Use Yoga to Reclaim Your Holiday Spirit
Article by Wendy Gross-Pinto
Face it, the holiday season is a mixed bag. On one hand, we love the decorations, the parties, the visits with family and friends. But there’s also the stress of all the shopping and holiday activities. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, these simple yoga techniques can help you chill out.
Strike a Pose
With each yoga posture you do, you stimulate your organs and work several muscles at once – an efficient way to gently tone and strengthen your legs, arms, abs, butt, and the often-overlooked back muscles. Stretching out also reduces muscle tension. Here are some of my favorite postures for all skill levels that can ease typical holiday stressors. Hold each posture for as long as feels right for your body (approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute).
Stressor: Too many chores on your mind, not enough focusDo: Warrior PoseNot only will Warrior pose help you clear your mind, but it will also work your back, legs, arms, abdominals, chest, shoulders, and neck – places that take a beating when you’re stressed.Stand up straight with both feet hip-width apart. Step your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Turn your right foot 45 to 60 degrees to the left and your left foot 90 degrees to the left. Raise your arms over your head and reach actively through your fingers. Turn your torso to face forward over your left knee. Bend your left knee. (Make sure that the knee is directly above your foot to reduce the risk of injury.) Actively extend through the right leg and draw it straight. Draw the abdominals in. Repeat with right leg.
Stressor: Logged hours wrapping giftsDo: Bridge PoseIf you have tension in your shoulders or neck, this posture is excellent for elongating the spine, opening your chest, and stretching your lower back.
Lie on your back. Inhaling, press your feet into floor as you lift your hips, keeping your legs bent and your feet directly under your knees. Place your arms by your sides, palms down. (For an increased stretch, interlace your fingers under your back.) To come out of the pose, exhale as you slowly lower your spine to the floor.
Stressor: Spent the day shoppingDo: The standing version of a regular twist This is an invention of a pose – and one of my favorites. This combination of a couple of poses allows for a really deep stretch for the hamstrings as well as a great spine stretch during the twist.Take your left leg up the wall. Place your left hand to your lower back, twist and look over your left shoulder. (You can hold onto a chair for balance.) Repeat with your right leg.
Stressor: Worried how your abs will fare after the holiday partiesDo: Plank Position (shown left)
Plank position will tone your abdominals as well as strengthen your arms, chest, and back.
Lie facedown, elbows bent and close to your body, and hands at your sides below your shoulders. Curl your toes under. Next, tighten your abdominals, and keep your back and entire body straight while your arms push your legs and trunk up until your arms are straight. (If this is too difficult, you can rest your knees on the floor.)
Stressor: Exhausted from being on your feet all dayDo: Lie on the floor and prop your legs up against the wall.
This position is a great ahhh at the end of a long day. It improves circulation and helps with swelling in the legs and feet.
After Completing These Poses, Finish With: Corpse PoseThis relaxation pose soothes all the muscles in your body.
Lie on your back, then start a steady progression of clenching and relaxing all the muscles in your body one by one, starting at your feet. For example, tense your leg, then relax it; clench each fist, then relax it. As you tense and relax each muscle, you’ll notice that your whole body will start to relax. This pose allows you to recognize the difference between when you’re relaxed and when you’re holding tension. Hold until you have addressed every muscle.
Take a 21-second Peace breakMeditation has a huge positive effect on our stress levels. Here is one of my favorite breathing meditations from the Kundalini tradition. It is extremely powerful in its ability to help you relax and clear your mind. Try it in your car or before braving the mall.
Breathe in for the count of seven, hold at the top of the breath for a count of seven, exhale to the count of seven. Repeat the whole round seven times. Can you say ahhh?
Use a MantraIf there is one goal of meditation, it is to bring us into the rich silence between the thoughts – something that Deepak Chopra calls “the gap.” The word “mantra” means “instrument of the mind.” Mantras serve as a tool to guide you back to silence, back into the present moment, and they cut through cluttered and stressful thoughts.
When chanting a mantra, don’t try to control your breathing. Just focus on the sound and vibration created by the mantra’s repetition. This will bring you to deep states of peacefulness, to the realm where everything is possible. One I like: so hum namah, which in Sanskrit translates into “turning back to my true self.”
Close your eyes and repeat so hum namah silently to yourself. Repeat the mantra when your mind wanders back onto a thought. Try this meditation for 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t have that much time even five minutes will work wonders for your stress levels and will have you thinking more clearly and feeling great.
About the Author
Wendy Gross-Pinto, founder of Yoga & Healing Center in Scotch Plains, was the head yoga therapist for Dr. Deepak Chopra’s Center for Mind-Body Medicine in San Diego, California. yogaandhealingcenter.com
For more information and photos of these poses, visit njlhb.com