Daily YOGA for stress POSTURES

You and your clients can take all of these postures out of the gym and use any time of year.

Chest Expansion Great for good posture, anti-aging, mood elevating and expanding. From a seated or standing position, bring arms behind back and interlace fingers. Draw arms away from the body and at the same time, draw shoulder down and back. Open heart center and breathe deeply into lungs. Activate back muscles. Hold for 10 deep breaths make sure and exhale fully. Repeat several times throughout the day.

Seated Spinal Twist Good for digestion and improved internal organ function. From a seated position with legs extended, draw right knee in towards body and bend it, wrap left arm around bent leg, look over right shoulder. Hold for five deep breaths, repeat on other side.

Knees to Chest Soothes anxiety and stomach upset. Lying down, bring knees into chest, hold onto back of knees and rock slowly from one side of back to the other.

Lying Down Spinal Twist Relieves lower back discomfort. From knees to chest, keep right knee into chest, extend left leg. Draw right knee over straight leg towards floor. Look over right shoulder. Breathe into low back. Don't force or push, just release and breathe. Hold for 10 deep breaths. Switch sides. Ideal for after running, walking or any cardio session.

Inversions Shoulder Stand or Supported Headstand Good for jet lag and hangovers. From Knees to Chest, support lower back with hands, draw legs over head and then slowly towards sky -- keep core firm, engage leg muscles. Keep neck stationary; do not look around. Hold for a few minutes. Release slowly by bringing legs over head and rolling out one vertebrae at a time. Return to Knees to Chest to stabilize back muscles and realign spine.

It's a stressful world -- the economy is in question, we are in information overload, negative press is everywhere we turn and obesity is still on the rise. Add the stress of the holidays to this mix and the chances of your clients even showing up to the gym during this time of the year become greatly reduced. Unfortunate, as this is the time of year they need most to de-stress. So what can you do, both to keep your clients coming in and to dump the stress from their workouts?

Stress is the most destructive factor in the aging process and the leading cause of disease and depression in our culture. Stress management means learning how to control stress by witnessing it and releasing it. Without this letting-go process, our clients become candidates for ulcers, heart attacks, migraines and premature aging, all known to be caused by stress. An excess of stress can also result in an extended period of "flight or fight syndrome," which over time can drain the adrenal glands. Stress management techniques allow clients to discover and experience how we hold emotions, thoughts and experiences in our bodies. Exercises will offer them the opportunity to tune into different moods, feelings, attitudes and states of consciousness and understand the implications they have on our physical health.
You can help your clients tune out the exterior world and allow them to drop inside their bodies and find a place of stillness. Adding a mind/body cool down plan to help our clients de-stress will help their workouts become more effective -- and make them look forward to their time at the gym as a much-needed break from the stresses of the season. Clients can gain a powerful awareness of how to positively influence health, reactions, feelings and response. Use the following techniques to identify with your clients' stress and help them work through it.

A stressful workout is not good for anyone -- it reduces focus and increases impatience, which our clients can redirect back at us, increasing our stress. Breathing is important for relaxation and centering the mind and a good addition to any workout. Not only do breathing exercises strengthen the lungs, breathing controls oxygen supply, increases alertness and steadies emotions, which helps us to develop clarity and focus. A few breathing techniques I have found beneficial:
  • Three-Part Breath: Have client lie down and breathe one deep breath into the belly, chest and throat and then exhale one full breath. Repeat 10-20 times.
  • Sinking Breath: When in a forward folding position, have clients take a deep inhale and then exhale. They will find themselves naturally enhancing flexibility and finding a deeper place in the pose.
  • Stress Reduction Breath: Inhale through the nose, exhale deeply through the mouth with a sigh, a sound or a scream. Great for laughter and joy; a wonderful stress reliever!
Yoga, when broken down into its most simple form, is breathing and feeling. Through this breathing and feeling we learn to control our reactions to events and people. It is not the events and people in our lives that give us stress but the way we react to them.
What makes yoga unique in terms of stress reduction is in its multifaceted approach. By working at the physical and psychological levels concurrently, yoga reduces stress at each level, and this reduction is supported by the work done at other levels. Yoga postures combined with deep breathing facilitate deep relaxation that combats and reduces stress.
Physically, yoga massages the skeletal system, which supports bone mass and growth while taking the stress away from the supporting muscles and tendons. Yoga mechanically removes tension from the muscles through stretching. Yoga also massages the internal organs, reducing high blood pressure and stress in the cardiovascular system at the level of the heart, arteries and blood.
Emotionally, the body believes what the mind believes. Affirmations about peace, calm and tranquility along with positive imagery are conveyed to the nervous system. Yoga brings greater relationship with others, life and us. As we begin to explore these relationships more, we see which interactions genuinely support us in moving towards calmness. Through yoga, we learn to bring awareness to all parts of ourselves with the understanding that through integration, we come to a natural place of balance.
Yoga poses provide us with an opening in both of these areas. The following yoga poses offer the benefits of balancing the body and reducing the risk of injury. Practice these poses at the end of your workouts and your clients will feel rejuvenated, relaxed and refreshed and notice difference in flexibility -- not your typical end to a workout!

Upper Body Openers:
  • Chest Expansion Interlace hands together behind back and open the chest forward by pulling the arms as far away from the body as possible. If you are at normal resting heart rate, you can forward fold into a full chest expansion by hinging at the hips and folding the upper body over the lower body. Keep hands interlaced for 10 deep breaths.
  • Cobra Pose A chest and shoulder opener. Lying face-down on the floor, place hands underneath shoulders and gently press arms straight but not all the way, keeping a slight bend in the elbows. Protect the lower back by keeping the hips on the floor and squeezing the gluteus (those muscles you were sitting on) tight.
  • Knot Lying face-down, place one arm across underside of the body at chest level, bring opposite arm across other side. Walk forward with feet to create deeper stretch.
Quadriceps Opener: Quad Stretch
Lying face-down on the floor, bend one leg and grab onto the ankle. Gently pull the leg back and up; try touching your foot to your gluts. Switch sides. This can also be done standing. Be cautious if you have knee problems.

Hip Opener: Upside-Down Pigeon Pose
Lying face-up on the floor, lift the legs to knee height off the floor. Bring the right ankle to the left quadriceps, aiming for a spot on the leg midway between knee and groin. Pull left knee in towards body and push right knee away gently until you feel a deep stretch in the hip and glute area. Hold for 10 deep breaths and switch sides.

Hamstring Opener: Forward Fold
When at resting heart rate, standing, hinge at the hips, folding forward, grab onto elbows, or for more intensity, grab ankles. With fluid breathing, sink a little further on each exhale, letting the crown of the head move towards the floor and relaxing the head and neck as much as possible. Take 10 deep breaths. This pose is not recommended for anyone with a heart condition or if heart rate is higher than resting.

Side Opener: Lateral Flexion
With this stretch we can open the sides of our bodies and bring relief to tight latisiums dorsi (lats). Standing, bring both arms overhead. Bring the right arm down, resting the hand on the hip. Inhale, lifting out of the lower back. Exhale and sink the left arm overhead until you feel a deep stretch up the left side of the body. Keep the glutes tight and the lower body moving forward as the upper body continues to lift and sink. Take five deep breaths and then switch sides.

Finally, creative visualization and meditation are of the most important tools for creating and maintaining good health. There is no separation between physical body and mental states but a constant communication between the two.

Focused Breathing and Visualization
Have the client lie down and close their eyes, be quiet and relax deeply, then begin to imagine sending healing energy to the person in the center. It is the healing energy of the universe that is being channeled through you. They should see themselves in golden light, feeling well and in perfect health. With the hands on the belly and the knees bent, feet on the floor, inhale and exhale into the midsection. This simple exercise gives us time to visualize being calm, staying calm and focused, uniting breath with body so our workout becomes a complete body/mind exercise.
With a complete combination of mind-body techniques at your disposal, you will be able to cool both yourself and your clients down during the holidays and throughout the year. Let's remember that even the most vigorous of workouts will leave our clients feeling empty -- mentally, physically and emotionally -- without a proper cool down. Yoga, breathing, meditation and creative visualization will keep them coming back for more. These techniques are the best gift you can give to your stressed-out clients.

Beth Shaw, E-RYT, BS, CMT, is the president and founder of YogaFit. She has been showcased in numerous fitness magazines and shows including Oprah's O magazine, Time, CNN, NBC and more. Shaw is an animal rights activist and the innovative educator and entrepreneur responsible for more than 30 DVDs and CDs.