Yoga poses for tension relief

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These yoga poses help to relieve tension. You can do them when you wake up to relieve morning stiffness, or throughout the day to relieve tension.

​Cat – Cow

Position yourself on your hands and knees. Place your hands just in front of your shoulders and shoulder width apart. Place your knees under your hips and rest the tops of your feet on the floor. Use as much padding under your knees as you need. Spread your fingers. Bring your shoulders down from your ears and gently draw your shoulder blades towards each other. Start from a position in which your spine is neutral – like you are standing.

Breathe in. Then as you exhale, do these three things together: bring your chin to your chest, tuck your tailbone under, and round your lower and mid-back up to the sky. Then breathe in while you lift your head up, lift your tailbone up, and let your belly and chest come down towards the floor. Exhale, move the opposite way. Inhale, move the opposite way. Make your movement and your breath slow, even, and steady. Move as long as you breathe, and breathe as long as you move. Don’t push through pain or into a place where you cannot breathe smoothly. This is a really good exercise for lower back pain and stiffness. But if you feel it is too much try it doing the sitting modification, see below, with pelvic tilts.

We usually advise 10-30 repetitions.

Benefits – improves spine flexibility and coordinates breath with movement. Strengthens postural muscles and shoulder stabilizers. Decreases rounding of upper back and shoulders. Calms unsettled mind.

Modifications – In sitting, hold your hands together with arms extended in front of your body. Do the same spine movements and breathing as above. As you inhale, let your hands come to your lap. As you exhale, bring your hands to shoulder level.

Standing side bend and twist (Star)

Stand in mountain pose. Keep everything the same except bring your feet as wide as your yoga mat and reach your arms out from your shoulders. Inhale and feel your spine and legs and arms lengthen away from your belly. Exhale, keep the length and at the same time gently pull your shoulder blades towards your lower ribs, your belly towards your spine, and your thighs towards your pelvis. Try to gradually build up to be able to stay in the forward bend for up to nine breaths.

Side bend – inhale and lengthen. Exhale and bend your spine towards the right. Inhale and come back to centre. Exhale and do a side bend to the left. Start with three breaths on each side, slowly increasing up to nine times each side.

Twist – inhale and lengthen. Exhale and twist to the right from your belly, bringing your ribs and shoulders to the right. Keep your arms in line with each other and your neck in a neutral relaxed position. Start with three breaths on each side and increase up to nine times each side.

Benefits – Improved flexibility of the ribs and increased ease of breathing, bending, and twisting. Improved balance. Increased shoulder strength.

Modifications – You can do this while sitting in a chair. You can also do this with your arms at your sides.

Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)

Stand in mountain pose. Then as you exhale, slide your hands down your legs, keeping your legs long. Let the muscles of your neck, upper back, lower back, and hips relax. Inhale and feel length in your legs and spine. Exhale and surrender into the stretch. Stay for up to nine breaths.

Benefits – Improved spinal flexibility. Letting go of tension that you don't need.

Modifications – Place your hands on your legs to support all or part of the weight. You can also sit on the edge of a chair and reach towards your feet or under the chair.

Supported cross-legged sitting (Tailor’s pose)

Sit on a folded blanket, or meditation cushion, high enough that your knees are slightly lower than your hips. You are sitting high enough when you can feel your spine is straight and tall and when you feel the muscles on the front of your hips relax. Inhale, feeling your spine gently reaching up. Exhale, staying tall and letting go of the muscles you don’t need in this position – like your shoulder and neck muscles. Stay here for as long as you feel comfortable, eventually you may be happy to hold this position for five minutes.

Benefits – calms and settles the mind and your breath. Relaxes and opens the hips. Strengthens the postural muscles along your spine.

Modifications – Sit with your back against a wall or sit in a chair with feet on floor and ankles crossed.

Seated twist

Sit in Tailor’s pose, with your pelvis elevated on a cushion or blanket. Turn to the right. Bring your left hand to your right knee and your right hand behind your body to the floor or cushion. Lead the movement from your belly. As you inhale, lengthen your spine. As you exhale, turn your belly and chest to the right. Your shoulders and neck should turn naturally as your belly and chest do; don’t twist your neck around really hard. Hold for up to nine long easy breaths, then slowly come out of the pose. Repeat on the other side, changing the cross of your legs.

Benefits – releases tension around your spine and increases flexibility of your rib cage. Supports good spinal posture and teaches how to use your breath to ‘let go’ of tension and find more movement by surrendering rather than forcing.

Modifications – Sit in a chair with your feet on the ground. Place your hands on the arms and back of the chair.

Reclined twist


Begin in corpse pose. Bend your knees, with the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Draw your knees into your chest, lifting your feet off the floor. Extend both arms straight out on either side of you. Inhale, and as you exhale drop both of your knees to the right side of your body. Use your right arm to support the top knee. Stay here for five breaths. Repeat on the left side.

Benefits – Releases tension in the low and mid back. Lengthens the side body.

Modifications—Place a pillow between your knees.

Last updated: January 31st 2017