Yoga for Stress Relief: 2 Practices for Deep Relaxation

Legs up the Chair ( a modified Legs up the Wall Pose) is a highly rated practice to relieve stress.

What is relaxation? It is NOT collapsing on the couch at the end of the day with your smartphone or iPad. We all do this from time to time and sometimes more times than we should. Oops, did I just “should” on us? Well, it is a habit we need to watch, but like eating ice cream for breakfast, this is okay in moderation. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a yoga practitioner. Why not practice yoga for stress relief?

Typically, we think of being relaxed as a state where we don’t have a care in the world; we exist in blissful serenity at the moment. You’re engrossed in a hobby you are passionate about. Or you’re on vacation, sitting by a lake lost in the stillness of the water, skiing down a mountain feeling the wind on your face, or hiking up one totally merged with nature. 

What Is Relaxation?

Young sporty yogi woman practicing yoga's Savasana Pose- a Pose to close out every yoga practice and to relieve stress.

To consciously and consistently practice relaxation outside of those wonderful experiences, it helps to have a deeper understanding of relaxation and how you can employ it amid the work, trials, and tribulations of your regular daily life. Anne Lamott describes the process this way: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes … including you.” 

Here are two ways to think about relaxation.

Basic relaxation is a physiological process and an emotional state in which stress and difficult emotions such as anger, anxiety, or fear are reduced. Science calls this the “relaxation response.” It’s your ability to use your mind/body connection to help your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain. 

The other way to think about relaxation comes from the yoga tradition. It’s called a relaxed state of awareness. It includes all the elements of basic relaxation. Still, it adds another concept—the idea that while in a relaxed state, you can also be totally awake and aware of everything happening around you and within you.

Relaxed Awareness: The Ultimate Yoga For Stress Relief

Photo of young black man In a relaxed yet aware pose for stress relief.

For at least 10 to 15 minutes after every yoga class, I do a guided practice for students to experience a relaxed state of awareness. After one class, a woman asked me to explain what had happened to her during the practice. I asked her to tell me what she experienced. She said she thought she had fallen asleep, but she knew that couldn’t be true because she heard my voice and was aware of the noises in the room. She said she had never felt anything like that before. I explained that she had experienced a relaxed state of awareness. She told me she’d never thought about relaxation in that way. I like to think she had an Aha! Moment.  

When you can achieve a relaxed state of awareness during your waking daily activities, you are more likely to respond calmly and appropriately to your situation instead of reacting in ways that may not be in your short or long-term interests. 

The ability to relax, however you choose to understand it, is a vital aspect of self-care. It’s a skill. It can be learned. So, why don’t more of us develop a consistent relaxation practice?

3 Reasons We Might Avoid Practicing Relaxation Techniques

  1. If you struggle to ensure you and your loved ones have enough food, water, housing, and safety, a relaxation practice is probably not on your mind. 
  2. For some people, relaxation itself can be stressful. This is “Relaxation-Induced Anxiety.” It happens when efforts to relax make some people feel more uptight. Research suggests it happens to about 15 percent of the population. 
  3. If you are under severe stress from a chronic health condition, an abusive relationship, or an overly busy or unhealthy lifestyle, a consistent relaxation practice can be difficult to establish. 

Finding a way to relax is especially important under those three conditions or when you find yourself in everyday situations that cause you to lose ease in the body and peace in the mind. 

2 Easy Yoga Relaxation Techniques

1. How to Practice Relaxation Breath in Yoga

One of the most accessible go-to breath practices is Relaxation Breath. This breath technique does four things at the same time. It:

  • Brings your attention to your breath.
  • Lowers the number of breaths you take per minute.
  • Lengthens your exhalation.
  • Calms the nervous system.


  1. Sit with your spine comfortably aligned. 
  2. Soften your chest and shoulders. 
  3. Close your eyes or keep them slightly open with a downward gaze.
  4. Inhale normally. Exhale normally. 
  5. After exhaling, hold your breath out and silently count “one thousand one, one thousand two.”
  6. Repeat steps 4 and  5 and continue for 2 to 3 minutes, being mindful of your comfort. 

Playing soothing music in the background is an option for your practice, and if you practice regularly, you can use this technique when you must stand and keep your eyes open.

Note: If you are one of the 15 percent of folks who encounter Relaxation-Induced Anxiety, you may find this technique helpful and less anxiety-producing because you can do it seated or standing, and you can keep your eyes open. 

2. Modified Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

Legs up the Chair ( a modified Legs up the Wall Pose) is a highly rated practice to relieve stress.

Here’s one more technique to try. I start my yoga classes with this and do it myself most mornings. 

Props: a sturdy chair, a pillow or folded blanket for the head, a timer, and a music source (optional). (We added a bolster, too!)


  1. Select a carpeted area or use a yoga mat or blanket to practice this pose.
  2. Set your timer for 10 to 12 minutes and start the music if you choose to use it.
  3. Sit down close to the chair, swing the legs up, and place your calves on the chair seat so your body forms a 90-degree angle with your knees in line with your hips. If you find that angle uncomfortable, shift your body backward until you feel totally comfortable. 
  4. Place the pillow or folded blanket under your head. 
  5. Close your eyes and breathe normally.
  6. When the timer goes off, bend your knees halfway toward your chest and roll over to one side. Use your arms to sit up slowly.   

Variation: If getting up and down on the floor is difficult, try this in bed with your legs on a stack of pillows. This can also be done sitting comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor or footrests if you use a wheelchair.

Find a relaxation practice that works for you to help you optimize your stress hardiness.

Reprinted with permission from Beth Gibbs.
Beth Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, Writer and Yoga Therapist

Beth Gibbs, MA, is a faculty member at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She holds a master’s degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Soul Food, Life-Affirming Stories Served with Side Dishes and Just Desserts, Enlighten Up! Finding Clarity, Contentment, and Resilience in a Complicated World and Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. Beth is an experienced workshop leader and public speaker. She blogs at

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