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Low lighting, candles, and large brass gongs might come to mind when you think about doing yoga for stress relief. But you actually don’t need anything fancy to tap into the calming benefits of yoga. Mostly, you’ll just want to focus on your movement and on your breath.

“Yoga is a wonderful physical workout using your bodyweight to train, […] but as we have seen, it’s also a mental workout,” Heather Peterson, chief yoga officer at CorePower Yoga, previously told Well+Good about the mental health benefits of yoga. “This multifaceted approach to health is what makes yoga an incredible physical-mental practice.”

And amid the busy holiday season, workouts that appeal to our mental health are great pracitices. This December, Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month Club video series aims to promote mental well-being. First up is a 20-minute yoga flow meant to induce calm and help you connect with your body..

Why yoga can help reduce stress

As with a moving meditation practice, having something physical, like a yoga flow, to occupy your thoughts can help you be in the present moment—which means keeping rumination or other stressful mental distractions at bay. This tenet of meditation is helpful for stress relief because it prevents you from considering the past or worrying about the future.

Connecting that movement to breath can also help you double down on using yoga for stress relief; studies have demonstrated that controlled breathing can help with stress.

Since yoga focuses on movement and breath, which have mental health benefits on their own, it’s no surprise that a consistent practice can benefit your mind in powerful ways. In fact, a 2019 meta-analysis of studies found that it takes just eight weeks of yoga to relieve stress. “We found that those who had done yoga for eight weeks had an attenuated cortisol response to stress that was associated with better performance on tests of decision-making, task-switching and attention,” Neha Gothe, PhD, who led the research with Wayne State University, previously told Well+Good. (Coristol, the stress hormone, can wreak havoc on everything from your immunity to your digestion to your fertility.)

“What neurologists and physicians are finding out is that our body and mind are not as separate as was thought,” Peterson says. “Addressing your mental health practices in conjunction with your physical health practices is the way to raise your baseline of well-being.”

How to do yoga for stress relief

Excuse the less-than-zen language, but having the one-two punch of movement and breath can help you tap into the benefits of yoga. Laying on the floor in a savasana for 20 minutes doing deep breathing might seem helpful, but it could also lead your mind to wander or ruminate if you don’t already have a meditation practice. Conversely, moving from chaturanga to warrior three to boat pose might challenge you physically, but if you’re moving with the aim of impressing others or ticking off some achievement, you might not find the practice to be particularly calming.

Breathing can help bring it all together. Paris Alexandra, the co-founder of the Brooklyn Wellness Club, demonstrates how during a stress-reducing yoga flow (video below!). When you are focusing on your breath and “honoring where you are on your next inhale,” as Alexandra puts it, you can make each movement about connecting your body and your state of mind. Breath can help bring a rhythm to your flow, give you something to focus on, and help you make sure you’re tuned in to the needs of your body.

Establishing that rhythm from the get-go is paramount in Alexandra’s flow, which she co-leads with yoga teacher Alicia Ferguson. But this 20-minute yoga for stress relief practice is not all about breathing and gentle stretching, either. Meaning: Get ready to sweat. You’ll begin by establishing that connection to breath in a series of tabletop exercises, like cat cow. Next, you’ll move into more challenging standing series, including a warrior two sun salutation, a transition featuring chair poses and planks, and a lunge series. Remember to keep breathing through it all!

Next, you’ll make your way down to the mat for core work with some side planks and leg lifts with twists, rounding out the practice with stretches and a savasana.

Ready to let the good vibes flow? Pair your inhales and exhales with your yoga moves and to check in with the level of stretch and challenge you want throughout.

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