What could be more stressful than shopping for a bathing suit or meeting your significant other's parents? Preparing for finals!

If you've been cramped up at that computer for hours studying and feeling like all the pressures of the world -- parents, school, friends -- are pushing in on you, then yoga could be the release valve you're looking for! Yoga? Maybe you think yoga means bending yourself into a pretzel till your face turns blue, but it's actually a great way to relax your body, shrug off stress, and get healthy at the same time. Plus, yoga is cool. Julia Roberts, Sting, Madonna, Woody Harrelson, Robin Williams, and Donna Karan all practice the ancient postures. Yoga began roughly five millennia ago in India, where mystics, deeply religious people looking for a direct connection with a greater power, sitting in deep meditation, would experience spontaneous movements. These movements were collected, and a system was born. One of the best things about yoga is that you don't have to believe any claims from anyone else. In fact, the more you practice, the more individual your practice becomes. Try it out for your self and draw your own conclusions. Take a class or read a book to make sure you're practicing it properly.

Start your practice right now with some basic yoga postures!

Take a Deep Breath

  • Close your eyes, sit comfortably either in a chair or on the floor with your back straight, relax your arms, and exhale all the air from your lungs. Keep your mouth closed and use your nostrils to take in the air.

  • Exhale. Try to push in on your tummy muscles at the end of the exhalation so that you push the last little bit of air out of your lungs.

  • Still using your nostrils only, take as deep and full a breath as possible into your lungs, trying to fill all the nooks and crannies of your chest cavity with air. At the peak of the inhalation, hold the breath in for about five seconds, and during those five seconds consciously relax your whole body in the stillness between breaths.

  • Slowly exhale through your nostrils. As you exhale, visualize a wave of relaxation moving through your body from the top of your head down to the bottom of your feet.
  • There! You've just practiced one of the first steps of yoga, taking a full deep breath. Feel more relxed? Did you know that the breath is closely tied to our moods and emotions? When you get stressed, you feel all tight inside, and your breath becomes shallow and constricted. When you take a conscious deep breath, you automatically move a little more into the relaxed state your body associates with deep breathing.

    Deep breathing does more than just relax your body. Practice five minutes a day, and you'll notice that you think more clearly, digest your food better, and eat less. You also might notice that your skin takes on a glow--get ready for some compliments--just because you're filling your body with oxygen. Many people find they can manage their weight better because they don't eat as much. No more study-break snacking!

    Ever Half-Mooned Somebody?

    Now, try the second step in the practice of yoga, combining stretching with breathing.

  • Take a deep breath in (remember, always through the nose) and stretch your hands up over your head, and clasp the palms together, making a steeple with your index fingers. Reach up as high as you can and push your pubic bone forward, with your leg muscles firm.

  • Exhale and lean over to your right, stretching all up and down on the left side of your body.

  • Inhale and come back up and exhale over to the left side.
  • Inhale up and bend as far back as you can (be careful you don't fall over!).

  • Exhale and lean all the way forward, bending at the waist and trying to touch your forehead to your knees. Don't worry if you can't go all the way; hardly anyone can.

  • Inhale and stand back up straight, stretching to the sky.

  • Exhale and let your arms come down to your sides.
  • You've just done your first yoga posture! It's called the half-moon series, and you can do it whenever you feel stressed.

    Pain in the Neck?