It's no secret that stress is often a major side-effect of the holiday season. Gift shopping, seasonal expenses, travel delays, and large family gatherings are just some of the factors that contribute to the higher levels of anxiety this time of year. I find my yoga practice to be the most helpful during these times, and even just a few minutes can make a huge difference.
Here are some of my favorite poses to help reduce stress and calm the mind:
1. Extended Puppy Pose
Puppy Pose helps lengthens the spine and calms the mind.
1. Come onto all fours, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Walk your hands forward a few inches, and then curl your toes under.
2. With an exhale, move your hips partway back toward your heels. Keeping the arms active, slowly lower your forehead to the floor.
3. Keep the neck relaxed, as you feel a nice stretch in your spine. Stretch through the arms while pulling your hips back toward your heels. To deepen the stretch begin to straighten the legs.
4. Hold here for 10-20 breaths. Slowly lower to release.
2. Forward Fold
This calming stretch opens the calves, hamstrings, and hips, and strengthens the thighs and knees. Keep the knees bent if it's uncomfortable to straighten them.
1. Begin standing with your hands on your hips. Inhale.
2. Exhale and soften the knees as you start to slowly fold forward from the hips. Move your tailbone and hips back slightly as the body leans forward. Keep your knees soft.
3. Lower your your hands down to the ground beside your feet. Hollow out your belly and gently pull the chest bone down toward the tops of your feet. Try not to round the lower back. The fold should come from your hip joint.
4. If you are comfortable here, slowly begin to straighten your knees. Rotate your thighs inward and root into your heels. Stretch the crown of your head down toward the floor. Your gaze should be through the legs.
5. Hold for 10 breaths. To release, engage your abdominal muscles, soften your knees, and with an inhale lift from the hips while keeping your back long.
3. Bridge Pose
This pose provides a great stretch to the front body, and can be as energizing or restorative as you like.
1. Begin lying on your back, with both knees bent. and feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Keep the arms alongside the body, palms facing down.
2. With an inhale lift the hips up, and slowly roll the spine up off the floor. Gently squeeze the inner thighs together to keep the legs hip-distance apart.
3. Press down into the arms and shoulders as you lift the chest up. Engage the core and legs, buttocks to raise the hips even higher. Stay here for 5-10 breaths.
4. Exhale and slowly roll the spine down on the floor to release.
4. Happy Baby Pose
This calming pose provides a gentle stretch to the hips, inner groins and low back.
1. Begin lying on your back with your knees drawn in towards the chest.
2. Grab hold of the outside edges of your feet with your hands. Draw your shoulders down on to your back as you flex your feet.
3. Widen the knees as you pull them in toward your armpits. Try to stack ankles above knees.
4. Lengthen your lower back down toward the ground, with the intention of touching the tip of your tailbone to the floor.
5. Stay here for 8-16 breaths and then release release.
5. Child's Pose
This classic resting pose calms the brain while gently stretching the hips, thighs, and ankles.
1. Begin on all fours, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees. With an exhale slowly lower the hips down to the heels and the forehead to the floor.
2. The knees can stay together or if more comfortable, spread them slightly apart. The arms can be overhead with the palms on the floor, or with fists stacked under the forehead, or they can be along side the body with the palms up.
3. Breathe slowly and deeply. Actively press the belly into the thighs on each the inhale.
4. Stay here for 10-20 breaths. Slowly inhale up to a seated position to exit.