The holidays can be both delightful and stressful, whether you hosted your own get together or attended a bunch of gatherings. Party planning is stressful and usually leaves me energetically drained, which combined with all the extra germs I get exposed to because of all the socializing, leaves me susceptible to getting sick. I use yoga to ward off imminent illness. It’s amazing what just a few minutes of simple yoga each day can do for our mental and physical state.
When we are relaxed, our breath is three-dimensional: the diaphragm and the lungs both participate, and expand out, down and up as we inhale. When we’re stressed, our muscles tighten, often constricting the diaphragm, and the breath is restricted to the lungs and front of the body. Not only that, but during the stress response, the blood flow moves away from the organs and to our arms and legs and certain parts of our brain. If you’ve ever wondered why you lose your appetite when you’re stressed, this is why.
I have an arsenal of things I recommend to de-stress, including the three yoga poses below, which I personally find so helpful during this precarious but ultimately rewarding time of year. If you can, I highly recommend getting yourself a Shakti Mat. It’s like a bed of nails, with 6,000 acupressure points that relieve back and neck pain, tension and stress. The “nails” are made of BPA-free plastic and don’t actually pierce your skin. This mat promotes blood circulation and relaxation. I take the most amazing power naps on it! It runs about $35 on Amazon, and I truly believe it’s worth every penny.
If a Shakti mat is not in your budget, or the thought of laying on 6,000 sharp, needle-like pins doesn’t appeal to you, the following yoga poses might just be your thing.
Child’s pose allows us to bring the focus back to our diaphragm. As I already mentioned, when we get stressed, our breath moves primarily into our lungs and the front and upper part of our chest. So when you do this pose, focus on the three-dimensional quality of your breath as it originates from your diaphragm. Keep your attention on filling out the entire upper, middle and lower back with breath. Another nice thing to do while in this pose is to make a little pillow for your forehead with your hands. This is also great for lessening any anxiety. Don’t have clean floor space to get down on? Try folding over in a simple forward bend while holding onto your elbows.
A super simple twist while lying on your back can do wonders for leftover holiday tension. You can have your knees bent, with your feet as wide as your mat, and take your knees over to one side, and then the other. Or, you can bring the legs at a 90-degree angle to your body and take them to one side at a time. Either way, while your legs or knees are to one side, bring your attention to the opposite lung. For instance, if your knees point to the left, expand the breath into the entire length of the right lung. Take your time on each side and get some good deep breaths in, trying not to rush. Not only does this help expand your oxygen intake, it gives your organs a sweet and gentle massage, which doesn’t exactly hurt your immune system.
If I happen to be on my feet all day and my legs start getting that heavy, tired feeling, a minute of squatting does the trick. Physically, it helps get the circulation moving in the legs. I can feel the blood pumping through them, and it gives me a quick energy boost.
If you don’t have time for all three poses and you have to choose just one, child’s pose is my recommendation in a pinch. Regardless, allow yourself to take a minimum of five minutes to recharge, unwind and breathe at least once every day for the rest of the month. Happy New Year!
This month, we’re serving up bite-sized advice from experts in different fields to help us all make life a little brighter, more creative and more efficient for 2013. Think of this month as a chance to connect with yourself on a deeper level, get closer to what makes you happy, and take control of the balance in ‘work-life balance’ for yourself this year.