Body Movement for Tension and Stress
Poses to Relieve Stress and Tension, as well as Trauma and Anxiety Held within the Body
We all know when we have had a bad day, the tension and anxiety are too much, our bodies are suffering for it and quite frankly the only thing that feels good is to lay down or roll up into a ball. Or days when you can’t quite get that pain or tightness out of your neck or back. Whether we like it or not, our bodies hold stress and trauma internally. Like energy in a collision, the force, the energy, has to go somewhere, or in this case, the emotion, the trauma, the stress of an event is going to be held somewhere until we let it go, we work it out of there. We know some of the usual suspect places, the low back, the shoulders, and the neck, but did you know the hips, the jaw, the abdomen, hamstrings are nice little “storage” spots too? Even if you have dealt with an issue, it’s possible your body is still holding on to it too and so it becomes necessary to work it out of there and release it whether we know it or not.
Consider the expression, “it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders." This kind of movement can literally help you lift that weight off your shoulders, out of your hips, or from your jaw with no funny headstands or legs behind the head. You don’t have to be super flexible or look amazing in yoga pants, (and you don’t even need yoga pants for these exercises).
The following are a few of my go-to poses for working stress and tension, or the emotion of an incident, out of my body – releasing the trauma. Sometimes when I do some of these poses, I feel so much better, I didn’t even realize I needed it that badly – my body just craved it one way or another. “Get it out of here,” it says! Feel free to change these up or modify as you like (and for some of them I will provide modifications), pick one or two or go through all eight of them to see where you need to work the most. Sometimes your body will tell you, “yes, please” and other times, “not so much.” Never push it beyond where it wants to go. Take it slow and steady and you will be pleasantly surprise how far you can go and what you are capable of some days. And no two days are alike, ESPECIALLY as women. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux, so don’t judge yourself if one day you can go further and deeper and the next time you cannot. Honor your body on that day, in that moment, in that place.
Without a doubt, a favorite hands down when you are ready to curl up into a ball. From hands and knees, sit back on your feet, making sure that the tops of your feet are on the mat (toes aren’t curled under). From here, bend forward laying your chest on your thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you on the floor, stretch as far as you can without having your seat come up from your feet. It’s a kind of push and pull – push your seat down while stretching your arms. Place your forehead on the ground, if it’s available to you. Amazing low back stretch and all around great for calming your mind. Take a few breaths here, enjoying the moment.
Modifications: You can use a pillow or bolster to rest your head on. For your knees, you can fold a blanket underneath them. Want more of a hip stretch? Keeping your big toes together, widen your legs so your knees are near the edge of your mat, or if you aren’t using a mat, so that your knees are extending, or outside of, your arms. Arms can also come to your side instead of out front. Want to incorporate a side stretch while you are here? With arms outstretched, walk fingers to the right and stretch the left side, then slowly walk your hands to the left, stretching your right side.
Stretching the hips. There is nothing better than releasing tension from your hips. You may not realize it, but your hips take on a lot of a lot of tension and stress, which results in a lot of tightness. What’s better is sometimes all that tightness is causing that low back pain. Bound angle, or cobblers pose, is an amazing hip opener and easy to do. In a seated position, bring your feet together, I like to tell kids, pretend you have put glue on the bottom of your feet and stick them together. Pull in your legs for as far as you are comfortable. Make sure your back is straight and you are holding your chest high. Holding your feet in your hands and pulling them toward you, feel free to use your elbows to push down your legs towards the floor, deepening the stretch. Relax here and breathe through the stretch.
Modifications: Pain arising from your hips from your knees being unsupported? Place yoga blocks or books under your knees, or place a pillow or folded blanket under each knee. Want more of a stretch that incorporates your low back? Fold forward over your legs, stretching your arms out in front of you as far as you reach. Sit here and breathe into the stretch. Incorporating kids into your practice, or they are incorporating themselves? Have them move or “flap” their legs up and down like butterfly wings and fly, fly, fly to your favorite place or flower, then bend over and take a “drink” of nectar.
Standing forward bend with legs wide
Reclined bound angle
After the low back, the shoulders take on a lot of stress and that’s where many a complaint comes from. You are probably holding more there than you know. A good stretch that just uses your arms, know as “eagle” arms, helps to stretch out those shoulder blades and help release whatever it is that pains you. The best part of this stretch is that you can adjust your arms up and down and forearms forward and back to adjust the amount of stretch you want to dig into. To perform eagle arms in a seated or standing position, stretch arms out to either side, bring them into the middle placing your right arm over your left. Bend your arms at the elbow, such that your right elbow is sitting in the pocket of your left elbow, fingers pointing to the sky. Press your forearms and back of your hands into each other. From here, see if you can grab the inside of your right palm with the fingers of your left hand. Now lift your elbows so your upper arm is parallel with the ground and move your forearms are perpendicular to your upper arms and floor. You can adjust your stretch by moving your elbows up and down and forearms out and in. Hold and breathe into your shoulder blades. Unwind your arms and rewrap, this time with left under the right and repeat the stretch.
Modifications: Give yourself a big hug. First with right arm over the left, grabbing the outside of your shoulders. Just as in eagle arms, you can move your elbows up and down to intensify your stretch. Make sure to unwind and do it again, this time with the left arm over the right. Squeeze and give yourself some love.
Emotions, fear, anxiety, stress all trigger hormones and chemicals in our body to fight or flee (flight). The problem is that when we don’t actually fight or flee, we don’t use all these chemicals and they find their way around our bodies telling it to do things we don’t want, belly fat anyone? A good abdominal twist will literally help your body detox and wring it out of there. Sitting on the floor with legs out in front of you, cross your right leg over your left, placing your right foot on the outside of your left knee, keeping your knee up. Sitting as tall and as straight as you can, twist to your right, you can grab 9your right knee with your left arm and place your left arm behind your seat to assist in the twist. Take a deep breath in, lifting your head and chest, and as you exhale – twist a little bit more. Repeat this inhale and exhaling to increase your twist and until you feel like you can’t twist anymore and take a few breaths here. Then slowly unwind your arms and back and then your legs. Then switch legs and repeat on the left side. Left leg over right, twist to the left, grabbing your left knee and left arm behind your seat on the floor. Inhale reach tall, exhale twist more.
Modifications: Hips too tight to cross your legs, just bend your leg and your knee and don’t cross it over your leg. Having trouble reaching in the ground behind your seat, just extend that arm out behind you and have your gaze follow those fingers.
Chest openers open up the muscles in your chest, your heart so to speak, as well your throat. Releasing fear, anxiety, trauma that might be holding you back from speaking your mind or your truth, or opening up to someone or something. There is a true vulnerability in any of these poses - here is my heart and my throat out in the open. But instead of thinking of how vulnerable you are, think about shining your light, your love, your voice for all to see and share and enjoy! It is your gift to the world! For upward dog, start by laying on your stomach – tops of your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, elbows tucked into your side. Slowly push up with your arms, lifting your chest and gaze to the sky. Move slowly and only as far as your low back will allow. Full expression includes arms straight, chest high, and then squeezing your legs such that they lift off of the ground. Hold here for a few deep, deep breaths before resting back in child’s pose. Repeat as many times as you feel comfortable, but try at least two or three times, gazing to the sky, opening your throat, shining your heart to the world. Let it out!
Modifications: Only push up as high as your back will allow, you shouldn’t feel any pain. You can also rest face down, with your forehead on the mat/floor.
To counter all those back bends, its great to just let your back decompress and release the tension it is holding through a standing forward bend. This is also amazing for releasing all those fight or flight chemicals stored in your hamstrings! I prefer to do this with legs wide, as it provides a little bit more stability and the ground is just that much closer to hold on to. Standing tall, bring feet to either edge of your mat, or if you aren’t using a mat, outside of your hips, go wider or bring them in more if you feel more stable this way. Place your hands on your hips and then hinge, or bend forward at the hips. With your arms and hands, reach for the floor. If you can reach the floor, great, if not, no worries, just let your arms hang. Make sure your knees are soft – don’t lock your knees back (your knees and hamstrings will thank you later). Let your head hang. Shake it out – nod yes, shake no, make sure you aren’t trying to hold or support it. Just hang here. Eyes closed. Deep breaths. Let it all hang out. When you come up, come up SLOWLY and with a large inhale. The inhale will help counteract any dizziness.
Modifications: You can grab your big toes for more of a hamstring and low back stretch. Toes not accessible? Grab your elbows and swing. It’s amazing how much weight this provides for the stretch. Floor not accessible but you want that stability? Place a yoga block, or a book, or even a chair, on the floor or in front of you to push into or hold onto as you bend forward.
When people ask what my favorite yoga pose is, I think they expect me to say headstand, or some crazy arm balance, what they do not expect is for me to say, laying on the floor in a twist. I feel like, next to the last pose I have list here, this is the end all be all of yoga poses that are truly restorative. After working your rear off all day, releasing a ton of tension, or a good yoga flow, there is literally nothing better than laying on the floor and letting gravity to the work – letting your body take over and restore. On your back, tuck up into a ball, grabbing around your legs, give yourself a huge squeeze and then let your legs fall to one side or the other. Extend your arms out into a “T.” Turn your head the opposite way your legs have fallen. So if you have your legs to the left side of your body, turn your head to your right staring out past your fingertips, or you can close your eyes and enjoy. When you are ready, tuck up into a ball again, give yourself a good squeeze, letting your legs fall to the opposite side, head turning to the opposite direction. Eyes open or closed. Enjoy.
Modifications: Want more of a twist, when you are on your side extend the bottom leg out straight. Try and keep both shoulders on the floor. Use your arm to pull you to the side more. Explore and find what feels best to you.
Remember the bound angle from the beginning? This feels even more amazing on the hips and helps restore the body when you do it laying down. You can incorporate some rolled blankets and/or towels for more of a release if you would like. From seated bring your feet together, place rolled blankets or towels under your knees if needed. You can place another folded blanket or towel behind you to relax back into as well, or maybe even a large pillow. Think of making yourself a nest. Lay back, feet together, arms out to the side, palms up, close your eyes and just listen to your breath. Breathing in and breathing out – this is an AMAZING pose for meditating. Enjoy for as long as you can. Rest and restore as many times and as much as you can (you can do this laying in bed at night too!).