Yoga tools for acute stress

I’ve moved home, left my lovely family home of 14 years and my main place of work. Sifting through the gathered memories and releasing them was at once freeing and sad. As I was trying to pack my home into tiny boxes, I was wondering why moving is categorised as one of the most stressful life events. In intensity it comes right after the traumatic and emotional upheavals of bereavement and divorce. However, moving home usually happens under time pressure, so could it not be more similar to a big deadline in a stressful job? Naturally, moving is also about leaving the safety of the familiar and being uprooted. In any case, I needed all my yoga tools to stay calm and focused. However much work was left to empty the entire home in a few weeks, it was essential to take some time every day to connect to my inner peace. It was necessary to remove my attention and rest my mind so it wouldn’t become buried under boxes and to-do lists. If you find yourself in a stressful time in your life, I hope my yoga tools for acute stress can help you too.

The fight-or-flight response

Feelings of stress are caused by what is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which is our body’s reaction to danger and is beyond our control. When we perceive a situation as frightening or dangerous in some way, our body’s physiological and hormonal reactions cause a more rapid heart and breathing rate. Also the senses will become sharper and the sense of pain lower. I’ve discussed this more at length in this blog: . This response is necessary at times, to help you focus or have an appropriate reaction to a dangerous situation. However, problems arise when we stay in this physical state of alertness. Then it will have a negative effect on the mind and body because they can’t sufficiently recover in what is called the ‘rest-and-digest’ response.

The fight-or-flight response can’t be sustained for long, and soon we’ll feel less focused, forgetful and exhausted. Knowing this, why is it so difficult to switch off from worries and anxious thoughts and move into the blissful rest-and-digest phase?

Relaxing and reversing the feelings of stress is more easily said than done. It can feel like being trapped in a whirlwind of fear and it’s impossible to take a step back to get a more nuanced perspective on the situation. This is when we need our daily routine to consciously switch off, move and breathe with awareness. It won’t be a quick fix, but with time you will learn to manage your stress levels much better.

If you feel trapped in a high state of anxiety and stress, try the following once or even several times per day. Once or twice per week is usually not enough in acute periods of stress. At these times in our life, we need to nourish our body and mind very regularly with these calming practices. The more you practise, the better it will serve you.

Yoga tools for acute stress

1. Pause

Take a pause to sit or stand wherever you are and breathe for a few moments. Be aware of your surroundings but don’t think about anything else apart from your breathing. Notice the sensation of the air going into and out of your nostrils, the sensation of your feet on the floor. Take several of these pauses per day. It will take a minute every time but will ultimately give you more time and clarity.

2. Walk

When you walk somewhere, just walk. Don’t listen to a podcast, don’t take the time to call someone. Just look around, feel your body walk and listen to the sounds around you. It may be easier to focus on one sense at a time. This means that during one walk you could focus on what you see, another time on what you hear, on the touch of your feet on the ground, etc.

3. Move

Take ten or more minutes a day just for yourself, to practise the movements that will help remove held-up tension. I describe a few practices below, but if you want your own tailored morning or evening practice, do get in touch with me here:

During the summer months I can’t teach from home, but my online sessions are still happening. An hour’s personalised yoga session and written practice can target your physical and emotional needs and could be just the support you need to get through a difficult time.

Here’s how to start already:

Rest in frog pose

This position is soothing and you can also practise it with the head and arms on a chair, or even sitting on a chair and leaning forward on a table.

Start on all fours. Place the toes together and widen the knees before you lean forward on the mat or the chair or table.

Connect to the sense of touch on the surface below you. Allow your body to rest against this surface.

Simply breathe and enjoy for up to a minute or two. If there is any discomfort, please come out of the position.  

Dog Pose

I like to add this pose to my daily practice, but when stressed it feels even more beneficial. As a mild inversion, it can release tensions and improve blood circulation as well as energy levels. Make sure your back is ok with this pose and avoid it if you’ve had a herniated disc in the past year, or if this practice hurts. If the back of your legs is very tight, it’s better to bend the knees. In this way you can feel the releasing effect of this position for the spine.

Start in child’s position to get the right distance between your hands and feet. The child’s position is like frog pose, but with feet and legs parallel, next to each other or a little wider.

Place the feet hip-width apart and stretch the arms in front of you ,with the hands shoulder-width apart and the fingers spread.

Exhale and unfold your legs.

Explore this pose with both straight and bent legs. Choose the best position for your back.

Stay for a few breaths or a little longer. Definitely return to child’s pose when your body is straining or your breathing become less smooth.

Legs up the wall

Another inversion, and another great yoga tool for acute stress. This position can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, thus encouraging the ‘rest-and-digest’ response in the body.

Find the distance from the wall that is right for you. With tight hamstrings you’ll want to be further away. As always, this position has to feel comfortable.

Sit sideways, lie down and the turn on your back and swing your legs up the wall. Adjust if the distance doesn’t feel right. Stay for a minute or a bit longer. I’ve written more about this pose in this blog:

4. Breathe

Alternate nostril breathing 

Apart from slowing down our breathing, this breathing technique can lower the heart rate and decrease blood pressure. Practised regularly, it can improve overall feelings of wellbeing. This makes sense if you know that alternate nostril breathing can lower stress levels and promote the rest-and-digest processes in the body.

Sit comfortably, this can be on a chair as well.

You will use the ring finger or thumb of the right hand to close one the nostrils lightly. If you wish, you can support the right elbow with the left hand.

The other fingers of your right hand can be bent or rest on the forehead.

The most relaxing pattern is as follows:

Close the right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through the left nostril.

Close the left with the ring finger and breathe out through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril again.

Exhale through the left nostril, inhale through the left.

Repeat this pattern in which you breathe out through one nostril and in through the same. Then you change and do the same on the other side.

Repeat for 10 rounds or however long you would like to continue with ease.

Finish after you’ve exhaled through the left nostril.

Ideally, rest on your back for 5 minutes before returning to your activities.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Evon

    Thank you Bene. In Arizona, the temperatures have been over 44 C° for over 30 days. The heat zaps your energy, just walking to your car (in the garage) and into wherever you’re going. Once you get inside there is A/C everywhere. These poses help me to regain my equilibrium.

    1. Bene Yoga

      Hi Evon,
      Thank you, that level of heat can be very distressing. I’m glad your yoga practice is helping you.
      Take care,

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