We’ve all been there: The hustle and bustle of the world becomes just a bit too much and we turn to our mat in an effort to find calm among the chaos. And yet sometimes our mat doesn’t feel like a refuge—sweaty Sun Salutations and energizing twists can sometimes aggravate an already stressed mind. In these moments, it’s important to remember that yoga is so much more than an active asana practice. When we pause in more grounded asanas, we are able to slow the sympathetic nervous system (our “flight or fight” response) and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which actually lowers blood pressure and slows the heart.
The ability to favor calm over fight or flight is one major aspect of what renowned yoga teacher and best-selling author Elena Brower considers to be wellness. “Wellness,” she says, “is your capacity to let the events of your life in and through you.” It’s when we’re able to take stock of a situation and respond accordingly, rather than react out of fear or anger.
Here are Elena’s four favorite asanas to access this kind of calm.
Child’s Pose, or Balasana, is typically how we begin practice, grounding into the Earth. It balances your root chakra, allowing you a feeling of being held by gravity and supported. To get into it, sit back on your heels, with your knees either spread wide or together. If you’re looking for more rounding in your back, bring your knees together (this may feel really nice if you tend to stand with your hips out and your low back curved). If you’re looking for release in your low back, spread your knees wide, keeping your toes together. Reach your arms out long in front of you for a slight release along the underside of your arms, or bring them back by your side. Let the tops of your feet press into the mat, and breathe.
Half / Full Lotus Pose
Lotus Pose, or Padmasana, may conjure up images of a sadhu sitting stoically in a cave—but you don’t have to be a guru (or even a devotee) to benefit from its effects. Keeping your spine straight as your crown reaches upward and your sitz bones root into the Earth can have a calming effect on your brain. This may be a difficult pose if you have tight hips or hamstrings, and forcing yourself into something that’s not good for your body has absolutely zero calming effects: Listen to your legs, and stay safe. To get into it, cross one ankle onto the opposite thigh. Stay there for Half Lotus if this feels good. If you’re looking for more, cross the other ankle over the other thigh. Let your sitz bones root and breathe your crown upward.
Pigeon Pose, or a variation of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, is a juicy hip opener that can help us to alleviate stuck emotions, allowing us to surrender and become a part of the calm around us rather than seeking out the noise. Give yourself plenty of warm-up poses before coming right into it, and be sure to have props nearby. From Downward Facing Dog, bring one ankle toward the opposite wrist, and as you bend your knee, bring your shin toward parallel at the front of the mat. Use a blanket or block under your hip to fill the space between you and the floor, and allow yourself to sink into the pose, breathing into the hip space. Feel your unstuck emotions release.
Who doesn’t love a good Corpse Pose, or Savasana? (It’s the real reason we continue to practice, amiright?) While it may seem like a waste of time to lay and rest after a good moving practice, allowing yourself to sink in and feel the benefits of asana is just as important as the movement to breath connection. Lay on your mat, with your legs and arms spread wide. You may want to tilt your pelvis back ever so slightly to keep your low back rooted onto the Earth. Let your fingertips curl slightly, and your feet splay outward. Let your breath become normalized, and feel your exhales moving up the back body, grounding you further into your mat. Let everything else go.
What are your favorite calming poses? Leave them in the comments below.
Lisette Cheresson is a writer, storyteller, yoga teacher, and adventuress who is an avid vagabond, homechef, dirt-collector, and dreamer. When she’s not playing with words, it’s a safe bet that she’s either hopping a plane, dancing, cooking, or hiking. She received her Level II Reiki Attunement and attended a 4-day intensive discourse with the Dalai Lama in India, and received her RYT200 in Brooklyn. She is currently the Director of Content at Wanderlust Festival. You can find her on Instagram @lisetteileen.