Exercise and Stress: The Best One Move from 5 Exercises to Help Ward Off Stress and Sleep Better

Short on time? We pick the best ONE move from five popular exercises to help you ward off stress and sleep better. Let's jump to it...

Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, notes that while there may not be one best move or pose for everyone, there is the best move or pose for you based on what you need in the moment—relaxation, stretching or inducing sleep, for instance. Obviously, the best exercise routine for you is highly subjective, but there's more here than meets the mat.

Our Top Picks:

Yoga

From: Brianna Bedigian, author of "Healing: Footstep to Footstep"

Best Position: Pawanmuktasana, or "Wind Reliever Pose"

For: Sleep and relaxation

How to do it: Lay on your back, legs outstretched. Bend the knees and place the soles of your feet hip-distance apart on your bed. Take 10 deep breaths. Then bring the right knee into the chest, wrap your hands around the shin, and gently pull in. Be mindful that nothing should feel sharp. Take 10 deep breaths. Release the sole of the right foot back to the bed on an exhaling breath. Take five breaths with both soles of the feet on the bed, knees bent. Next, bring the left knee into the chest, wrap hands around shin, and gently pull in for 10 deep breathes exactly like the other knee. Again, be mindful that nothing should feel sharp. Release the sole of the left foot back to the bed on an exhaling breath. Take 10 deep breaths. Release the legs, snuggle into bed, and lights out.

Why it works: Pavanmuktasana is one of the most effective ways to release the psoas muscle, one of the longest and most important muscle pairs in your body. It extends spine-to-thigh and is the only muscle that connects the two. Bedigian says the muscle is related to the “fight or flight" response, so when you become stressed, it contracts, making it difficult to relax. When the psoas is relaxed, it signals your body to sleep.

Tai Chi

From: Caleb Backe, certified personal trainer, and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics

Best Move: Introductory forms

For: Emotional balance

How to do it: The introductory forms in tai chi, shown here in detail, include 13 core movements that form a small circle, or small cycle, that make up a tai chi practice. Each posture flows to the next in a smooth movement. You can complete a single cycle in five minutes, or spend 20 minutes in a meditative loop to gain emotional balance.

Why it works: The introductory forms connect the body to the Earth, and help it let go and gain physical and emotional balance that may help you sleep. A 2015 study in Biological Psychiatry found people with insomnia who practiced tai chi over four months reduced inflammation levels related to heart and other disease and improved their sleep. Tai chi's movement has been shown to improve health, coordination, and emotional harmony, according to the Harvard Health newsletter.

Pilates

From: Lesley Logan, a certified Pilates teacher at Westwood Pilates in Los Angeles, trains Pilates instructors and studio owners at Profitable Pilates.

Best Move: Double leg stretch/ Double leg kick

For: Stretching and strengthening the entire body

How to do it:

The stretch: Lie on your back with your shins in table-top position parallel with the floor. Pull in your abs to curve the upper body off the floor. Bring your forehead toward your knees. Grasp your shins or ankles, as the lower back remains on mat. Simultaneously reach your arms and legs out, extended, in opposite directions. Extend as far as possible with your abs tight and your lower back still on mat. Return to starting position.

The kick: Lie face down on a mat with your head turned to one side, legs together. Clasp your hands as high behind your back as you can; let your elbows fall towards floor. Lift stomach away from mat, press your pubic bone into mat, and kick your heels toward your hips with bent knees for three pulses, keeping the hips down. With hands clasped, extend arms behind you lifting the upper body off the mat. At the same time, straighten your legs. Return to the starting position with your head turned in the opposite direction and repeat twice on each side.

Why it works: “Joseph Pilates would tell people, if you only have one minute to work out, do the Double Leg Stretch," says Logan. But, she remarks that while she does love his best choice, "Given the amount of forward posturing we are seeing due to people sitting at desks and working on phones, I also suggest the Double Leg Kick." It stretches the front of the thighs, opens the chest, challenges the core against gravity and strengthens the back side of the body. Both of these Pilates moves are a win/win.

Belly Dancing

From: Milana Perepyolkina, lifelong belly dancer and performer, author of "Gypsy Energy Secrets: Turning a Bad Day into a Good Day No Matter What Life Throws at You"

Best Move: Turkish Figure Eight

For: Stimulates digestion, strengthens core, prevents back pain, increases libido, stimulates vagus nerve, responsible for relieving stress

How to do it: While standing, move your right hip forward and up, then back and down (your weight is on the left foot); move your left hip forward and up, then back and down (your weight is on the right foot). Imagine a horizontal figure eight with its center in your belly. Keep the belly tight and move the hips in a continuous flow. Just like the figure eight has no beginning and no end, your move should be fluid and smooth. Move only you hips, not your shoulders. Experiment with raising your arms to the side, in front of you or above your head. Experiment with lowering your head or throwing it back. Breathe deep and slow.

Why it works: Perepyolkina says your belly is a powerhouse, your energy center. “When you do this move, you activate, refresh and restore this energy center," she states. The rotation opens the diaphragm. She says it also stimulates the first, second and third chakras, which increase security, sexuality, and willpower. And who wouldn't sleep better when you feel safe, satisfied and strong? No wonder belly dancing is sexy.

Zumba

From: Caleb Backe

Best Move: Zumba Shuffle

For: Cardio, toning and aerobic fitness

How to do it: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with knees bent. Bring your left arm up to shoulder level, palms out, fingers up, while lowering your right arm to hip level, palms facing behind you, fingers toward the floor. Simultaneously swing your hips to the right. Switch arms and rotate hips to the left. This completes the move. Continue alternating sides until the movement is fluid. Merengue music helps.

Why it works: “It is a combination which, much like the belly dancing move, allows more control over one's body," explains Backe, including your core. The shuffle is the also one of the most engaging Zumba moves to condition your body, and when you spend time exhausting yourself physically and mentally, improved sleep is often a benefit. WebMD reports Zumba moves like the Shuffle improve flexibility, core strength, cardio health and overall aerobic fitness.

 

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