Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Yoga is a form of Ancient Indian philosophy that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation to aid in spirituality as your body and mind become one. Yoga is a stress outlet that’s great for mental health and a way to exercise and boost heart health. It’s said that practicing yoga may help lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose levels (1).
I have compiled a list of 10 yoga poses that have a variety of mental health benefits that you can practice during times of stress or even every day to keep your mental health strong. Before starting, it's important to remember to always listen to what your body is saying and respect your body’s limitations. Even if you don’t successfully execute a pose, celebrate your attempts and try again.
1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Easy Pose, also known as Sukhasana, will be our first pose for this mental health practice. This pose not only strengthens the spinal muscles while stretching the knees and ankles. This pose also opens the chest, improves posture, and gently opens the hips in external rotation. Easy Pose also reduces anxiety and stress, releasing tension and calming the mind.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana) can be successfully executed by following these steps:
Start by sitting in a seated position on your mat. Cross the right shin in front of the left and keep your knees as flat as possible while remaining in your comfort zone.
Rest your hands on your knees with your pointer and thumb fingers creating a circle, and the remaining fingers are open like an "okay" sign.
Press the hip bones down into the mat while reaching the crown of your head towards the ceiling with a straight and lengthened back. Drop the shoulders down and back away from the ears while pressing your chest towards the front of the room.
Relax your face, jaw, and belly, and drop the tongue from the roof of the mouth to fully relax the body and release tension.
Breathe deeply through the nose and down into the belly. Hold this pose as long as you'd like.
Avoid this pose if you have problems with inflammation or a knee or hip injury.
2. Head to Knee Forward Bend
Since you're already seated, the next pose to go to would be Head to Knee Forward Bend, also known as Janu Sirsasana. Not only does this pose to stretch the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and groin,but it also strengthens the back muscles during pregnancy, stimulating the liver and kidneys. This pose also improves digestion, calms the brain, helps relieve mild depression, and reduces anxiety, fatigue, headache, and menstrual discomfort.
Head to Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana) can be successfully executed by following these steps:
Sit on the mat with your legs straight forward.
Bend your right knee, bringing your right foot to your left inner thigh, and lay the outer right leg on the floor on an inhalation. Keep your left leg straight.
Press your right hand against your inner right groin with your left hand on the mat beside your hip. On an exhale, turn the torso slightly left, lifting the torso as you push the inner right thigh to the mat and line your navel with the middle of the left thigh.
When you're ready, reach out with your right hand to take the inner left foot with the thumb on the sole. Inhale and lift the front torso as you extend through the left heel.
Exhale and extend forward through the groin as you descend, bend your elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor.
Lengthen yourself into a comfortable stretch. Stay in this pose for about three minutes and repeat on the other side before continuing to the next pose.
Avoid this pose if you are experiencing diarrhea, have asthma, or have a knee injury.
3. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Next up is Mountain Pose, also known as Tadasana. This pose uses every muscle in the body, helps reduce back pain, and strengthens the thighs, knees, ankles, abdomen, and buttocks. Mountain Pose also relieves sciatica pain, steadies the mind and body, and steadies and soothes your breathing while improving posture, lessening stress, and improving concentration.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana) can be successfully executed by following these steps:
Stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet. Breathe steadily and rhythmically. Draw your awareness inward. Focus on the present moment, letting all worries and concerns fade away.
Press your big toes together (separate your heels if needed). Lift your toes, spreading them apart. Then, place them back down on the mat, one at a time.
Draw down through your heels and straighten your legs. Ground your feet firmly into the mat, pressing evenly across all four corners of both feet.
Then, lift your ankles and the arches of your feet. Squeeze your outer shins toward each other.
Draw the top of your thighs up and back, engaging the quadriceps. Rotate your thighs slightly inward, widening your sitting bones.
Tuck in your tailbone slightly, but don’t round your lower back. Lift the back of your thighs, but release your butt. Keep your hips even with the centerline of your body.
Bring your pelvis to its neutral position. Do not let your front hip bones point down or up; instead, point them straight forward. Draw your belly in slightly. As you inhale, elongate through your torso. Exhale and release your shoulder blades away from your head, toward the back of your waist.
Broaden across your collarbones, keeping your shoulders in line with the sides of your body. Press your shoulder blades toward the back ribs, but don’t squeeze them together. Keep your arms straight,your fingers extended, and your triceps firm. Allow your inner arms to rotate slightly outward.
Elongate your neck. Your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles should all be in one line.
Focus on your breathing and keep your breathing smooth and even. With each exhalation, feel your spine elongating. Softly gaze forward in front of you. Hold the pose for up to one minute.
Avoid this pose if you currently have a migraine, headache, low blood pressure, insomnia, or are lightheaded or dizzy.
4. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Eagle Pose, also known as Garudasana, will be our next pose, which is pretty tricky. If you're new to yoga, you may not successfully execute it, and that's okay. Eagle Pose strengthens and stretches the ankles and calves while also stretching the thighs, hips, shoulders, and upper back, all while improving concentration. This pose also calms the body, improves focus, and your sense of balance, relieves lower back pain, sciatica pain, and asthmatic symptoms, it even protects the knees from future injury.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana) can be successfully executed by following these steps:
Stand back into Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor while pressing your feet firmly into the mat.
Balance on your right foot and cross your left thigh over your right. Fix your gaze at a point in front of you. Hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf - balance for one breath.
Extend your arms straight in front of your body. Drop your left arm under your right.
Bend your elbows, and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and hands, and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them). Lift your elbows and reach your fingertips toward the ceiling. Keep your shoulder blades pressing down your back toward your waist.
Square your hips and chest to the front wall. Draw your belly in and up.
Gaze at the tips of your thumbs. Breathe smoothly and evenly.
Hold for up to one minute, focusing on your breath and keeping your gaze fixed and soft. Gently unwind your arms and legs and return to Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
Repeat on the opposite side before continuing on to the next pose.
Avoid this pose if you currently have a knee injury.
5. Standing Forward Bend
As I said, that last pose is quite tricky so let's take a moment to relax in our next pose. Standing Forward Bend, also known as Uttanasana, will stretch and lengthen the hamstrings and calves while steadying the mind and body. This pose will relieve stress, relax the body, calm the brain, and is therapeutic for insomnia.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) can successfully be executed by following these steps:
Stand back into Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet together.
Bend your knees slightly and fold your torso over your legs. It would be best if you moved from the hips, not the lower back.
Place your hands on the floor in front of your feet or grab your ankles.
Inhale and extend your chest as you lengthen your spine and keep your gaze forward.
On your exhale, gently press both legs down into the mat. Be sure to keep your legs straight without hyperextending them.
Extend your torso down without rounding the back, and be sure to keep your neck extended through the crown of your head with your shoulders back away from your ears. Place your hands on your lower legs or ankles.
Stay in this pose for several moments.
Avoid this pose if you have an injury to your lower back, high blood pressure glaucoma, or a recent dental bone graft.
6. Cat-Cow Pose
Our next pose is Cat-Cow Pose, also known as Marjaryasana Bitilasana. This pose helps develop postural awareness, improves balance, brings flexibility to the spine, brings the spine to the correct alignment, and stretches the back, torso, and neck, preventing back pain. All while stimulating and strengthening the abdominal organs, stimulating the kidneys and adrenal glands, opening the chest, encouraging the breath to become slow and deep, and even relieving stress while calming the mind.
Cat Cow Pose (Marjaryasana Bitilasana) can successfully be executed by following these steps:
Start on your hands and knees.
As you inhale, move to Cow Pose (Bitilasana) by dropping your belly towards the mat and lifting your chin and chest as you gaze towards the ceiling. Broaden your shoulder blades across your back and away from your ears.
Next, as you exhale, move into Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) by drawing your belly to your spine and rounding your back towards the ceiling. Release your head towards the floor but don't force your chin to your chest.
Inhale, coming back to Cow Pose (Bitilasana).
Exhale, back to Cat Pose (Marjaryasana).
Repeat this several times.
Those with neck injuries should keep the head aligned with the torso, not dropping forward or back. Pregnant women with back injuries should only perform Cow Pose.
7. Puppy Dog Pose
Since you should already be on your hands and knees, this next pose, Puppy Dog Pose, also known as Uttana Shishosana, is quite relaxing. Although this pose stretches the spine, shoulders, upper back, and abdominal muscles, it also relieves stress and anxiety and releases tension in your upper arms, shoulders, and neck, expanding your chest. Puppy Dog Pose also opens the hips, preparing the body for backends, all while calming the mind and body.
Puppy Dog Pose (Uttana Shishosana) can successfully be executed by following these steps:
Start on your hands and knees before walking your hands forward a few inches as you curl your toes under.
As you exhale, move your butt halfway down toward your heels while keeping your arms active and not allowing your elbows to touch the mat.
Breathe into your back and feel the spine lengthen as you hold in this pose for 30 to 60 seconds.
Drop your butt to your heels to release from this pose.
Avoid this pose if you have a knee injury.
8. Child's Pose (Balasana)
Child's Pose. also known as Balasana, is another pose meant to help you relax. Child's Pose gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles, relieves stress and fatigue, relieving back and neck pain while relaxing front muscles, restoring balance, and calming the brain.
Child's Pose (Balasana) can successfully be executed by following these steps:
Start by kneeling on the floor with both your hands and knees on the mat.
Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels.
Spread your knees apart (about the width of the mat) while keeping your big toes together. Sit up straight, keep your back straight and lengthen your spine through the crown of your head.
Exhale, lift your arms over your head and lay your torso down between your thighs. Place your forehead on the mat. If it does not reach, grab a yoga block. You should be able to feel your stomach expanding and contracting on your thighs.
Lay your hands on the floor, alongside your torso, with your palms up. Release the fronts of your shoulders towards the floor as you become one with the mat.
This is a resting pose: hold it anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
To come up, raise your torso off the ground and, while inhaling, return to your hands and knees.
Avoid this pose if you currently have diarrhea, a knee injury, or are pregnant.
9. Bridge Pose
(Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge Pose, also known as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, is a little challenging. Bridge Pose stretches the spine, back of the neck, thighs, and hip flexors. This pose also opens the chest, heart, and shoulders and stimulates abdominal organs and thyroid glands. All while regulating the metabolism, improving digestion, and relieving stress, anxiety, fatigue, and mild depression.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) can be successfully executed by following these steps:
Start by laying flat on your back on your mat.
Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor while pressing your feet firmly into the mat.
Exhale and lift your hips up and towards the ceiling while drawing your tailbone toward the pubic bone and holding your butt off the floor. Do not squeeze or flex your glutes.
Roll your shoulders back and underneath your body while clasping your hands and extending your arms along the floor beneath your pelvis. Be sure to straighten your arms as much as possible without over-exerting your body while pressing your forearms into the mat.
Keep your thighs parallel to the floor and press your weight evenly across all four corners of both feet.
Hold this pose for up to one minute, then release by unclasping your hands and placing them palms down alongside your body, and exhaling slowly as you roll your spine back to the mat.
Avoid this pose if you currently have a neck or shoulder injury.
10. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
I told you that the last pose was a little challenging, so now we will do Corpse Pose, also known as Savasana, for our final relaxation pose. Corpse Pose not only reduces stress and tension but also rejuvenates the body, mind, and spirit. This is the perfect pose to relax your entire body.
Corpse Pose (Savasana) can successfully be executed by following these steps:
Start by laying on your back on the mat and letting your arms and legs drop open naturally. Your arms should be about 45 degrees from the side of your body.
Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths through the nose. Allow your whole body to become heavy as you become one with the mat. As the body relaxes, you should feel your body rise and fall with each breath you take.
Scan your entire body from head to toe, looking for tension and tightness that needs release, and release it as you find it.
Release all control of the breath, mind, and body, and let your body move deeper and deeper into a state of total relaxation.
Savasana is a resting pose: hold it anywhere from 3 minutes to 15 minutes. To come up, slowly deepen your breath, and wiggle your fingers and toes while reaching the arms over your head and stretching the entire body. Exhale, bend the knees into the chest, roll over to one side, and up to a seated position.
Avoid this pose if you are in your third trimester of pregnancy.