Some days you have a full hour or even 90 minutes to devote to your favorite vinyasa yoga class. While other days, you barely have time to chant “om” a couple times to yourself. The latter are usually the days that we could most use the relaxation that comes with hitting the mat. Luckily, there are plenty of easy yoga tips to relieve stress out there.
You don’t have to go through a full class to get some of the benefits that yoga imparts. “All of us love the studio setting or getting instruction from our favorite teacher, but we can’t always get there,” says Aaptiv Trainer and Yoga Instructor Ceasar F. Barajas. “The good news is, you don’t need to sit on a mountain top in lotus pose to get the benefits of yoga and meditation. You don’t even need five minutes—all it takes is a moment to disconnect.”
Keep reading for specific yoga-inspired tips to help you nix stress fast on your most jam-packed, nerve-racking days.
Take time to exhale.
Shallow breathing is an automatic response when you’ve got a lot on your plate. So, it makes sense that elongating that breath can help stop the pattern of stress. “One conscious breath activates your vagus nerve. [It] starts a calming effect, and even starts [the] lowering of blood pressure,” says Barajas. “We actually have some control when we come into a stressful situation or an anxiety-filled office meeting. If you just hang on and breathe consciously, you’ll feel much better.” He suggests taking a deep breath as you count to three, then exhaling slowly as you count to eight. You’ll feel more relaxed after one slow breath. You’ll feel even better after three consecutive breaths.
Make some noise.
One specific breathing technique known to relieve stress is called ujjayi. If you’ve been in a yoga studio, you’ve likely heard it. It’s almost like you’re channeling Darth Vader, says Barajas. “You inhale and exhale through the nose, with your nose slightly contracted. Imagine that you’re trying to fog up a glass.” This noisy breath is noted to calm you down and invigorate you at once. No wonder the Sanskrit word means “to conquer” or “to be victorious.”
Use a cue.
It’s easy to stop paying attention to your breath, especially when you have deadlines, meetings, and other to-dos on your mind. “We don’t often think about how we have the ability to control the respiratory system. But that’s the only system in our body that we can [control],” says Barajas. To remember to pause and take a deep, relaxing breath, he suggests setting a rule for yourself. Maybe you take a deep breath every time you hear a car honk its horn or every time you see the color orange.
Take a cooling breath, says Barajas. To do this, make an O with your lips as though you’re about to suck through a straw and inhale slowly. “Breathing in with your mouth in that position cools off your body and leads to immediate stress relief,” he says.
Smile at strangers.
Sounds weird, but this simple act is a form of meditation. And, you can practice it anywhere, even on the move. “People think [that] meditation has to be done sitting in a quiet room. But as long as you’re consciously breathing, you’re meditating,” says Barajas. One of his favorite ways is to crack a smile at people passing on the street and keeping tabs on how many of them smile back. Boost the stress relief by taking a deep breath every time you get a grin in return.
Get upside down.
If you’re able to invert your body in your office, say in a handstand or just lying with your legs up the wall, spend a few minutes doing so, suggests Barajas. Inversions (generally any pose where your head is below your heart) help send blood to your brain and, in turn, lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Stand up straight.
Taking a minute to stand still in the very basic mountain pose can be enough to help you relieve stress and gain a little calming perspective, says Barajas. “This pose is the most physical way to show people and the universe that you’re ready to receive and give. It’s your most open.” To do it, stand upright with feet hip-width apart, grounded evenly against the floor. Pull your shoulders up to your ears, then roll them down your back. Turn your palms to face the front and hold the pose for at least three slow breaths.
The next time that you’re seated, sit up straight, rest your hands on your thighs, and pay attention to your belly expanding like a balloon as you take deep, conscious breaths, says Barajas. You should feel your muscles relax right away—and feel much better about taking on the rest of your day.