A 20-Minute Yoga Sequence to Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

woman doing yoga

You know those days when everything feels difficult. Days when your sluggishness can’t be remedied with yerba matè, when the ad for baby diapers makes you well up, when the thought of checking off even the tiniest item on your miles-long to-do list makes your skin crawl and your head ache and your brow furrow … you get the idea. You’re overwhelmed. Burnt out. OVER IT.

Whether it’s spring fever, a case of the Mondays, a seasonal fog, a life shift, or intense grief, feeling overwhelmed is exhausting. Energetically you may be experiencing an excess of kapha energy. That increased apana vayu, or downward force, can manifest as lethargy, apathy, and disinterest in regular tasks. The couch becomes your best friend.

On the other hand, perhaps you are more of a jump-into-action kind of person. You may feel overwhelmed by anxiety, a racing heart, or as though you can’t catch your breath. This could indicate an excess of fire energy, or pitta, coursing through you.

Or is it that you’re increasingly forgetting what you were just doing? You’re usually on top of things but lately you’ve been scatter-brained, running late, and sipping shallow, short breaths. All those balls in the air, not being juggled well, all destined to fall/drop/hit you right on the head may indicate an excess of vata, or wind, energy.

Either way, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, moving toward balance and a recalibration of your Prana, or life-force energy, is key. Next time your life feels unmanageable, try this sequence to move back into balance emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Sit Comfortably

Often simply taking a break can calm the nervous system and do the trick.

Try it:

  • Sit in a chair or on a cushion.
  • Be still for 5 to 10 breaths.

Benefits:

  • Redirects attention from the sense of overwhelm
  • Creates stillness in the body
  • Resets energy

Sama Vritti Pranayama

Evening out the breath can help bring tough emotions under control.

Try it:

  • Sitting in a chair or on a cushion, breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of four.
  • Continue for several minutes, maintaining the balance of inhales and exhales, lengthening the count if you wish.

Benefits:

  • Helps focus the mind on the present moment
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body and mind
  • Establishes a centering tone for the rest of the practice

person mediation Set an Intention

How would you like to feel? You can align yourself with what you’d like to feel by setting an intention.

Try it:

  • Choose a word or phrase you’d like to align yourself with or a characteristic you’d like to cultivate more of in your life.
  • Allow the intention to become a mantra that you repeat silently in your mind with each inhale and exhale.

Benefits:

  • Creates a sense of purpose
  • Makes space for new desires
  • Redirects attention from the sense of overwhelm

child's poseChild’s Pose (Balasana)

Sometimes curling into yourself is just the ticket.

Try it:

  • Come to your hands and knees. Pad under your knees with a blanket for extra comfort.
  • Bring your big toes together behind you.
  • Separate your knees a comfortable distance apart.
  • Shift your hips back toward your heels and bow forward.
  • Extend your arms in front of you and allow your head to rest on the earth or a block.
  • Feel your ribs expand and relax as you breathe deeply.
  • Stay for 5 to 10 breaths.

Benefits:

  • Relaxes the low back
  • Allows for inner reflection
  • Brings the body close to the earth for physical grounding

passive neck stretch Passive Neck Stretch

Is someone in your life a literal pain in the neck? Give this pose a try to stretch the neck and open the throat.

Try it:

  • From Child’s Pose, slide to your belly.
  • Extend your legs long behind you.
  • Stretch your arms down by your sides along your torso and hips.
  • Turn your thumbs in and let the back of your palms touch the ground.
  • Allow your shoulders to slump forward.
  • Turn one cheek to the side and rest your head.
  • Stay for 5 to 10 breaths and then turn your head the other way.

Benefits:

  • Connects the chest, torso, and legs to the earth for physical grounding
  • Brings the chest in contact with the earth for time to tune into the heartbeat and slower breath rhythm
  • Stretches the neck without effort
  • Opens the throat chakra energy center

chest openerChest Opener

Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed, the chest caves in and the shoulders slump forward. Although you may well be protecting yourself from further harm, in order to come out of the fog you may need to muster the courage to open your heart.

Try it:

  • From your belly, extend your right arm directly to the side form your shoulder.
  • Roll over toward that arm until you feel a stretch in your chest.
  • Stack your legs one on top of the other.
  • Rest your head on the ground or on a blanket.
  • Use your left hand for stability on the earth.
  • Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths and then roll back to your belly.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Benefits:

  • Energizing
  • Stimulates the brain like giving a hug would
  • Stretches chest, pectoral muscles, and shoulders
  • Opens the heart chakra energy center

sphinx pose Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)

Sometimes puffing out your chest can create a sense of “I got this!” at just the right time.

Try it:

  • From your belly, prop yourself up onto your elbows.
  • Align your elbows under your shoulders and spread your fingers out.
  • Roll your shoulders back and lift the crown of your head up.
  • Hold for three to five breaths.
  • Option: tip your chin down toward your chest to stretch the back of the neck.

Benefits:

  • Stretches the front plane of the body
  • Stretches the back of the neck
  • Opens the heart chakra and the throat chakra

Apanasana PoseKnees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana)

Although receiving a hug from someone supportive during a challenging time is awesome, giving yourself a hug is second best.

Try it:

  • Roll over onto your back and hug your knees into your chest.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths with the option to be still or bend and extend your arms a few times.

Benefits:

  • Stimulates digestion
  • Releases apana energy and vata energy
  • Stimulates the brain like giving a hug to someone else would

ankle poseAnkle Circles

Often a seeing a situation from a different point of view can change everything.

Try it:

  • Lift both legs to the sky and circle your ankles around and around.
  • Repeat for 5 to 10 breaths.

Benefits:

  • Releases stuck energy in the joints
  • Drains blood out of the feet and legs for relaxation
  • Turns part of the world upside down for a change of perspective

supine twistSupine Spinal Twist Pose (Supta Matsyendrasana)

Recalibrate all the energy in your spine, change your point of view, and turn a new leaf with a supine spinal twist.

Try it:

  • Hug both knees into your chest.
  • Allow both knees to drop over to the right side.
  • Reach your arms out to the sides and rest them on the ground.
  • Turn your head any direction that feels good.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths and switch sides.

Benefits:

  • Stretches spine and abdomen
  • Wrings out undesired thoughts, feelings, and residual physical toxins
  • Opens solar plexus chakra energy center

savasana pose Corpse Pose (Savasana)

When you’re overwhelmed, there may be something in your life that needs to be released or allowed to die. Is it an old idea you have? A story you’ve been telling yourself? Check in to see if what was once serving you is still working.

Try it:

  • Extend your legs a little wider than your hips and flop your feet out.
  • Relax your arms alongside your body.
  • Receive one final deep breath in and as you exhale, return to your natural breath.
  • Stay as long as you’d like.

Benefits:

  • Close to the earth for grounding
  • Allows for rest and reset
  • It’s during this period of rest and stillness that the body absorbs the benefits of the poses and breath work

May this sequence bring you peace of mind and a general sense of well-being. May your breath guide you to a more centered and grounded place. May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you feel safe, may you live life with ease.

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About the Author
woman smiling in yoga pose

Lena Schmidt

Certified Yoga Instructor
Whether it’s exploring the local trails, playing pretzel on the yoga mat, or diving into a book on inner peace, Lena loves an adventure. You can find her teaching yoga in San Diego, leading retreats near and far, and empowering others to be the change they wish to see in the world. Learn more about Lena at www.yoginilena.com The spiritual aspects of yoga have aided Lena in the never-ending search for peace, calm, and positivity within, and she’s passionate about sharing these tools with others. She is intentional about taking yoga off the mat and loves finding the bridges between the heart and mind, the individual and community, and mindfulness and expression...Read more