Certain poses can help relax the body, dissolve pent-up tension, and release emotions. In this Insider article, Mindpath Health’s Phylice Kessler, LMHC, suggests different yoga moves to help manage difficult feelings.
Yoga — an ancient practice that combines movement, meditation, and breath control — has numerous potential benefits for mental health .
For example, certain poses can help you release stress or anger you might be holding in your body, according to Nzingha Ma’at , LPC, certified yoga instructor and founder of Ma’at Therapeutic Services .
“By engaging in deep breathing while performing specific poses, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system — or ‘rest and digest’ system — to relax,” Ma’at says.
Experts have linked elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol to anger — but research has shown people who regularly practice yoga have lower levels of this hormone. That might explain why one review found practicing yoga can reduce stress — specifically, by boosting positive emotions, self-awareness, self-compassion, and feelings of control
Below, experts share how to perform their favorite yoga poses for alleviating anger and stress.
1. Standing forward fold (Uttanasana)
Why it helps: This standing yoga pose can help relieve tension from your shoulders, neck, and lower back. Also, this pose can boost blood flow to the brain to help you think with a calmer and clearer mind, says Phylice Kessler , certified yoga teacher and licensed mental health counselor with Mindpath Health .
How to do it:
- Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart at the top of your mat.
- Bring your palms together and raise your arms above your head
- Slowly hinge at the hips to fold your torso forward. Let your head hang and keep your knees slightly bent.
- If you can, bring your fingertips or palms to the floor. If you can’t quite reach, try placing a yoga block or chair in front of you to rest your hands on for support.
- Alternatively, you can grab opposite elbows or let your arms hang loosely by your sides.
- Hold the pose for at least three deep inhalations and exhalations before bringing your hands to your shins and rolling up one vertebra at a time, with your head rising last.
If you find it hard to balance in a standing forward fold, Alo Moves yoga instructor Ashley Galvin advises trying the pose while seated on your mat. With your legs stretched out in front of you and spread wide, flex your feet and lean forward from your hips without rounding your back. Then walk your hands out until you feel a light stretch in your inner thighs.
2. Child’s pose (Balasana)
Why it helps: According to private yoga instructor Claire Larson , this pose creates an excellent opportunity to rest, focus on deep breathing, and tune in to any areas of your body holding tension or in need of extra attention.
How to do it:
- Start in a tabletop position — kneeling with both hands flat on the mat.
- Spread your knees while bringing your big toes together to touch.
- Slowly lower your hips to your heels and bring your forehead to the mat.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms facing downward.
- Alternatively, you can reach behind you with your palms facing upward.
- Relax your head, neck, jaw, and shoulders. Slowly inhale and exhale for 4-12 breaths.
Quick tip: If you’d like to stay in this pose for longer or feel any hip discomfort, Larson suggests placing a blanket, pillow, or bolster under your chest or stomach to help support you while you stretch.
3. Legs up a wall pose (Viparita karani)
Why it helps: According to Galvin, inversion poses that raise your feet above your chest can reduce strain on your heart and potentially help increase your heart rate variability — a metric associated with less stress and greater resilience.
How to do it:
- Start out seated on your mat, with your right or left side facing a wall, and your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Inhale, exhale, and then use your core to swing your legs straight up onto the wall so that your feet are pointed toward the ceiling. Keep a slight bend in your knees. The closer to the wall you place your hips, the deeper and more challenging the stretch will be.
- Spread your arms wide at a 45- or 90-degree angle, with your palms facing down.
- Relax and breathe deeply for up to three minutes. You should feel a light stretch in the backs of the legs, but no discomfort.
- To release the pose, hug your knees to your chest and either scoot back to a seated position or roll onto your side.
4. Boat pose (Navasana)
Why it helps: This seated pose can create a sense of control and empowerment by engaging your core and opening your chest, according to Melissa Burgard , a certified yoga teacher and mindfulness coach. In doing so, it may help you build determination and self-confidence in dealing with life stressors.
How to do it:
- Begin by sitting on your mat with your legs straight in front of you, with your hands resting by your sides, palms facing down.
- While pressing into your hands, lift your chest to create an arch in your upper back as you lean backward. Shift your weight onto your tailbone and sitting bones.
- Bend your knees and lift your thighs so they’re at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- If you can, slowly straighten your knees and lift your feet to just above eye level.
- Lift your arms up so they’re parallel to the floor with your palms facing in.
- Squeeze your legs together, keep your spine long, and draw your shoulders back.
- Try holding this pose for at least five breath cycles, or as long as you can. Practice can help you gradually increase your time.
5. Fish pose (Matsyasana)
The fish pose is also great if you tend to bottle up anger or stress because it stimulates the throat chakra , which is related to self-expression and speaking your truth.
Important: Avoid this pose if you have a neck injury, or a history of neck issues, Burgard, cautions.
How to do it:
- Start in a seated position with your legs long in front of you.
- Lean backward while resting your upper body onto your elbows, with your forearms flat on the mat.
- While pressing down into your palms and forearms, lift your heart up towards the ceiling, rolling your shoulders back and stretching backward until you can gently rest the crown of your head onto the mat behind you.
- Keep your lower body firmly rooted on the mat.
- Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds, and up to 3 minutes, while breathing in and out deeply.
- To release the pose, gently lift your head and release your upper body so you’re lying completely flat.
Quick tip: If you feel unstable in this pose, Burgard suggests bending your knees and planting your feet on the mat, as well as tucking your hands under your butt after bending backward.
6. Corpse pose (Savasana)
Why it helps: There’s a reason why many yoga and other fitness classes end with this final resting pose — according to Ma’at, this pose allows your entire body to fully open, stretch, and relax, so tension can melt away.
How to do it:
- Lie flat on your back, with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands at your sides, just slightly away from your body, with your palms facing upward.
- Mentally scan your body from your feet to your head, noticing any tension.
- If you’re holding your legs straight, let them fall open to either side.
- If you’re forcing your palms to stay open, relax them and let your fingers curl.
- Let your jaw release and your mouth open.
- Allow the mat to hold your body, and feel your weight sinking into it.
- Continuing to breathe naturally, and lie in stillness for at least 5 minutes.
- To release the pose, wiggle your fingers and toes, slowly roll yourself onto one side, and gently bring yourself up to a seated position.
If you’re struggling to manage anger or release stress, yoga could make a difference. Certain poses may help relax your physical body, make it easier to let go of pent-up tension, and provide an emotional release.
Yoga can also promote mindfulness and help you to ground yourself in the present moment, which may help you to navigate future life challenges and regulate your emotional responses to them.
No matter which poses you try, remember to always honor your body’s capabilities. You can also modify any poses that feel uncomfortable — for example, by supporting your head, neck, or hips with a block or blanket.
Read the full Insider article with sources.
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