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Four beginner yoga poses for de-stressing before finals

Incorporating a few yoga poses into your daily routine can help lower stress and prepare you for the day. – Photo by kike vega / Unsplash

We're in the home stretch of the spring semester, an exciting but overwhelming time of year. It's crucial for us as college students to take care of our mental and physical health in times of academic stress, which is why I've compiled a brief list of easy but impactful yoga poses and stretches! 

As a disclaimer, it should be said that everyone has different abilities, and if a position feels too painful, don't push yourself past your body's limits. Modifications are always possible and recommended for beginners. So without further ado, here are four yoga poses that are doable and effective for improving physical and mental health. 

Camel pose 

Camel pose is a back-bend position that helps to relieve some shoulder tension and improves posture. It's great for anyone who spends their day on their computer or looking down at their phone. If you're reading this right now, this probably applies to you! 

To do the camel pose, come to a kneeling position with your hips stacked above your knees. Lean back, and bring your hands to your heels. If it feels OK for your neck, let your head drop back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together, keep pressing the hips forward to open the front of the body and hold the pose for five breaths. 

Pigeon pose

Pigeon pose opens the hips and hip flexors which hold tension and can become stiff from sitting for long periods. So if you've spent the past few hours chilling at home, which includes many of us with canceled classes due to the strike, give this a try! 

To come into the pose, start on the floor in a tabletop position (with your palms flat on the ground and knees parallel to your palms so your back mimics the top of a table).

Then bring your right knee behind the right wrist, and move your right foot toward the left wrist. Lengthen the left leg back and fold your body over the right shin. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on the left side. 

If you're feeling more advanced, you can lift the knee of the leg that's elongated and even try to reach back and grab it with your arms.

Alternatively, if you're sitting in a chair, cross your right ankle over your left thigh and fold forward. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat on the other side. 

Seated spinal twist  

This is great for posture, spinal flexibility and relieving tension in the neck and spine. 

Sit on the floor and extend your legs in front of you. Bend your right knee and cross it over the left leg, planting your right foot on the floor. You can either leave the left leg straight or bend it underneath you. Turn your torso to the left and hook your right elbow outside the knee. Turn the belly first, then the ribs, shoulders and finally the head and neck. Repeat on the other side. 

Child's pose

This last pose relieves anxiety and calms the nervous system. Child's pose is a personal favorite, and I find that it can have a centering and calming effect.

Come to a tabletop position and widen your knees about two feet apart while keeping your big toes touching. Then press your hips back to your heels, let your head come to the floor and stretch your arms forward.

If your head doesn't reach the floor, you can modify it by resting your forehead on a pillow. Stay for 10 long, slow breaths, focusing on elongating your exhalation — this will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and elicit a calming reaction.

All of these poses are great ways to find some peace for a few minutes and take your mind off anything that could be stressful at the moment. If you're interested in pursuing yoga further, Rutgers offers a course called Yoga for Wellness as well as classes through the University's recreation centers.

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