Yoga to beat stress
Standing Shoulder Opener
Beginning your practice with this pose will prepare the muscles of the arms, shoulders, and chest. Stand on your mat with your feet hip-width apart and your leg muscles strong and engaged, toes spread and lifted. Interlace your fingers behind you, inhale, and lift the sides of your chest so your shoulders are level with the base of your neck. Move the tops of your shoulders backward with your chin slightly lifted, and imagine your shoulder blades connecting to the back of your heart. Exhale; lengthen your arms away from your body and shine out through your heart, feeling a fullness inside. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
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Standing Forward Bend
This pose stretches the chest, shoulders, and hamstrings, and helps reduce fatigue and anxiety. From the Standing Shoulder Opener, inhale and engage your leg muscles, then exhale and bow forward from your hips. As your arms lengthen over the back of your body, lift and engage your shoulder blades, as if connecting them with the base of your heart. Continue to stretch your shoulders backward, and feel the space being created in and around your heart. Hold this pose for 3 to 5 slow, steady breaths.
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Downward Facing Dog
This pose opens up the back and the heart center, creates suppleness in the spine and helps you feel the full length and strength of your body. Come to all fours, with your hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Keeping your arms strong, feel as if you are melting your heart toward the mat as you draw your shoulder blades closer together and down your back. On an inhalation, curl your toes under, lift your hips, and stretch your thighs back. Exhale and press your heels down toward the mat. Engage the muscles of the arms and legs. Extend out through your hands and feet. Keep reaching your hips up and your thighs back and allow your heart to expand. Let a feeling of openness permeate your entire body. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
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Warrior II Pose
The strong, grounded stance of Warrior II enables energy to flow through the limbs while the heart shines out brightly from the chest, inspiring courage and wisdom. Taking a wide stance, turn your front foot toward the front edge of the mat and your back foot in slightly. Bend your front knee so that your thigh is parallel to the floor and your knee is directly over your ankle. Keeping your legs strong, open your arms out to the sides. Inhale and exhale deeply as you gaze toward your front hand. As you press your feet into the mat, make it your intention to draw them in toward each other, to engage the inner thigh muscles and cultivate your strength. Expand your inner thighs and sitting bones back and apart as you root down through your tailbone, extending out through your legs and arms. Lengthen the torso upward and feel the energy radiating from your entire body. Repeat on the opposite side. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
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This powerful shoulder opener helps engage and strengthen the muscles of the back in order to support the opening of the chest. Lie on your belly and clasp your hands behind your back. On an inhalation, lengthen your upper body forward and lift your chest, and heart, off the mat without raising your legs. Exhale and scoop your tail-bone under, engage your belly, and extend out through your legs as you lift your arms up and behind you. Continue to lengthen the sides of the body as you keep your shoulder blades rooted on your back, and shine out through your heart.
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In contrast with other balancing lunges this hip and heart opener enables you to stretch more deeply because you are grounded by your back knee and front foot. Standing tall and strong on the mat, step your right foot forward and gently take your back knee to the mat, keeping your back toes curled under for support and balance. Scoop your tailbone under and circle your arms upward. Draw your shoulder blades farther down your back, and let them help you open your heart skyward. Keep both legs strong and engaged as you hold the pose for 3 to 5 breaths. Switch legs and repeat.
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This pose expands the area around the heart and lungs, allowing you to take deeper breaths and open up to the possibilities of joy. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the mat, hip-width apart. Keeping your arms alongside your body, bend your elbows and point your fingers upward. As you inhale, ground your feet, press your upper arms down into the mat and lift your hips to come into a backbend. Exhale, keeping the sides of your body long and your throat open. Bring your shoulder blades down your back as you begin to feel the chest open, helping to unleash your natural joy. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
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This pose stretches the backs of the legs arid the buttocks, and is a nice complement to the preceding poses. Lie on your back with both legs extended and in line with the body. Inhale, lift your right leg, and hold the back of the leg with both hands. Keep your left leg grounded on the mat, your knee and toes pointing upward. Exhale and spread your toes; press your left thigh into the mat and your right thigh against your hands to engage the thigh muscle as you continue straightening your right leg. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths, then return your right leg to the mat. Repeat the sequence on the opposite side.
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End your practice with this expansive and stress-releasing stretch. Bring your legs slightly apart and, keeping your toes and knees pointing upward, extend your arms alongside your ears on the mat. From your belly, reach out evenly through the heels and balls of your feet, spread your toes, and stretch strongly up through your torso and out through your arms and fingers. Shine out through your heart with a spirit of celebration for the holidays. Then release, lower your arms to your sides (slightly away from your body), and relax completely here in Corpse Pose (Savasana) for 5 minutes.
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This article about yoga originally appeared on NaturalHealthMag.com.