Simple Relaxation Techniques For Stress

Quick exercises to help calm your body and mind

Sometimes, it’s the small things that add up to damage your health. A recent study published in Psychological Science suggests that it’s not just major life events, but also seemingly minor emotional experiences, that impact long-term mental health. 

In this way, our emotional reactions to every day stresses not only impact our day-to-day health, but can predict how we will fare years down the line. Luckily, there are simple and quick techniques proven to help you effectively cope with stressors.

At the forefront of these methods are yoga and meditation. According to the Mayo Clinic, these practices can help people gain new perspectives on stressful situations, build skills to manage stress and reduce negative emotions.

To find out more about methods to reduce stress, we spoke with two yoga instructors in New York City—a town well known for its high stress levels. Kyle Miller, a senior teacher at Yoga Vida in New York City and Jo “Chandra” Sgammato, a certified yoga instructor at Integral Yoga Institute, shared a few of the techniques they use to relax.

Try a Mantra
Set up a comfortable seat in your apartment, whether that means sitting on a pillow or a blanket or even relaxing on your couch.

“Close your eyes and let your awareness settle into the body and away from the mind,” Miller said.  “Take deep, conscious breathes. On the inhales silently say ‘let’ and on the exhales say ‘go.’” As you continue the exercise, increase the length of your breaths. Feel free to choose another mantra that works for you.  

Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall)
Scoot up against a wall and extend your legs so they are perpendicular to the floor at a 90-degree angle. Your torso and spine should be on the ground. Hold the pose anywhere from 10 deep breaths to 15 minutes, depending on how you feel.

“It’s simple—anyone can do it,” Miller said. “It’s calming and grounding, lets stagnation drain from the legs and tones the heart because it has to work harder to pump the blood to your extremities.”

Shavasana Relaxation Practice
Shavasana—or corpse pose—is how yogis end their practice. For this position, you lie face up on the ground with your arms and legs spread to about 45 degrees, eyes closed and breathing deeply. From here, Miller suggests you begin a relaxation meditation.

“Start with your feet and slowly move up the body,” she said. “Tell yourself silently that each part of you is relaxing. You can say ‘My toes are relaxed, my feet are relaxed, my ankles are relaxed, my calves and shins are relaxed...” Continue until you’ve reached the top of your head.

Breathe Deeply
“The best stress relieving tool is our own deep breath,” Sgammato said. “It’s free and we have it with us all the time.”

Sgammato recommends three-part yogic breathing. Exhale first and then inhale through the nose. As you breathe in extend your belly and rib cage and lift your chest. Exhale from the top, relaxing your chest, contracting your ribs and pulling your naval back toward your spine. Repeat this breathing technique, making sure to create a smooth flow.

Focusing on your breathing can bring seven times more oxygen into your body, Sgammato said. This helps cleanse your system and calm you down.

Focused Meditation
“The source of stress is usually our minds—fears anxieties, busy thoughts and constant stimulation from our super busy world,” Sgammato said. “If you meditate and draw your attention inward, you can quiet the mind.”

A simple exercise is to focus on one thing, such as the word “peace.” Repeat this mantra over and over. When your mind begins to wander, simply notice the thoughts and then bring your attention back to the word. This exercise should be done regularly for the best effects.