The holiday’s hectic craze can make you feel tense even though this time of year is all about being happy. Buying gifts, mailing packages and planning get-togethers – on top of what you normally do – isn’t exactly a recipe for calm.
But there’s a way to release stress: yoga. Breathwork, mindfulness and some easy poses will get you there. Each of these sequences takes a few minutes – but you’ll feel the benefits much longer. So before you rush off to the next errand, try one. You don’t even need a mat or workout clothes.
1. Notice your breath
Is it deep or shallow? Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Notice which presses out as you inhale. Then start each inhale by expanding your belly and continuing to draw breath in until your chest expands. Exhale, and feel your chest and belly soften.
Try: Inhale to the count of three, hold for the count of two, and exhale to the count of four. Do this several times. You can practice this pretty much anywhere, anytime, so do it longer to relax even more.
Great for: Slowing your heart rate and calming yourself.
2. Take stock of your thoughts
Is your mind racing? This happens even when we aren’t tense. If one nerve-wracking theme is running a loop in your head or your thoughts are scattered, some grounding will help. A simple method is mindfulness, being in the moment.
Try: Notice the points of contact you have with the surface beneath you. Acknowledge the steadiness of that surface. Say to yourself, “I am supported.” Imagine yourself making an imprint on the surface through those points of contact. Then say to yourself, “I am present.” Take three to eight breath cycles, repeating the first saying on the inhales and the second saying on exhales.
Great for: Regaining focus and feeling centered.
3. Move your body
It’s hard to get anything done if your muscles are tight. One perk to stretchy poses is that they loosen everything – not just “target” areas – because yoga incorporates deep breathing, and that relaxes you in general. Sitting compresses your spine – and no one needs to feel more pressure during the holidays – so we’ll stick to standing or lying down.
If you’re standing … Try:
Full body stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Inhale as you bring both arms overhead, and then lift your gaze to the space between them. Exhale as you drop your arms back to your sides and bring your chin to your chest. Repeat three times. Then move into …
Standing Twist: Start in the same neutral standing position and inhale as you bring your arms overhead. Keep your chin level with the ground. Exhale as you soften your knees and twist your torso to the right, letting your head follow and dropping your arms to should-height. Inhale and turn back to center, lifting your arms overhead, and then do the twist to the left. Repeat three times.
If you’re lying down … Try:
Reclined body stretch: Lie on your back, legs straight and arms at your sides. Inhale, make fists with your hands and point your toes, then lift your arms and legs a little. Exhale as you release. Inhale as you lift your hips a little. Exhale as you release. Inhale as you lift your chest a little, creating space between your shoulder blades and the ground. Exhale as you release. Inhale as you spread your fingers and toes, then reach your fingers for your toes, and reach your toes ahead of you. Exhale as you release.
Great for: Releasing muscle tension.
The next time you feel frazzled – wrapping gifts, weaving through stores, socializing at Christmas parties – remember you have tools to help you reset. Using them will strip away some stress, making it easier to find joy this holiday season.
Learn more about journalist Mitra Malek at www.mitramalek.com.