If you resolved to lower stress in the new year (and I’m guessing a lot of us did), it’s a good time to explore specific exercises that can help you achieve that goal.

Simply saying, “I’m not going to stress as much this year,” isn’t going to help. Life is stressful, and the body reacts to that whether we want it to or not.

Exercise is a go-to when it comes to stress relief. Any type of cardiovascular work — from a brisk walk around the block to long-distance cycling — will help take down stress levels.

You don’t have to be an athlete to partake in powerful, stress-reducing exercises.

The Mayo Clinic, in its online tutorial on stress management, says, “Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.”

Robin Ashworth, owner of Synergy Yoga in western Henrico County, said certain stress-reducing tactics can be utilized from a chair.

“Several aspects of yoga are useful as tools for relieving stress,” she said, “but one of the most important and fundamental aspects of managing the effects of stress is the breath.

“Deep, even, uninterrupted breathing can go a long way in calming the central nervous system, slowing heart rate and encouraging calm.”

For the best results, make sure your posture is correct, Ashworth said, sitting up straight with a long spine and shoulder blades tracking toward the floor.

“Two-to-one breath, where the inhalation is half the duration of the exhalation, is a step further in breath work that can demonstrably alleviate stress and anxiety,” she said.

“This is simple, effective, and anyone can do it anywhere they are.”

Is stress keeping you up at night? Try inversion before bedtime, Ashworth suggests. Lie down on the floor and put your legs up the wall, or lie on your bed and put your legs up the headboard.

“Engage that good, deep breath rhythm, and remain in this simple inversion for up to 10 minutes,” she said. Chances are, you will sleep better, and thus be better-equipped to handle stress the next day.

Be careful as you come out of the inversion position, though, as getting up too quickly can cause lightheadedness, she warned.

Of course, yoga classes are a popular option for reducing stress. Which one you pick is up to you.

“Some people respond very well to a more vigorous, endorphin-releasing vinyasa, while others might prefer a slower-paced, meditative yin, or something in between,” Ashworth said.

The muscle work, the stretches, the inward focus, the deep breathing and the relaxation techniques of yoga are all beneficial in lowering stress levels in the body.

“Yoga doesn’t eliminate stress, … but yoga can fundamentally change how you respond to stress,” Ashworth said.

Mindfulness has become a buzz word these days as everyone searches for ways to combat the stresses of our fast-paced world.

Certainly, mindfulness has played a part in yoga for a long time.

Angie Hardison, owner of The Hot Yoga Barre in Willow Lawn, said, “Movement naturally releases stress, but adding the challenge of mindfulness amplifies the benefits.” Mindfulness entails shutting down outside stressors and focusing on the moment.

At The Hot Yoga Barre, the heated studios also aid in relieving stress, Hardison said. The type of infrared heat used in the studios “has been shown to stimulate your circulatory system and release feel-good chemicals in your body.”

But some people just aren’t going to step foot inside a yoga or barre studio, heated or not. For them, the best bet for stress relief is a form of cardiovascular exercise.

Go for a walk or run. Get on the elliptical and work up a sweat. Play an intense game of tennis or racquetball. Anything like that will work.

Megan Abbott, general manager for GYMGUYZ Richmond, a mobile fitness training business, said you don’t have to spend a long time doing exercises if you push up the intensity.

“I would say between 15 and 30 minutes of HIIT training would be my ideal way to relieve some stress,” Abbott said. HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training.

“I would grab a kettlebell, if I had one, and do a range of tabata work (20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest) and 30/30/30 (two exercises each for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest).”

Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond and the University of Richmond Weinstein Center. Her column runs every other week in Sunday Flair.

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