Hatha yoga is the physical practice of yoga postures. There are many different types of hatha yoga: some are slow and more focused on stretching, others are fast and more of a workout. If you are looking to relieve stress, no one yoga style is superior, so pick one that meets your level of physical fitness and personality. Any exercise will help relieve stress by keeping the body healthy and releasing endorphins, natural hormones that make you feel better. Yoga also relieves stress through stretching. When you are stressed, tension is stored in the body making you feel tight and often causing pain. The intense stretching of yoga releases tension from problem areas, including the hips and shoulders.
Pranayama, or breath work, is an important part of any yoga practice and one that translates well to life off the mat. At the very least, yoga increases your awareness of the breath as a tool for relaxing the body. Although breathing is an involuntary act (you have to keep doing it to stay alive), you can choose to regulate the breath. Just learning to take deep breaths and realizing that this can be a quick way to combat stressful situations is amazingly effective.
Clearing the Mind
Our minds are constantly active, racing from one thought to another, spinning possible scenarios for the future, dwelling on incidents from the past. All this mind work is tiring and stressful. Yoga offers several techniques for taming the monkey mind. One is breath work, as outlined above. Each breath is tied inextricably to the present moment; you are not breathing in the past or the future, but only right now. Focusing on each inhale and exhale to the exclusion of other thoughts is one way to clear the mind, It is also a basic meditation technique. In addition, the performance of yoga poses, or asanas, also acts as a form of meditation. The poses are so physical, and have to be done with such concentration, that all other thoughts and worries are put to the side, giving your brain a much-needed break.
Each yoga sessions ends with five to ten minutes spent relaxing in corpse pose - savasana. While this enforced relaxation can be difficult at first, eventually it serves the purpose of a total release for both body and mind. Savasana transitions you back into the world feeling refreshed and equipped with the tools to combat stress in your daily life. Yoga nidra is a practice that offers an opportunity for a longer, deeper period of relaxation and an introduction to meditation, which can also be a great stress reducer.
Smith C, Hancock H, Blake-Mortimer J, Eckert K. "A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety." Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):77-83. Epub 2006 Jun 21.