Yoga Poses to Reduce Head-to-Toe Body Tension
From neck pain due to a poor night's sleep to soreness from a strenuous workout, incorporating yoga into your self-care routine is a great way to alleviate everyday physical pain. With the help of certified yoga instructor Joanna Cohen — a Vibe Higher Creator and Lead Coach at Y7 Studio in New York City — we've pinpointed common areas of tension throughout the body and paired them with yoga poses meant to relieve discomfort.
For the best results, Cohen suggests dedicating time every morning and night to these stretches until your tension subsides. Hold each move for 5-to-10 full breaths and repeat for three rounds.
(Active poses like Cobra and Triangle aren't conducive to winding down before bed, so feel free to skip at night if they are affecting your sleep.)
Read on for our complete head-to-toe guide.
Uttanasana — also known as Standing Forward Bend pose — allows the muscles in the back of the neck to soften, providing relief for head tension. Cohen notes that this pose "physically triggers the body to release places it is unconsciously holding and can open up the opportunity for whatever engagement is triggering the tension to subside." When executing, transition slowly to avoid dizziness — lightheadedness could counteract the benefits of this move.
- Standing up straight, reach arms forward and down as you fold torso over legs.
- Maintain a gentle bend in the knees and allow hands to find feet, shins, heels, or rest on the ground.
- Relax head completely, slightly tucking chin toward chest, and let your back and neck muscles release.
Marjaryasana — also known as Cat pose — will strengthen your neck and back while offering a gentle massage to your spine. For those struggling with neck injuries, try keeping your head in line with your torso while executing this pose. Cohen suggests beginning in Tabletop pose before transitioning into Cat pose in order to lengthen and realign the spine.
- From Table Top pose (on hands and knees), press firmly into palms and tuck chin to chest.
- Draw belly button up and in while rounding the upper back.
Uttana Shishosana — also known as Extended Puppy pose — is a mix between Child's pose and Downward Facing Dog pose. According to Cohen, "This move involves deep opening across the chest, lengthening of the sides of the body, and engagement of the shoulders. Once the posture is exited mindfully, it can encourage a softening of the shoulders that releases unconscious tension."
- From extended Child's pose (arms forward), walk hands forward as you lay chin and chest on the ground — keep your gaze in front of you.
- Hips will lift off heels, but continue to press heels back and think about keeping hips low.
- It's important to pay close attention to the breath throughout the transition into, the duration of, and the exit out of this posture.
- Breathe fully and deeply
Malasana — also known as the Squat pose — promotes spine lengthening from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Cohen points out how this pose also stretches the muscles along the spine, which helps with overall back stability. Engaging your core can also take some pressure off your back muscles, relieving tension .
- Stand at the top of the mat and step feet about as wide as the mat, wider than hips-width distance.
- Turn toes out, bend knees, and sit into a low squat.
- Only sit as low as possible with heels grounded.
- Connect hands at heart center in prayer and lift heart to thumbs to lengthen spine.
- Use elbows to widen knees for deeper hip opening.
Bhujangasana — also known as Cobra pose — "stretches the chest and opens regions that throughout the day may become caved in or closed off, accumulate tension, and may not receive breath," Cohen says. When your back muscles are engaged, pressure is lifted from your chest and shoulders, too.
- From a plank pose, lower all the way down to belly and untuck toes so tops of feet are on the mat.
- Bring feet together to touch and engage quads.
- With hands underneath shoulders, press into tops of feet, pelvis, and hands to lift chest and head away from the mat.
- Elbows stay glued to sides of ribs, shoulder blades move towards one another to open across chest and collarbone.
Balasana — also known as Child's pose — stretches the lower back and groin area, relieving tension in the hip space. Cohen suggests intensifying your focus on your breath to direct your breath to areas of tension like the hips.
- From kneeling position on mat with knees together, sit hips to heels and let chest rest on thighs.
- Let forehead rest on ground in front of knees and lay arms back beside the legs with palms face up.
Option Two (Extended Child's Pose)
- Bring knees about as wide as the mat and big toes to touch.
- Sit hips onto heels, let chest rest in-between thighs, and extend arms forward toward top of mat with palms face down.
- Forehead rests gently on the ground.
Baddha Konasana — also known as Bound Angle pose — not only stretches your knees, groin, and thighs, but it can improve your general circulation. Cohen warns that it's important to "be mindful of knee flexion and only bend to a degree that is pain free."
- From seated position touch soles of the feet together and let knees open towards respective sides of the mat.
- Let hands hold outer edges of feet as an anchor and sit up tall, opening chest and relaxing shoulders.
Trikonasana — also known as Triangle pose — is a deep hamstring, groin, and calf stretch that also builds your adductor and quad strength. This move requires careful use of your feet, legs, and core. According to Cohen, "Misplaced leg tension or engagement may have the opportunity to relinquish control and release."
- From standing position, step feet about three feet apart.
- Turn right toes out 90 degrees.
- Open arms by sides and begin to tilt chest to the right, keeping torso aligned directly on top of right leg.
- Lower right hand to rest gently inside right leg and reach left arm over left ear with palm facing the ground.
- Continually use strength of legs and core to maintain lift on right side of body and open across chest.
- Press outer edge of left foot into the mat.
- Gaze straight forward or up, wherever is comfortable for neck.
Halasana — also known as Plow pose — "takes the weight off your feet and provides a deep stretch for your hamstrings, calves, and Achilles," notes Cohen.
- Begin on back, take knees into the chest and then extend both feet straight toward ceiling.
- Using core engagement, lift hips away from the ground and bring hands to lower back for support.
- Lower legs and reach feet behind head towards the ground.
- Once feet find the ground readjust hands closer to shoulders or all the way to the ground for more support.
- If feet never touch the ground, keep hands at low back for support.