Look After Your Mind and Body with 12 Yoga Stretches to Relieve Stress

By Elizabeth Herman 

Feeling stressed, stiff, and overwhelmed? Check out these simple yoga stretches to relieve stress and feel calmer and healthier.

We all have deadlines and expectations to meet in normal life. These requirements can cause some healthy stress. Without the need to work, you wouldn't get things done and progress. But how do you know when there's too much stress on you?

Excess stress happens when you have less energy than you need to complete your work. Unhealthy results of stress may include an unwanted change in weight or alcohol use. By identifying your excess stress, you start to know that you need healthy tools to deal with it. Physical stretching in a yoga practice is one such tool.

What does stress feel like?

You'll recognize it when stress increases beyond your energy level. It's like having trouble getting out of bed in the morning but in the extreme. It's like keeping your mind on a problem and not getting any closer to solving it.

Excess stress can cause both physical and mental symptoms. Here are some symptoms of too much stress:

Psychological, emotional, and cognitive signs of stress

  • Avoiding others

  • Depression or anxiety, constant worrying

  • Trouble sleeping 

  • Feeling overwhelmed, loss of control 

  • Irritability, restlessness, anger 

  • Racing thoughts

  • Memory and concentration problems

Physical signs of stress

  • Low energy

  • Headaches

  • Upset stomach

  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles

  • Clenched jaw, grinding teeth

  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

  • Frequent colds and infections

What are the health benefits of stretching and yoga practice?

There are so many ways you can gain from a daily yoga practice that includes stretching. Here is a shortlist of a few of them. 

  • Increases flexibility

  • Improves performance in physical activities

  • Increases range of motion

  • Heals and prevents back pain

  • Improves posture

  • Relieves stress

  • Calms your mind

If you look further into this topic in depth, you'll find extensive lists of benefits. We can't recount all the potential ways you can improve your life with stretching, so here are the main ones.

Can stretching during yoga practice relieve stress?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes! Stress relief is one of the top benefits of yoga practice

Muscles tighten up due to physical and emotional stress. You hold stress in specific body parts. Here are some of the parts of your body that may feel the most effects of stress:

  • Shoulders

  • Upper back 

  • Neck

  • Others (digestion, heart, brain, lungs, glands, etc.)

Stretching those specific areas that hold stress helps release it. Yoga can address all these areas in the body, and more.

How does stretching during yoga practice relieve stress?

Have you considered what stress does to your body? When you have too much stress, it restricts the way your blood flows. Stretching tissues and muscles can counteract stoppages of blood flow.  

Increasing the freedom of your blood flow affects the energy in your system. Energy makes it possible for you to do work without creating stress. In turn, this freedom enables the work of both your body and your mind. 

When you change your physical position, your blood flows through your body with ease. A short stretching break at work releases stress. Sedentary lifestyles without movement make stress more difficult to handle. 

Mental relaxation results from breaking stressful thought patterns. You can do this with meditation, chanting, music, and other shifts in your mental activity.

Releasing tension and stress from your body happens when your happy hormones kick in. The blood pressure and heart rate go down. The stagnant energy from sitting still bursts forth into a boost of dynamic energy.

What are the best yoga stretches for stress relief?

1. Gentle Neck Rolls (Kantha Sanchalana)

  • Tones and stimulates the vagus nerve

  • Brings immediate body and mind relaxation

2. Cat Stretch (Marjariasana

  • Releases tension in the neck

  • Stretches the front and back of the torso

  • Loosens up the spine

  • Massages abdominal organs

  • Relieves menstrual cramps     

3. Downward Facing Dog (Adhomukha Svanasana)

  • Stretches arms and hamstrings

  • Increases blood circulation to the brain

  • Relieves headaches, insomnia, stress

  • Energizes and rejuvenates the whole mind-body system

4. Standing Forward Bend (Hastapadasana

  • Stretches all the muscles of the back of the body 

  • Invigorates the spine and the nervous system 

  • Increases the blood supply to the brain 

  • Results in relaxation

5. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)

  • Brings balance and concentration to the mind

  • Improves physical balance

  • Helps relieve sciatica

6. Two-Legged Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

  • Calms the brain  

  • Helps relieve stress and mild depression 

  • Soothes headache and anxiety

  • Reduces fatigue

7. One-Legged Seated Forward Bend (Janu Sirasasana)

8. Child’s Pose (Shishuasana

  • Deeply relaxing 

  • Gives you deep rest and total relaxation of the back 

  • Puts the chattering mind to rest and keeps the brain fresh 

  • Helps you to learn and to grasp more

9. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

  • Strengthens the back and abdominal muscles

  • Opens up the chest, neck, and tight shoulders

  • Adds greater flexibility to the hip flexors, back, and spine

  • Good stress and fatigue buster

  • Relieves menstrual discomfort and constipation

10. Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana)

11. Bridge Pose (Setubandhasana)

  • Strengthens the back muscles

  • Stretches the neck, chest, and spine

  • Calms the nervous system

  • Expands the lungs

  • Improves digestion

  • Helpful with asthma, thyroid issues, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and sinusitis

12. Fish Pose (Matsyasana

  • Relieves tension in your neck, throat, and shoulders 

  • Improves breathing

  • Brings a lightness to your facial muscles

  • Helps in strengthening the immune system, which is a key to staying fit and strong

While a regular yoga practice can result in improved health, know that it is not a substitute for medical treatment. It is important to learn and practice yoga under the supervision of a trained teacher. In the case of a medical condition, practice yoga after consulting a doctor.

To go further and reduce your stress even more, check out Beyond Breath - A FREE Breath & Meditation Online Session With a Live Instructor. You’ll learn about the SKY Breath Meditation. It has helped millions of people worldwide to boost energy and manage their stress levels.

Elizabeth Herman is a long time meditator, a trained yoga teacher, and a PhD in English, with concentrations in Rhetoric and Composition, and Literature. She offers writing support to clients, teaches locally, and volunteers for a better world.

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