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Stress Management: Practicing Yoga to Relax


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Yoga means different things to different people. This topic focuses on a kind of yoga called Hatha yoga. One of the benefits of Hatha yoga is that it can relieve stress and help you relax.

  • Yoga includes breathing, meditation, and exercises, called postures or poses, that stretch the body. You can do yoga to help you relax.
  • The goals of yoga include improved physical and mental health and also "oneness" with a higher being, the self, or some form of higher awareness. But yoga does not need to be a spiritual practice for you to get the benefits.

People have practiced yoga for thousands of years in India. Yoga is based on the idea that the mind and body are "one." The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and means "union." The goals of yoga include improved physical and mental health and also "oneness" with a higher being, the self, or some form of higher awareness.

Yoga includes breathing, meditation, and exercises, called postures or poses. This topic focuses on yoga postures and breathing to help you relax.

Test Your Knowledge

A yoga practice can include breathing, meditation, and poses.

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False

Doing yoga may reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help your body to be more flexible. Several studies have shown that yoga has health benefits such as improving a person's sense of well-being, helping to lower blood pressure, and helping people who have asthma learn to breathe more easily.

If you have a health condition, talk to your doctor or certified yoga instructor before you start a yoga program. Doing yoga should not cause pain. If you feel any pain when you do these poses, stop. Talk to a yoga instructor about how to modify the pose. Or ask him or her to teach you a different pose that doesn't cause pain.

Test Your Knowledge

Doing yoga to relax can also have other health benefits.

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False

There are lots of yoga poses you can do to help you relax. Here are a few to try. The first two yoga poses below—the extended puppy pose and the cat cow pose—are simple to learn and easy to do. It's best to start there if you have never done yoga before. The other pose—the reclining bound angle pose—is a little more advanced. All of these yoga poses can help you relax and relieve stress.

Extended puppy pose

The extended puppy poseClick here to see an illustration. is easy to do and is very relaxing. Try this yoga pose for a good spine stretch and relaxation.

Caution: If you have knee problems, don't do this pose. Or you can talk to a certified yoga instructor about how to modify this pose.

Cat cow pose

With the cat cow poseClick here to see an illustration., you move from one position to another using your breath to tell you when to switch positions. This pose combines breathing and movement to help relieve stress and make the spine more flexible. Repeat the sequence 10 to 20 times. Make sure to do the movements as you breathe in and out.

Caution: If you have neck problems or an injury, keep your neck in the original position in line with your torso instead of moving it with your spine.

Reclining bound angle pose

For the reclining bound angle poseClick here to see an illustration., you may need to use props to get the full benefits. A prop is something you use to support different parts of your body in a yoga pose. You can buy yoga props, such as blocks or bolsters (large hard pillows). Or you can use items that you have at home, such as pillows or blankets.

When you do this pose for the first time, take the time to adjust your props so that you can completely relax when you are in the pose. If the pose makes you tense or uncomfortable, use props. You may want to use one or more of the following props:

  • One or more stiff, folded blankets to support your back.
  • A rolled blanket, hard pillows, or yoga blocks to support your knees.
  • A small pillow to support your neck.

Caution: Do not do this exercise after giving birth until your doctor says it is okay. If you have knee, hip, or shoulder problems, don't do this pose. Or you can talk to a certified yoga instructor to find out how to modify this pose.

Test Your Knowledge

The cat cow pose combines breathing and movement to help relieve stress and make the spine more flexible.

True
False

Are you ready to give yoga a try? If your answer is "yes," start with the easier poses, and work your way up to the more advanced pose. Or see what poses work best for you. To learn more, you may also want to take a yoga class.

If you would like more information on yoga, the following resource is available:

Organization

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892
Phone: 1-888-644-6226
Fax: 1-866-464-3616 toll-free
TDD: 1-866-464-3615 toll-free
Email: info@nccam.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nccam.nih.gov

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explores complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, trains complementary and alternative medicine researchers, and gives out authoritative information.


If you want to try another relaxation technique, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery for Relaxation.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Learning to Meditate.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body.
Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

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Other Works Consulted

  • Miryala R, et al. (2011). Yoga. In M Micozzi, ed., Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 482–494. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerSteven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
Last RevisedMay 15, 2012

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