Yoga poses to de-stress this holiday season
’Tis the season to be joyful, but for many the holiday season exerts more pressure than normal and can become one of the least peaceful times of the year. Family gatherings can be loaded with expectation, finances are stretched, absent family members are missed more than ever, tense relationships are exacerbated, there’s the hassle of planning, there are more social events, we worry about getting enough exercise, not to mention managing food and alcohol consumption. All this can seem really overwhelming and exhausts our nervous system, leaving us feeling depleted. One of the easiest ways to reduce this stress is to simply relax, but for many this is far easier said than done.
Fortunately, yoga and meditation can help you to relax and stay calm and collected these holidays. The practice of yoga helps you get in touch with your deeper self. And conquering awkward positions on the mat can help you build the self-confidence and help you accept awkward situations during the holiday season and in your life, while remaining calm and centred in yourself. I believe that if you take the time to firstly be present with yourself then you can give the greatest gift of attention to your loved ones.
We know how critical it is to be able to tune out all the noise and clear our heads. Ask yourself: Is it easy for me to unwind or do I get distracted if I try to sit still for 30 seconds? The good news is there are so many different types of yoga around, there really is a style to suit almost anyone these days.
Cat and cow
Warm up your spine and get your energy moving with the cat and cow pose, even if you don’t ‘feel’ flexible here, create the mantra for yourself “I am flexible and can go with the flow.” Keep your arms straight and hips stacked over your knees, shoulders over wrists. Inhale and drop your belly and roll your shoulders back (cow). Exhale, press your palms, round your upper back and draw your tailbone down (cat). Repeat this several times with each breath.
This warrior flow will build strength and resilience. Use the mantra “I am strong and grounded,” while shifting through these poses. Start standing, close your eyes for a moment and feel your feet grounded to the earth, step your left leg back with the foot on about a 45 degree angle into Warrior 1. Keeping the hips facing the front of the mat, drop the tail bone down and lift the front of the pelvis up, lengthen the torso and lift up through the arms. Widen your stance into Warrior 2. With hips open to the side of the mat, keep the torso directly over the pelvis and lengthen right throughout o the crown of the head. For Reverse Warrior, turn the right palm up and inhale and sweep the arm up and back in an arching movement. Lightly touch the left hand to the thigh or calf. Spiral your chest open and keep the tailbone dropped to avoid any pinching in the lower back. Repeat on the other side.
Twists are great for detoxifying the body and wringing out tension from the daily grind. Try to stay in the pose for at least eight breaths. Start in a seated position with right leg crossed over the left, inhale, sit up tall and reach straight up with the left arm. Exhale and twist towards the right, drop the left elbow to the outside of the right thigh. Roll your right shoulder back to open your chest, keep lifting up through the spine. Make sure you do both sides.
When we are stuck in the stress response of shallow breathing, this causes the body to pump out more cortisol and adrenaline. Changing to a deeper more mindful breath shifts you into the parasympathetic nervous system - our ‘rest and digest’ space - where we begin to nourish ourselves on the deepest level. Meditation not only promotes a healthy state of mind, but it’s also good for everyone around you. The clarity that you will find will help you to become more compassionate and empathetic.
Legs up the wall
Depending on how you are feeling, either take a comfortable seated position or a more restorative ‘legs up the wall’ pose. First become aware of the breath, notice where in the body you are breathing to, start to drop your breath down a little deeper and spread the breath out wider to the sides of the ribcage. Focusing on the rise and fall of the belly with the breath helps to ground us and integrates the mind and body as well as confidence. If you want to add a mantra, think “I” on the inhalation, and “am” on the exhalation, keeping the breath slow and even. Don’t panic if your mind is distracted, meditation is a challenge and takes time to master, it’s natural for the mind to think and be active, and part of meditation is recognising this. Focus back on your breath and mantra each time the mind drifts.
These yoga poses and meditation techniques will help you face any challenges that may arise while cultivating a sense of joy, happiness and peace during the holidays.
Nikki Ralston has been working with the human body for over 15 years. She devised the Ralston Method, which blends together elements of hatha, vinyasa, precision alignment and mindfulness teachings. She is the owner of Urban Ashram in Auckland.