Question: I care for my parents, and although I love spending time with them, caregiving often leaves me feeling stressed. I want to add some morning yoga into my schedule, but I’m not sure where to start. What are some beginner practices that could help relax my mind and body?
Answer: When many of us in the United States think about yoga, we might think of it simply as a physical exercise class offered at our local studio or taken online at home. However, yoga is an ancient complex practice rooted in Indian philosophy that involves physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (dyana). Research has found that engaging in a regular yoga practice helps to decrease stress and anxiety, improve sleep and may reduce feelings of depression—just a few reasons why yoga is beneficial for family caregivers.
Research has found that engaging in a regular yoga practice helps to decrease stress and anxiety, improve sleep and may reduce feelings of depression.
There are many different types of yoga—from hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, gentle yoga, chair yoga and more. Like with any exercise, there’s inherent risk with practicing yoga, so consult your physician and do some research ahead of time when choosing a class that’s best for you. Are you looking for an energizing class first thing in the morning to wake you up, or something slow and mindful to ease you into the start of your day? Do as much as you can to prepare the night before to set yourself up for success. If you’re practicing at home, roll out your mat, pick out your class and try to get a good night’s sleep.
Do as much as you can to prepare the night before to set yourself up for success.
If you don’t have a full hour or even a half hour in your morning, that’s OK. You can reap the benefits of 10-15 minutes of yoga sprinkled throughout the week. Being consistent is key. Some yoga is better than none, so just make a commitment to start. Here are three yoga poses you can try any time of day that promote calm and relaxation. Just listen to your body and practice what feels good to you—and never push yourself into any pain.
Mountain pose (Tadasana)
Simply stand with your feet facing forward, parallel to each other about hip’s width apart, keeping your spine tall, head in line with your pelvis, and chin parallel to the floor. Open your chest as you pull your shoulders down and away from your ears. Hands can be at your sides with palms facing forward or in prayer position in front of your heart.
Set your gaze on a fixed point in front of you, or gently close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out for several rounds of breath. This posture can also be done in a chair sitting up with a tall spine, with a 90-degree bend at your knee joint. (Note: Avoid this pose if you have insomnia, an active headache, low blood pressure and lightheadedness.)
Standing forward fold (Uttanasana)
Begin in Mountain pose, bend your knees slightly and hinge forward from the hips, folding your upper body over your legs. Dangle your arms touching the ground, your ankles or your shins, and allow your head and neck to fully relax. You can also grab your opposite elbows if you like. This pose is not about touching your toes and could also be done with a chair by resting your forearms on the seat of a chair instead of completing a full forward bend. (Note: Avoid this pose if you have tight hamstrings, herniated disc(s), enlarged liver/spleen, spinal pathologies, back conditions, asthma or diarrhea.)
Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)
Begin by sitting on the floor with your right side against the wall, with your knees bent and feet drawn toward your hips. Next, swing your legs up against the wall as you lay flat on your back. Place your hips against the wall or slightly away. You can also use a pillow or folded blanket under your hips. Place your arms by your side or on your belly (whatever feels good to you) and breathe. To release the pose, gently push yourself away from the wall and relax on your back until you’re ready to draw your knees to your chest and roll onto your right side to push yourself back up. Take it nice and slow.
You could also do this pose while in bed as long as you can prop your legs up the wall or a chair with your legs in a 90-degree angle and calves folded over the seat of a chair. (Note: Avoid this pose if you have a hiatal hernia or heart conditions, high blood pressure, a detached retina or glaucoma, excessive fluid retention, spinal pathologies, back conditions, limited hip range of motion or limited hamstring flexibility.)