Tis’ the season once again! This time of year is such a physical and emotional roller coaster for many of us. All of the food, parties, shopping, and family commitments can really take a toll on our bodies and our minds. One of my keys to staying healthy and sane during the holiday season is my yoga practice. For me, practicing yoga is much more than a good workout. My yoga practice helps keep me calm and centered when life gets crazy.
Since this is such a busy time of year, I usually need to make adjustments to my regular yoga schedule.
In order to maintain the stress-busting and energetic benefits of my practice, on hectic days I focus on just a few poses to tap into the sense of calm and positive energy I find on my mat.
The following poses are some of my favorites for creating that perfect balance of relaxed, clear energy. They also target the upper back and shoulders, which is where we tend to store physical and emotional tension in our bodies. If you don’t have time for the entire sequence, any of these poses can be done individually. And as an added bonus, these poses are perfect for kids to try as well!
(A word of caution, though: if you have any pre-existing injuries or health conditions, it’s important to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.)
If the stress of the season has you feeling anxious or overwhelmed, a few minutes in Child’s Pose can do wonders. Starting on your hands and knees, draw your hips back over your heels (my preferred version of this pose is to bring my knees wide, but you can keep your knees together if it’s more comfortable.) Reach your arms forward, keeping gentle bend in the elbows. Bring your forehead to the mat, or place your forehead on a block or a pillow for extra support. Find an even, steady pattern of breath, and notice the sensation of your breath as it moves through the muscles of your back. Stay for at least 10 breath cycles if possible.
Are your shoulders sore from carrying shopping bags? Is your back tight from rounding over to wrap gifts? Cat/Cow is great for stretching the muscles of the upper back and shoulders, and the synchronicity of breath and movement can facilitate feelings of relaxation.
Begin on your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists, your hips are over your knees, and your spine is neutral and not sagging. As you inhale, send your gaze and your tailbone up, and as you exhale, lift through your abdominals, rounding your spine. Drop your chin to you chest, and your tailbone to the floor. Press your palms into the floor for a bigger stretch through the entire back body. On your next inhale, move back into cow pose. Flow back and forth between these two movements, inhaling into cow and exhaling into cat.
Kneeling Backbend/Shoulder Stretch
This is another great stretch to ease tension in the shoulders and upper back. As an added bonus, this pose incorporates a gentle, energy-boosting backbend.
Begin in a kneeling position. (My preference is hips off of heels, but you can keep your hips resting on your heels if it’s more comfortable.) Reach your arms behind your back and interlace your fingers. Take a big breath in, and as you exhale gently lift your chest toward the ceiling. If it doesn’t hurt your neck, you can drop your head back. Be sure you don’t compress into your low back–keep your tailbone pointing toward the ground, making sure the lift in the chest originates from the mid-back.
Supported Fish Pose
For this pose you’ll need either a large bolster or two pillows. Place your pillows or bolster on the floor, and gently roll back, adjusting your props across your mid-back to find a comfortable, relaxing position. If need be, you can place an additional pillow under your head for added support. This is another great stretch for the shoulders and back, and the support of the props contribute to the relaxing, heart-opening energy of the pose.
Legs Up the Wall
This deeply relaxing pose is favorite of my yoga students. From a seated position, draw your hips close to the wall. As you lift your legs up the wall, make sure your hips and low back are completely connected to the floor. Keep your legs soft and close your eyes.
As you work through your holiday to-do list remember to make sure that you are taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
How about you? What do YOU do to take care of yourself during this most wonderful time of year?