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May 5, 2015

Warning: These Yoga Poses May Cause Happiness

Having a bad day? We’ve all been there. Fortunately, there are yoga poses that may help you turn that frown upside down (sometimes quite literally). Studies show that yoga can help alleviate everything from depression to premenstrual symptoms. So the next time you’re feeling out of sorts, take a yoga break.

For those not-so-great moods, you will generally want to practice an inversion: any position where your head is below your heart. There’s a range of these poses to accommodate all skill and flexibility levels. Inversions increase the flow of freshly oxygenated blood to your head and, in turn, increase the bioavailability of oxygen and glucose—both of which the brain needs to function properly. They also stimulate the production of endorphins; so inverting your body is a great way to jump-start the “happy” chemical production you need to work toward a better mood. You will literally turn your frown upside down.

Inversions aren’t the only poses that will help transform your state of mind. Practice the following six yoga poses to boost your mood next time you’re feeling down.

1. Downward-Facing Dog

beYogi Day 1-5Downward-Facing Dog calms the mind, and helps relieve stress and mild depression. It also helps to soothe the headaches, back pain, and fatigue which often accompany stress. This benefit-packed pose works on a variety of other body issues, so it’s a great place to begin your practice.

Begin on your hands and knees. Walk your hands a few inches forward, and then lift your hips up toward the sky. Your feet should be hip-distance apart and parallel. Ground all five fingers down—especially the thumb and index finger—and point them forward. Take a glance back at your ankles. There shouldn’t be any wrinkles on the front of them. If there are, lift your heels up until you see that area smooth out. Reach your hips up and back, and feel your spine extending. Try to distribute an equal amount of bodyweight between your hands and your feet. Hold for five to eight breaths.

2. Standing Forward Fold

beYogi Day 1-9If you’re feeling sad or depressed, try a Standing Forward Fold. In addition to relieving stress and mild depression, this pose invigorates the nervous system and releases tension stored in the neck, back, and hamstrings.

Stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose) with your feet hip-distance apart. Make sure the feet are parallel with your heels lined up directly behind the first and second toes. Bring your hands to your hips and fold forward, hinging at the waist. Once you’ve lowered down, bring your hands to the floor—or to a block if you can’t reach the floor. If there isn’t a block available, use a chair, pillows, blankets, or any other supportive prop that brings the floor to you.

If your weight is centered between the front and back of your feet, you will gain a more even stretch. To release your hamstrings a bit more, however, move your weight toward the front of your feet. Hold for three to five breaths.

3. Child’s Pose

beYogi Day 1-46Feeling anxious or amped up? Time to bring the energy down. Students with limited flexibility in the knees may want to skip this pose, because it likely won’t be relaxing. However, if you can sit on your shins with ease, start there.

With shins resting on the mat, hinge forward and fold your torso over your thighs. Let your forehead rest on the floor, and stretch your arms out in front of you. As you exhale, sink further back into your hips and just let go. Really allow the floor to support your head. Imagine all of the day’s worries and stressors spilling out of your forehead and onto the floor. Hold this pose for eight to 10 breaths.

4. Headstand

beYogi Day 1-4If you already have a regular yoga practice, you may want to try a more advanced inversion. Poses like Headstand, Handstand, and Shoulderstand are great for treating anxiety and depression in regular practitioners.

Headstand helps flush your glands, including the adrenal glands. When that happens, it’s easier to muster up positive thoughts. Some claim that practicing this inversion everyday will also help slow and even reverse gray hair. (Saving money on hair color would certainly turn my mood around.)

If you’re not familiar with how to get into these poses, find a local teacher who can walk you through them step-by-step and be there to safely guide you.

5. Legs Up the Wall

Legs Up the Wall poseThis isn’t an inversion, but it’s another gentle, restorative yoga pose that alleviates stress and anxiety. Legs Up the Wall can also help relieve menstrual symptoms, as well as tired legs and feet.

It’s exactly what it sounds like and easy to do! Find an open wall space, and lie flat on your back beside it. Bring your sitting bones close to the wall. Then slowly work your legs up the wall until they form a 90-degree angle with your upper body. Stay here for a couple of minutes and just breathe.

6. Seated Spinal Twist

Heather and Tristan (group B)-44Wring out your anger with Seated Spinal Twist! According to Chinese medicine, anger is stored in the liver. Twisting the body helps to cleanse the liver—and release stored anger—by moving out stale blood and delivering freshly oxygenated blood.

Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the ground, outside of your left knee. If you feel comfortable, bend your left knee and bring your left foot outside of your right buttock, leaving your shin on the ground. If that feels too intense, leave your left leg extended. Reach your arms up next to your ears on your inhale; and as you exhale, twist to the right. Place your right hand behind you to support a tall, straight spine, and use your left elbow against your right knee as leverage to help you twist. With each inhale, grow taller; and with each exhale, twist deeper. Be careful to not push beyond your body’s limits.

Hold for three to five breaths. Then switch the crossing of your legs and repeat on the opposite side.

These are just a few of the many yoga poses that help counteract the effects of stress, anxiety, anger, and depression. With a regular practice, you’ll notice that chronic mood disorders may begin to ease up and even fade away. Have fun and keep smiling.

Jennifer Minchin
Jennifer Minchin

Jennifer Minchin is a lover of yoga, words, and a good challenge. After 13 years of a dedicated yoga practice, she continued her journey with a 200-hour teacher training. She has always been drawn to more challenging classes, believing that you can find tremendous personal insight and courage when working at your edge. She believes that yoga is a path to transformation and a great healer. She hopes to share her love of yoga, and what she has learned in her studies, through her writing. Jennifer resides in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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