10+ Relaxing Yoga Poses To Reduce Muscle Tension
Yoga includes dynamic, or moving, stretches, which is one of the reasons it is so beneficial for stress relief. Stretching while moving increases your range of motion while also circulating blood and oxygen and supplying nutrients to your tissues. This potent combination is fantastic for releasing muscle tension. Furthermore, research from Harvard University has found that activities like yoga, which combine deep breathing and active stretching, can help the body reduce stress, tension, and inflammation.
Here are ten basic yoga poses that target tense muscles in the throat, upper and lower back, and hips, which are prone to becoming tight and strained during times of high stress (or even after sitting at a desk all day). Plus, there’s no need for a fancy yoga studio or equipment to do these stretches at home. They’re low-impact and suitable for beginners, so you can easily incorporate them into your daily fitness or stretching routine. “These poses will help relieve and release muscle tension as well as the stresses and pressures of everyday life, while strengthening and connecting your mind and body,” says Laura McDonald, an ACE certified personal trainer. To relieve muscle tension, McDonald recommends holding each yoga pose for four to six deep breaths.
# 1 Cat/Cow Pose
According to McDonald, the cat/cow stretch massages back muscles, improves spinal flexibility, relieves lower back tension, calms the nervous system, and increases circulation. She also emphasizes the importance of not rushing or forcing this pose, but rather allowing it to flow naturally with the breath.
How to do it: Begin by getting down on your hands and knees. Inhale and round your back up, tucking your chin into your chest and tucking your tailbone under. Exhale, raise your head, and keep your back flat or slightly arched. Repetition four to six times is one breath cycle.
# 2 Child’s Pose
This is a very relaxing pose that McDonald describes as a “gentle stretch for the back, hips, legs, ankles, and feet.”
How to do it: Begin by getting down on your hands and knees. Sit back on your heels gently. Lower your chest and walk your hands forward. Lower your head to the floor and tuck your chin in. For a few hours, take deep breaths.
# 3 Rag Doll Pose (Standing Forward Fold)
The rag doll stance, according to McDonald, is a straightforward stretch for releasing lower back tension and loosening the hamstrings. When you relax and hang your head, you’ll feel a good release in your neck and shoulders.
How to do it: Standing with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent (do not lock your knees during this stretch), stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Maintain a relaxed arm position along the side of your body, then bend forward at the hips as far as you feel comfortable no need to force your fingers to the floor. Hold your elbows with the opposite hand for an extra stretch, let your head hang heavy, and gently sway your upper body from side to side.
# 4 Downward Facing Dog
According to Jesse Dietrick, CSCS, a sports performance coach at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, “Downward facing dog is a great position to lengthen the entire backside of the body, from the calves and hamstrings to the lower back and shoulders.”
How to do it: Begin by getting down on your hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and raise your knees off the floor, both arms and legs extended (you should be making an upside-down triangle shape with the floor as the base). Allow your heels to fall to the floor, your shoulders to move away from your ears, and your head to hang down if possible.
# 5 Modified Standing Back Bend
“This is a great pose to work on spinal extension (standing posture), which can help offset the spinal flexion (forward hunch posture) that many people develop as a result of sitting at a desk, constant driving, or just bad posture,” Dietrick says.
How to do it: Standing with your feet hip-width apart is a good idea. Inhale and straighten both wrists overhead. To feel a stretch in the front body and hip flexors, exhale and bend and lower your elbows out and down toward the floor while arching back slightly. (Alternatively, you can keep your arms straight up while retaining the slight backward bend.)
# 6 Sleeping Pigeon Pose
Pigeon pose stretches your hips and glutes at the same time, which helps relieve tightness in the lower back, according to Dietrick. If you’re too tight to do it perfectly right now, don’t worry: there are many ways to adapt the one-leg pigeon pose to make it effective while still being gentle on your body.
How to do it: Begin by getting down on your hands and knees. Bring your right leg forward, and at a right angle in front of your body, put your right knee, shin, and foot on the floor. Straighten your left leg behind you, with the top of your left foot and left knee facing down. Make sure that both hips are facing forward and that they are as flat to the floor as possible. Curl your upper body forward and down, supporting yourself with both elbows and forearms, or both hands flat on the floor in front of you, to deepen the stretch. After a few breath cycles, release and repeat with the left leg forward.
# 7 Reclined Butterfly Pose With Bolster
When I’m feeling out of sorts, this is my go-to pose. It offers a gentle stretch for the inner thighs, hips, and fronts of the shoulders, as well as a great opening for the chest area / heart space – a place that tends to get physically constricted when we’re working at a desk, driving, texting, studying, and so on. If we’re going through a difficult time in our personal lives, or if we’ve had a cold or cough, this area may feel tight and ‘closed down’ emotionally.
This pose allows the diaphragm to open to its maximum capacity, and spending a few minutes in this gesture of full physical openness encourages the mind to follow suit.
How to do it: With your bottom on the floor and the bolster’s edge at the small of your back, lie back on a bolster or a couple of firm folded blankets / pillows. Lay back along the length of the support with your heels flat on the floor and the inner edges of your feet together. Gently open your legs so that the soles of your feet touch. Support the knees with a couple of blocks or some books if this puts too much pressure on the groin area or inner thighs. Turn your palms upwards and move your arms away from your body. Allow your shoulder blades to tuck into the back of your neck, shoulders to relax, and elbows to feel heavy. Feel how your body is supported, how your heart space opens up, how your breath rises and falls…
# 8 Seated Meditation With Hands-On Heart
Placing your hands on your heart, palm to palm, is a lovely and quick way to communicate with yourself. Feeling the rise and fall of the chest area brings attention to the breath, and you may notice it slowing down. Cross-legged sitting opens the hips, groin, and outer thigh muscles from a physical standpoint. It also stretches the knees and ankles while strengthening the back.
How to do it: Sit in a comfortable stance with your legs crossed. Sit on a bolster or a block if your knees are bothering you or your back is rounding to the point where you’re collapsing in the chest. Sit in a chair if you choose. Close your eyes and place one palm in the center of your chest and the other on top. Relax your face, shoulders, and belly as you feel the base of your spine rooting down and the crown of your head lifting up. Feel the wave of breath spread across the collar bones as it moves from the belly to the chest…
# 9 Legs Up The Wall Pose
This pose is a great way to refresh your legs after a long day on your feet, and it’s also my go-to if I’m having trouble sleeping. Because it’s an inversion, it has several advantages, including improved circulation and lymph flow. It can be done with your hips slightly away from the wall and your feet together or slightly apart – what matters is that your legs and feet are relaxed.
How to do it: It may be a little difficult to get into this pose, but it’s well worth it! Begin by sitting on the floor with your hip and thigh against the wall, then bend your knees, slip your legs around and up the wall, and scoot your bottom closer to it until you’re lying on your back. You can either stretch your arms to the side, slightly away from your body, palms facing upwards, or place your palms on your lower belly.
# 10 Savasana With A Bolster
Savasana is a great pose to let our whole body feel its relationship with the earth and the presence in Being, rather than the rush of Doing, at the end of our yoga class. The physical benefits of Savasana are numerous, including reduced blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and muscle tension, but it is the mental and emotional benefits that make Savasana one of the most important yoga poses.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs bent and a bolster or blankets folded up beneath your knees (this takes the weight off your pelvis and provides release for the lower back and lumbar vertebrae). Allow your arms to rest a little away from your body, palms facing upwards, as you gently lower your