9 Yoga Poses That Can Ease Depression
Bend the blues
If you thought “heartache” and “heavy-hearted” were just evocative turns of phrase, think again. In fact, research shows that sudden emotional stress can release hormones that prevent the heart from pumping normally. Even watching a sad movie can reduce arterial blood flow. And if emotions affect the body so acutely, then it seems logical that the body could in turn influence our emotions.
“The heart is a vulnerable space,” says Kimberly Wilson, author of Hip, Tranquil Chick: A Guide to Life On and Off the Yoga Mat. “Backbends help expand the heart center and help you exude confidence and grace.” In other words, backbends ease breathing, improve posture, and reduce stress by releasing tension held in the tissues of the whole chest and lung region of the body. So the next time you need to kick the bad-day blues, try this sequence of heart-opening backbends from Wilson’s book.
What it does: Relieves stress and fatigue as it stretches the lower back and hips
1. Sit on your heels with your big toes touching and hands resting on your thighs.
2. Lower your belly and chest to rest between your knees, bringing your forehead to the floor.
3. Relax your arms back beside your shins, palms facing up.
4. Soften your breath by taking 5 to 10 long, deep inhalations and exhalations.
Cobra Pose, modified
What it does: Boosts energy and mood as it strengthens the back of the body
1. Slowly slide forward from Child’s Pose to lie facedown.
2. Press your toes and forehead gently into the floor. Rest your palms lightly on the floor on either side of your chest with fingertips pointing forward and elbows bent and hugging in toward your ribcage.
3. Inhale and lift your chest from the heart, pressing only very lightly into your palms and mostly using your back strength to hold your shoulders and chest up.
4. Soften your shoulders. Then lift your hands off the floor completely, broadening across your collarbones and reaching your heart up. Take a couple of deep, slow breaths here.
5. Then as you exhale, place your palms back down and gently lower your chest to floor.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
What it does: Reduces fatigue and focuses the mind as it strengthens and stretches most of the body
1. From Cobra, come onto all fours. Separate your knees to hip-width apart, move your wrists slightly forward of your shoulders, and curl your toes under.
2. Exhale and spread your fingers wide, press evenly through your palms, and lift your knees to reach your hips toward the ceiling. Keep your legs slightly bent.
3. Push the tops of your thighs back so your body looks like an inverted “V” Slowly start to straighten your legs as much as feels appropriate for you, without locking your knees.
4. Gently move your chest back toward your thighs until your ears are even with your upper arms. And keep lifting your hips away from your heels and wrists.
Hint: Your heels don’t necessarily ever need to touch the floor in this pose. But if you’re aiming for that, reach your heels away from your head first and then down to elongate rather than yank your leg muscles.
Warrior I Pose
What it does: Eases stress and anxiety as it strengthens the legs and core
1. From Downward-Facing Dog, pivot your left heel down to the floor so your toes are pointing out to the left.
2. Step your right foot forward between your hands, lining your front heel up with your back.
3. Inhale and lift your arms overhead, shoulder-width apart, palms facing each other.
4. Exhale as you bend your front knee to 90 degrees and turn your hips toward your right leg.
5. Inhale as you reach your arms up higher and maybe back slightly for a gentle bend in the upper back. Hold for 3 to 10 slow, deep breaths.