Yoga, Food, Oils and Sleep for Stress Relief
Stress is a common part of every day life. There’s good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress), but it’s all still stress!
Here are some yoga practices that take a whole-body approach to stress, from postures, to diet, to oils, even your nightly routine. May these practices bring you relief, peace, and balance as you move through life, including everything that comes along with it.
Yoga Postures for Stress
Folded poses are great for relieving stress and returning to the present moment. They allow us to turn inward, closing ourselves from the outer world as we settle our nervous systems. Stay in each posture as long as you like. Remember to breath deeply, especially into your lower back.
Child’s pose is a basic, restful posture, and a hip-opener. Many of us carry stress in our hips and feel habitually tight in our joints. Sitting most of the day doesn’t help, either!
Come to the floor and sit on your heels. Spread your knees wide and gently fold your upper body onto your thighs so that your belly is between your legs. If you can, let your head rest on the floor. If it doesn’t reach and your head is hovering in space, stack a yoga block, pillow, or even a few books on the ground until you can rest your forehead atop the stack.
Your hands can be relaxed behind you on the floor, palms up, or underneath your forehead, stacked on top of each other. Imagine your hips sinking down into the ground, and let your belly be soft. You’re being held by the earth; there’s nothing to do but rest.
Forward fold. Stand with your feet firmly panted on the ground, about hip’s-width apart. Wiggle your toes and spread them on the ground as far as they can go.
Imagine your entire body is perfectly stacked, with one joint over the next. Your knees are above your ankles; your hips are above your knees; your shoulders are above your hips; and your head floats gently atop your shoulders. It’s as if a string is attached to the crown of your head, and the rest of your body is dangling beneath, perfectly aligned.
Take a few deep breaths, imagining your feet rooting into the ground. On an inhale, reach your arms towards the sky, then, slowly roll down towards the ground until you can’t go any further. Keep your knees slightly bent to protect your lower back, and engage your core (it should feel like your sucking your belly button towards your spine).
Let your arms dangle towards the ground, or grab opposite elbows. You can sway gently side to side, or remain in one position. Close your eyes and feel yourself turning inward. You’ve created a small cave into which you can retreat. The outside world is temporarily abandoned, and you’re only with your senses. Breathe deeply, and feel your stress dissipate as your body relaxes towards the ground.
Happy baby. Lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest, giving them a hug. Now grab the outsides of your feet and reach the bottoms of your feet towards the ceiling. Your knees should be wide, like they’re trying to graze the sides of your ears. If you can’t reach your feet, grab your ankles or calves.
Holding your feet – like a baby does – gently rock side to side, massaging your lower back on the ground. Notice your body conserving energy in this balled-up position, and your hips relaxing. You might even smile. After, this pose is for a happy baby.
Energy Releasing Postures
Sometimes our stressful energy is buzzing around in our heads and bodies too much. We need to engage in a challenging task to release it.
Headstand. Please only do this posture if it’s already in your practice. Place your head on the ground and set your hands on the ground to form a triangle, or interlace your fingers behind your head with your forearms on the ground in front of you.
Moving very slowly, raise both legs, or one leg at a time, into the air. Keep your neck straight, and your shoulders away from your ears. Feel your entire body working to maintain balance. If you need an added challenge, close your eyes.
Maintain smooth, even, energetic breaths. They’ll help you stay balanced and burn off your stress.
Warrior II. Reach your arms out to the side, and step your feet to about the distance of your wrists, toes pointed forward.
Turn your right foot out to the right, turn your left foot slightly inward (or pigeon-toed), then bend into your right knee. Gaze over your right hand. Push both your feet into the ground, as if you were standing on a long piece of paper and trying to rip it in half by pushing your feet down and away from each other.
Sink deeper into your right knee, making sure you can still see your toes if you gaze down (if you can’t, widen your stance). Breathe deeply, pulling energy from the earth up through your feet, and shooting it out your engaged fingers, which are reaching towards opposite walls.
This is a warrior stance. Engage your body as a warrior would: with strength, ease, and grace.
Eagle pose. Stand with both feet together. Maintaining your balance, lift your right foot off the floor and cross it over your left leg, bending your knees so your right toes are just touching the ground on the other side of your left leg. If your body allows, you can wrap your right leg all the way around your left leg. Bend deeply into your left knee, keeping your upper body straight as a rod.
Cross your left arm over your right arm and bend at the elbows so the backs of your forearms are touching. Again, if your body allows, you can increase the wrap so your palms come together.
Pick one spot on the wall in front of you and channel your focus to that spot. Imagine squeezing your arms and legs together, as if you were blending them into one twisted tree. Breathe deeply into your belly. This will help with stability and diffusion of nervous energy.
When you’re ready, switch sides.
Savasana. The big kahuna of all restful postures: corpse pose.
Lie down on your back with your legs and arms stretched out. Wiggle your hips a little until they’re lying comfortable, and rock your head side to side before settling in the middle.
Close your eyes and breathe normally. Some say corpse pose is one of the hardest. It is a pose of allowing yourselves to be, just as you are, without responding, reacting, or “fixing.” It’s a pose of rest.
Be in this moment. Feel your body move with your breath, and feel the rest nourish every cell. This posture is good for the kind of stress that leaves you empty, with nothing else to give. Pause for a moment, and in that space of nothingness, feel yourself fill once more with life.
Food For Stress
A number of foods have been shown to alleviate stress. We might not exactly be “what we eat,” but what we eat certainly affects how we feel. These foods have been shown to influence the neurochemicals in the body, promoting ease, reducing inflammation, and boosting brain health. (1)
Oysters – Research has found a lack of zinc in patients with anxiety. (2) Oysters are chock full of this essential trace mineral.
Full-Fat Kefir – Our gut health, often referred to as the bodies “second brain” is just as important as our brain’s health. Kefir is full of naturally occurring probiotics from its fermentation process. The fat soluble vitamins are also important for brain health.
Avocados – This lovely fruit – with its monounsaturated fat, potassium, folate, and vitamin K – makes for a mean brain-food snack. (3) Boost your brain functioning in times of stress with some guac, or spooning avocado straight into your mouth.
Leafy Greens – Leafy greens are the king of all cures. Although our stressed-out bodies might not be craving sautéed spinach, these foods, rich in magnesium, directly impact anxiety and stress regulation in the brain. (4) Try some kale chips!
Fatty Meats – Meats like Alaskan salmon and grass-fed beef are high in omegas, fats necessary for brain function, including decreasing inflammation and cortisol. (5) If you’re a vegetarian, there are options for you, too.
Dark Chocolate – Doctor’s orders! Dark chocolate lowers stress hormones. (6) Shoot for 60% or higher and enjoy with a nice cup of chamomile tea.
Oils For Stress
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils for therapy and healing. There are various methods for using the oils listed below. You can massage them on your temples, wrists, or elsewhere, you can put them in a diffuser, or you can simply inhale the scent.
Always smell the scent first before application. Some scents might be appealing to some people, and repulsive to others. Listen to your body, and use liberally. Bonus – your house or apartment will smell lovely, too!
Lavender – For stress reduction and insomnia
Bergamot – Calming and refreshing
Jasmine – Calming, sweet aroma
Rosewood – For opening the heart center
Sleep Schedule For Stress
Poor sleep can both be stressful and exacerbate existing stress. In addition to the yoga postures listed above (particularly the folded postures), recommended foods, and relaxing oils, here are some tips for ensuring a good night of stress-free sleep.
No screens one hour before bed. Many of us know the negative impacts of screen usage before bed. The blue light from screens interferes with melatonin production, which is critical for catching some zzz’s.
Instead of lying in bed, scrolling through different feeds, find a place where your phone can “go to bed” outside of your room. You might need to purchase a separate alarm clock for your wake-up call. At least one hour before bed, put your phone in its special place and retreat to your room with a book or journal. Just remember: your sleep is more important than any updates, and the world will be there for you tomorrow.
For nights when sleep is evasive, use progressive relaxation. Lying on your back, start at the top of your head and slowly scan all the way down to your toes. As you reach each part of your body, relax the muscles there. You can imagine your body being filled with a liquid gold, or a warm white light.
See if you can find the places holding tension you’re not even aware of. Not only will you be relaxing your body, your mind will be focused on the task, too, and your other thoughts will fall away.
Get some vigorous exercise throughout your day. Not only will exercise relieve your stress, it will improve your sleep by encouraging a healthy sleep wake cycle.
Depending on your fitness level, vigorous exercise could be walking briskly up hill; doing sprints on foot, a bike, or in the pool; lifting weights at a high intensity (best to work with a coach to prevent injury); or playing a team game, like Ultimate Frisbee.
Whatever it is – yoga, food, oils, sleep, exercise – find the things that suit you. Once a tool proves itself useful in reducing stress, find ways to incorporate it in your everyday life, so that it might serve to prevent stress in addition to alleviating it.
We all deserve to live a happy life, even if stress is apart of it. Find a supportive community, and even seek counseling and medical support if you’re in need. Taking care of yourself is nothing to be ashamed of – ever. Once you put your own well-being first, you’ll have endless love and energy to give back to the world.
(Read this next—-> The One Minute Meditation)