How to Get Effective Stress Relief on your Yoga Mat: Stretching vs. Restorative Yoga

A while back I wrote a blog about the powerful benefits of Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose). This yoga pose has helped so many people I know learn to relax and deal with insomnia, stress and adrenal exhaustion. It’s a great pose. I love restorative yoga and, having a busy life, I feel like it’s an essential part of self-care.

Restorative Yoga for Chronic Stress-  A Randomized Controlled Trial 

So it was interesting to see a recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology showing that restorative yoga is actually not as good as gentle stretching in terms of lower cortisol levels and helping people ameliorate the neuroendocrine dysregulation (metabolic syndrome) of chronic stress.

Actually, the results of the randomized controlled trial (RCT) make a lot of sense.

Researchers divided participants into two groups – once practicing restorative yoga and the other gentle stretching. After six months, the group that was doing gentle stretching showed decreased salivary cortisol levels compared to the restorative yoga group. Cortisol is the primary hormone that is used to measure stress response. When you have a lot of cortisol coursing through your system, your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA), or stress engine, is in high gear. You need to move in order to lower those cortisol levels.

In my experience working with people with chronic stress, it has become very clear that they are not particularly interested in lying down. How many times have you noticed people leaving class right before Savasana? If you are really stressed out, exercise feels good, but stillness – not so much.

I think more research is necessary – but I am also seeing how this study corroborates Subtle Yoga methodology – helping people work out neuromuscular tension through mindful, repeated poses and progressive breathing patterns is more effective than simply using restorative poses in relieving stress.

8-Step Yoga Sequence for Relieving Stress

Here’s a brief yoga intervention I like to teach for relieving stress. Please note this may not be appropriate for people with lower back issues.

 Progressive exhales in Uttanasana

1. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, slide your hands down the backs of your legs.

2. Inhale back up to standing.

3. Exhale as you slide down again at the end of your exhale pause for 2 seconds.

4. Inhale back up.

5. The next time you exhale pause for 3 seconds, then 4, then 5.

6. Come back up to Mountain pose, take several long deep breaths and notice how you feel.

Reprinted with permission from

Kristine Kaoverii Weber is the founder of Subtle Yoga in Ashville and Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been a student of yoga since she was introduced to it in sixth grade. Kaoverii has been teaching yoga for more than twenty years. And her work these days focuses on providing yoga teacher trainings on the 200- hour and 500-hour level. Kaoverii is the director of Sarva Health, an organization which provides holistic yoga-based trainings to enhance community health infrastructure. In particular, Kaoverii developed the first RYT 200-hour training program specifically for mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals to be offered by a major continuing education institution. She is a frequent contributor to national magazines and the author of Healing Self Massage which shows how to use massage as a complement to yoga practice to relieve stress, neck and back pain, insomnia, and anxiety. 

Want to learn more from Kristine Kaoverii Weber? Check out Kristine’s yoga courses available online!

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