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6 Restorative Exercises to Relieve Stress and Help You Slow Down

Living in today’s world can feel very overwhelming with our daily to-do list that never seems to end. You cross one thing off only to add two more tasks to complete. As a single working mother, I know how hard it can be to take a breath between all the busyness.

“Self-care” is a popular buzzword on social media right now and it’s great that we (women) are having more conversations about taking care of ourselves. I think that what self-care looks like varies, and that there is no right or wrong way to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.

Only you can know what works for you so that you can feel joy, experience self-preservation, and do so in alignment with your truth.

When I became a single working mother, my schedule quickly filled up — so much that I never had the time to do anything other than care for my son, get him to school, clean, run errands, work, schedule clients, email clients, commute, study for my continued-ed exams, pay bills, find a place to live, etc.

There was always something or someone needing my attention — every single waking moment. This left me feeling tired, stressed, and depleted of energy. I didn’t know how much I had left in me before a breakdown.

I just kept going until one day, while making my son’s bed, I threw out my back. I could not walk for two full days. I had to cancel my client sessions, ask for help with my son and with chores around the house. My body was telling me to hit the pause button and focus on taking care of my needs.

And over the course of those two days that I spent on my back, I realized that slowing down was exactly the self-care that I needed and that it was OK to ask for support.

Now that my back is better and that I am back up on my feet, I incorporate a few restorative exercises as a form of self-care and to slow down and destress on days when I feel completely overwhelmed, tired, or stressed.

Today I want to share six exercises that might be helpful for you too. These restorative exercises can help release tension in your body, regulate your central nervous system, improve sleep quality and movement quality, increase blood flow, reduce back pain, and calm the mind.

Furthermore, these exercises can help you shift from the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight or flight response, to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to relax, slows down the heart rate, and releases tension in the sphincter muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, which can in turn aid in digestion.

What You’ll Need

  • A yoga bolster or foam roller (you can also just roll up a bunch of blankets and cushions)
  • A yoga block
  • A yoga strap (you can also use a longer resistance band)
  • A small rolled up towel

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Sit in a comfortable position with the legs crossed. You can sit on a bolster to support the lower back if it’s more comfortable for you. Take a light object like a half foam cylinder, a yoga block or a book and place it on your sternum.
  • Notice if it is pointing up towards the ceiling or straight ahead. If it is pointing up, roll your shoulders forward until the object is pointing straight ahead. This will help position the ribs which will support more functional breathing.
  • Place your left hand on your lower rib and your right hand on your lower abdominals.
  • Take a deep breath in and breathe into your hands, expanding your torso.
  • Take a deep breath out and feel your body fall away from your hands and your abdominal muscles come in towards each other and contract.
  • Allow the breath to start and finish from the lower half of your torso.
  • Once you feel comfortable with where your breath is starting and finishing you can rest your hands on your thighs and close your eyes or soften your gaze.
  • Take 10 deep breaths here, or longer if you desire.

Breathing diaphragmatically will help you to de-stress, support body alignment, and movement quality. As you continue to practice the rest of the restorative exercises in this program, I invite you to take a moment to check in with your breath.

2. Psoas Release

  • Place a big, firm yoga bolster or blankets and pillows on the floor and lie down, lining up the end of the bolster with your mid-back (right where your bra strap or heart rate monitor strap would rest).
  • Extend your legs on the floor and notice if your back is arched and the ribs are elevated. If the ribs are elevated or you have an arch in your back add more bolstering until your ribs are down.
  • Keep your chin tucked in. If it is difficult to keep the chin from tilting up towards the ceiling, you can use additional bolstering under your head.
  • Once you’ve found a comfortable position, lower your arms to the floor next to your body.
  • Take deep breaths and with each exhale encourage your ribs to drop and the tension in the front of your body to dissipate.

This position will help you to release tension in the psoas muscle which commonly becomes short and tight from sitting and driving. Spend at least 5 minutes here to reap the benefits of this restorative exercise.

3. Psoas Release With Floor Angel

  • Place a big, firm yoga bolster or blankets and pillows on the floor and lie down, lining up the end of the bolster with your mid-back (right where your bra strap or heart rate monitor strap would rest).
  • Extend your legs on the floor and notice if your back is arched and the ribs are elevated. If the ribs are elevated or you have an arch in your back add more bolstering until your ribs are down.
  • Keep your chin tucked in. If it is difficult to keep the chin from tilting up towards the ceiling, you can use additional bolstering under your head.
  • Rest the back of your hands on the floor horizontally on either side of you, with your elbows slightly bent and lifted off the floor.
  • You can stay here to stretch your chest and shoulders or you can start to slide your arms (like a snow angel) up and down while keeping the back of your hand on the floor and elbow lifted to go a bit further.

This will encourage external rotation in the shoulder, stretch the pectoral muscle and anterior deltoid muscle.

4. Hip Flexor Release (Single and Double Leg Option)

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet pelvis-width apart with vertical shins.
  • Lift your hips up and slide a yoga bolster or yoga block under your tailbone.
  • The goal is to let gravity bring your hips out of hip flexion and into hip extension. You want your pelvis to tilt towards your face without turning on your glute muscles or “actively” tilting your pelvis.
  • Keep your chin tucked and ribs down while you rest here and take deep breaths.

To go deeper, you can take your hands around one thigh and pull the knee towards your chest while you bring the opposite foot off the floor and extend the knee. Keep your knee straight and your heel off the ground. Hold for about 1 minute and then switch legs.

5. Quad Stretch With Strap

  • Lie on your stomach with a rolled-up towel under your sternum so that your pubic bone rests on the floor.
  • Keep your hips square to the floor and your pubic bone touching the floor, bend one knee and draw the heel towards the same side hip.
  • Only go as far as you can before your hip begins to flex (your pubic bone begins to come off the floor) or you feel a pull in your back.
  • Hold for 1 minute and then switch sides.

To go further, you can wrap a yoga strap around your ankle and drape it over the same side shoulder. Hold the strap with both hands and bend the knee. Use the upper body to pull the leg up and go as far as you can while keeping the pubic bone on the floor and your hips square to the floor.

Hold for 1 minute and then switch sides. (If you do not have a yoga strap you can reach back and hold the outside of your ankle with your hand.)

6. Child’s Pose

  • Come onto your hands and knees and bring your knees apart and your big toes together.
  • Sit your hips back towards your heels as you reach your arms forward. You’ll feel a stretch along the sides of your back, your low back and your glutes.
  • Rest your forehead on the floor and rest here for 1 minute.

If this bothers your knees you can place a small rolled up towel underneath of your knees to help keep the knee joint from going into complete flexion. You might also want to try stretching your calves, sometimes tight calf muscles can make this pose uncomfortable.

I like to do these restorative exercises in the evening while watching a show with my son but you can do them whenever you want. I recommend at least 1 minute for each exercise to truly benefit from the release in the muscles. The goal is to relax and to allow gravity to help release tension in your body.

It might not look like big movements but there is a lot of movement happening in your body with each of these restorative exercises.

Take deep breaths and enjoy a good book or a show while you move your body. Yes, even this is movement. Enjoy the sweetness in slowing down.

Healing Body Image
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About The Author: Abby Corriveau

Abby is a movement therapist and the founder of Sustainable Movement. She's a Nutritious Movement Certified Restorative Exercise Specialist, Level 3 Certified Trainer (MCT III), and a Girls Gone Strong Certified Pre & Postnatal Coach (CPPC). Her mission is to help humans move more and move well by making movement and exercise more accessible and inclusive for all. Follow with Abby on Instagram and learn more about her on her website.

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