehead down to the floor. Place your arms straight in front of you, above your head.
2. Cat Pose and Cow Pose.
What they do: Cat Pose massages a sore, tight spine and unsettled organs, and Cow Pose stretches the spine in the other direction for total release. Both increase your spine’s flexibility and help prevent future back pain that might come after you return to studying.
How to do it: Flow between these two yoga poses. Begin on all fours, making sure your spine is neutral, with your wrists and knees beneath your shoulders and hips. Start with Cow, dropping your belly down starting from your tailbone, and tilting your head up, looking up. Flow into Cat by rounding your back and dropping your head, looking down toward your belly.
3. Triangle Pose.
What it does: Triangle Pose is a full body stretch. Stretching the entire body is one of the best ways to release stress! It also improves coordination and balance in addition to strengthening your arms. Finally, Triangle opens up your chest, which may have been affected by bad posture and hunching over your computer.
How to do it: Stand with straight legs, your feet three to four feet apart, your right foot in front facing forward and the left pivoted sideways. Place your right hand on your right shin, ankle, or on the floor next to your right foot if you want more of a stretch. Lift your left hand straight in the air so your arms are perpendicular to the floor and your gaze is at your left fingertips. Make sure your chest stays open. Take as many deep breaths as you need before switching sides.
4. Upward Facing Dog.
What it does: Upward Dog stretches out your spine and opens your chest, which is helpful when they’re tight from stress. It’s the reverse of the hunched over position so many of us take in front of the computer or over a book, so it’s perfect to counteract the stress on our body. Upward Facing Dog is a very open pose, so while it opens your body, it opens your mind as well, so this could improve your papers as well as your posture!
How to do it: Lie on the floor facedown with your hands underneath your shoulders. Firmly plant your hands and gently press up, lifting your entire chest, torso, and thighs until your arms are straight.
5. Downward Facing Dog.
What it does: Downward Dog helps with any back pain that might come with sitting rigid at your computer for hours, or hunched over awkwardly while studying and doing homework by releasing tight hamstrings, hips, and shoulders.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees, hands shoulder-width apart and fingers spread wide. Pressing through your hands, lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs so you’re on the balls of your feet in an upside-down V. Press your heels down towards the floor. Relax your head and neck, and let your shoulder blades slide down your back. Set your gaze between your feet.
6. Dolphin Pose.
What it does: Dolphin is a healing pose that opens up the sore, tight shoulders that come with hours of studying. In addition, Dolphin helps strengthen your core and arms.
How to do it: Exactly the same as Downward Dog, except your forearms are on the floor instead of your palms. Your palms can be pressed together or pressing on ground.
7. Plow Pose.
What it does: Plow Pose reduces backache that comes with stress as it is the deepest back and neck stretch in yoga. It even helps you get to sleep, which is desperately needed by the stressed student pulling all-nighters. It is also good for the organs, digestion, liver, and gallbladder, so it helps you from the outside in.
How do to it: Start lying on your back with your arms at your sides. Bring your feet over your head until your toes touch the ground. Arms can be at your sides or gently supporting the lower back.
8. Camel Pose.
What it does: Camel Pose stretches the front of your body and opens your chest and throat. It strengthens your back which, in turn, improves your posture, making sitting all day less uncomfortable.
How to do it: Start from a kneeling position. Reach your hands behind you and grasp your heels, and lean back as far as you can.
9. Tree Pose.
What it does: Tree is a pose focused on balance. It strengthens the spine and improves posture, which is essential when you’re spending your day sitting in class, in the library, in front of the computer….
How to do it: Begin standing with your arms at your sides. Bring the sole of your right foot into your inner left thigh. Make sure your hips are squared to the front, and bring your hands to prayer position at your chest. Take as many breaths as you need before switching sides.
10. Eagle Pose.
What it does: Eagle pose requires a lot of focus to stay still and balanced. It might seem like it’d have the opposite effect on your stress, but the focus of the pose provides a release from the stress of school. As you focus on staying calm and balanced and getting through the stress of this pose, it will reflect in your study habits and the ways you deal with stressors outside of yoga. Even better, this is one of most recommended poses by yoga experts (like Kristin McGee, yogi to the celebrities) to release back shoulder and back tension. She says, “You feel the weight of the world release.”
How to do it: Begin standing with your arms at your sides. Cross your right thigh over your left and wrap your right foot around your left calf. Bend your knees and squat down slightly, sitting back so your shoulders are above your hips. Extend your arms in front of your body, wrapping your right arm under your left, and bending at your elbows. Raise your arms so your forearms are parallel to the floor. Press your palms together if you can. Keep your hips square and your shoulder blades pressing down your back. Take as many ujjayi breaths as you need before switching sides.
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