Stressed Out? Here’s How Vinyasa Yoga Can Help

Expert Reviewed:Crystal Fenton

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How Vinyasa Yoga Can Ease Stress
A black man sitting on a yoga mat, stretching his arms over his head and leaning to one side

You likely know someone that always seems upbeat, goes with the flow, and radiates  calm energy. Curious about their secret to staying stress-free? Practicing yoga. 

While stress is unavoidable, how you manage it is in your control. If anxiety is keeping you awake at night or you simply need to unwind at the end of the day, stretching it out using vinyasa yoga might be what you’re looking for (and didn’t even know you needed).

It’s no surprise that yoga does the mind and body good. Rife with physical and emotional health benefits (think: alleviating anxiety, improved strength, increased flexibility, to name a few), yoga is more popular than ever. And, anything you can do to minimize stress probably tops your wish list. Read on to learn how to get started.

Go With the Flow

It sounds simple enough — doing yoga will make you feel better. Yet, yoga can also feel challenging and intimidating. In actuality, any pose (or asana) can be modified to suit your flexibility and mobility.

Vinyasa yoga is one of the most popular and well-known styles of yoga, centering around a smooth, sequential “flow” of poses. Here’s how yoga works its magic: 

  • Yoga, which means union, pairs breathwork with movement, in turn, forcing you to be present in the moment. Think of it this way: By tuning into your breath and what’s going on physically in the now, your brain is forced to let go of any other thoughts.

  • Yoga is a science-backed tool that cultivates clarity of mind, relieves anxiety, minimizes both physical and emotional stress, and boosts mood. Plus, as it eases stress, yoga can help encourage a positive mind-body-spirit connection.

  • Vinyasa yoga strengthens, stabilizes, and promotes improved flexibility, joint mobility, and balance. It also helps support enhanced immune function and resets the nervous system.

  • Vinyasa yoga is accessible for any and everyone — including you! An added bonus: It can be done at home on your own, requiring little to no equipment beyond the space of your mat (or towel). 

Vinyasa Yoga to Soothe Stress for Better Sleep & Health

Stress manifests itself physically within the body — for many, this occurs in the major joints such as the shoulders, hips, hamstrings, sacroiliac joint, and back. 

  • Have hip pain? This is often considered to be an “emotional junk drawer” of the body. 

  • Stiff back and hamstrings? You might be unconsciously storing physical tension you’re not ready to deal with in the back areas of the body. 

  • Tight shoulders? You’re probably subconsciously in protection mode, clenching or tightening your ribcage, where the heart is located, or slouching over your digital devices.

Sleep — or the lack of it — and stress often go hand in hand, leading to trouble falling and staying asleep, or simply getting enough shut-eye. Practicing vinyasa yoga will help! 

Beyond balancing the body and quieting the mind, yoga has other surprises in store: It can help you be happier, more relaxed, and induce the calm state needed to drift off into a good night’s rest. Vinyasa yoga will help you ease into more efficient, productive sleep in no time, even if you have zero experience.

The Cortisol Connection

Cortisol, the "stress hormone," gets triggered by stress. It also assists the body in transforming sugar and fat into energy. Vinyasa yoga poses and their corresponding patterns of breathwork are integral in regulating the central nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is often described as a "fight or flight" automatic response to external stressors, and the parasympathetic nervous system is the "rest or digest state" that regulates the basic functions of the body.

According to the principles of Ayurveda, the hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. are governed by the Pitta dosha, which helps to recalibrate and renew all major systems of the body. As the Pitta dosha allows the body to digest everything from food to information to emotions, when you skip sleep during this precious four-hour window, you miss out on this vital opportunity to heal.

The REM sleep stage — in which the eyes dart back and forth behind the eyelids — activates the sympathetic nervous system. In this stage, your pulse, body temperature, breathing, and blood pressure rise to daytime levels. The REM stage is thought to help the brain clear out the clutter of information it no longer needs. Those lacking in REM sleep lose this advantage. In a similar manner, practicing vinyasa yoga will help you declutter — eliminating tension stored within the body and adding clarity within the mind.

Practice This Vinyasa Yoga Pathway to Calm

Cooling inversions, such as putting your legs up the wall, help quell anxiety and insomnia, as they calm and soothe the nervous system. Reclined twists help support the organs of elimination do their job — expel toxins, as their name suggests — during the overnight detoxification process.

The following vinyasa yoga poses can be practiced morning, afternoon, or evening. Try these poses in a sequential flow or independently in a flow that appeals to you — and your present needs — if you’re pressed for time. It’s better to include any form of mindful moment into your day-to-day than none at all. 

There’s no time like the present to begin the practice of presence. Now is the perfect time to integrate the following poses into your daily routine. 

Child’s pose (Balasana): This pose brings the opportunity to practice the pause by going inward, tapping into our internal inner child and allowing the mind and body to take a breath, rest, and reset.

  1. Begin on the ground with knees bent and shins pressing down into your mat.

  2. Fold torso forward. You can add a pillow under your forehead if desired.

  3. Arms can extend forward alongside your ears. Or, allow them to rest alongside the body, palms facing up for receptivity or palms facing down for a more grounding sensation.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana):

Deep forward bends also offer the opportunity to go inward, as they elongate the spine, stretch the legs, and engage the abdominal muscles. 

  1. Begin by standing with feet parallel, keeping legs as close together as possible.

  2. Fold forward, hinging from hip flexors, as if you were to touch the forehead to your shins.

  3. Press heels down, straightening the legs fully while pressing sit bones upward. Keep a slight bend in knees if they feel hyperextended.

  4. Try to move your forehead to touch the shins.

  5. In the ragdoll variation, grab opposite elbows with hands and allow the torso to sway gently from side to side, moving from the hips.

Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana):

This reclined posture opens the pelvis, hips, and front body while providing the support of the ground for the back body.

  1. Begin seated, placing a bolster or pillow below the base of the sacrum. 

  2. Bend knees into a butterfly pose, placing the soles of your feet against one another. 

  3. Lie back on an angle with the spine resting on the bolster or pillow. Support your head with a rolled-up blanket or additional cushion so that the head is above the heart. 

  4. Allow the knees to open as wide apart as possible and relax fully into the props.

Garland pose (Malasana): We’ve all been there — a more indulgent night of food and/or drink or travel that takes us out of our routine — and this pose offers a natural solution to relieve the strains of digestive distress or respiratory issues.

  1. Begin by standing with legs hip-distance apart. Bend knees, lowering the body into a squat with toes angled to the outer edges of the mat. 

  2. Moving from the hips, fold forward, placing hands on the mat (or on blocks) in between the knees. 

  3. Gently tuck the chin in toward the chest, allowing the crown of your head to relax toward the mat while lengthening the cervical spine. ​

  4. You can also place a block or pillow under your head if it doesn’t touch the mat.

Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana):

Spinal twists are a great way to alleviate aches and pains in the back. They also wring out the digestive system, allowing for enhanced detoxification. 

  1. Lie on the back, bending knees up in the air toward the chest. 

  2. Place arms in a cactus shape around the ears, pressing the back of the shoulder blades and arms gently down into the mat. 

  3. Drop bent knees to one side; rotate head and neck to the opposite shoulder if desired.

  4. Hold for several rounds of breath, then switch sides.

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani):

This pose calms and soothes the nervous system, alleviating anxiety and insomnia. This inversion allows for the lymphatic fluid to drain as it stimulates healthy blood flow and circulation by reversing the nature of verticality. 

  1. Lie down on your side, placing the tailbone and glutes as close to the wall as possible. 

  2. Flip to lie on your back, extending straight legs upward with the back of your legs supported by the wall. 

  3. A rolled-up blanket can be placed on top of the feet, and/or you can use a block or pillow on the low belly to create a deeper sense of feeling grounded.

Corpse Pose (Savasana): This pose is the gold standard of relaxation after your practice, making it virtually equal to the “final rest” stage in which both your body and mind can reap the full experience of being expansive, open, lighter, looser, and free from external stressors. 

  1. Lie down on your back. Place a small cushion or rolled-up blanket to support the neck and head if desired.

  2. Allow your arms to rest along the sides of the body, palms facing up.

  3. Legs are splayed as wide (as is comfortable) with the toes pointing outward and heels facing one another.

  4. As your eyes close, consciously relax the facial muscles, beginning at the temples and moving down the face, softening the cheeks and jaw.

  5. Observe internally if there is anywhere you’re holding tension or are clenching; relax and release.

  6. Allow your breath to flow at its natural pace and rhythm.

Add Balance With Breath Work

To pair your vinyasa yoga practice with breath work, integrate mindful breathing as you practice each pose, or opt for a short pranayama session before or after your flow. 

Exactly how you are breathing provides a window into your current energetic state: 

  • Shallow, labored breaths, such as those during a difficult workout, indicate an activated, heated sympathetic nervous system (your fight-flight-freeze response). 

  • Deep, slow breaths, such as those in corpse pose or while meditating, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system response. This will ease you into the cooling “rest-and-digest’’ state. 

Try this mindful breathing exercise:

  1. Take a moment to check in with yourself.

  2. Sit in stillness and observe, without judgment, how each inhalation and exhalation feels. What physical sensations are you experiencing?

  3. Next, fully breathe in and out, allowing your body to completely exchange outgoing carbon dioxide with incoming refreshing oxygen.

  4. Deeply inhale to a count of five, retain the breath for two and release to an equal count of five to reduce the overall stress and anxiety you may be experiencing.

  5. This anchors your focus to the present moment, so you can receive the full benefits of breath work.

Pair mindful breathing with vinyasa yoga postures to reduce the activation of your sympathetic nervous system. Soothe reactive bodies and minds by focusing on your breath. This, in turn, creates a calmer state of being.