The holidays are a time of terrible stress, between family events, shopping, office parties, and travel, it’s no wonder so many people become stressed out and miserable this time of year.
In order to better navigate this stressful time of year, a lot of people turn to overeating and alcohol. The good news is you don’t have to indulge in unhealthy behaviour to make it through the season. Studies have proven yoga reduces stress and make people feel calmer.
“It doesn’t surprise me, that over the holiday season yoga classes are sustaining attendance, if not getting busier,” explains Becca Pati, yoga teacher and owner of Divine Health Studio in Alberta, Canada. “With all the challenging family dynamics or lack thereof, the cooking, cleaning, fake smiling and the over played Christmas music that makes even the most cheery person think about clobbering Santa, the stress can build up.”
Six yogis share awesome stress-busting yoga poses. For extra stress-busting, do each of these poses with a round of my favourite stress-busting pranayama exercise.
1. Reclining Bound Angle Pose
“I love this pose for stress because not only is it relaxing it also addresses the nervous system and the more long term effects of stress,” explains Tiffany Cruikshank (L.A.c, MAOM, RYT), an internationally renowned yoga instructor and educator. Tiffany is the founder of Yoga Medicine and the author of Optimal Health For A Vibrant Life.
“The more restorative poses (like this one) allow the body to drop into the parasympathetic nervous system by inducing this relaxation state so that it can also address the affects of stress on the internal organs as well. Best done for 5-10 minutes followed by another of my favorite stress antidotes: meditation.”
How To Do Reclining Bound Angle
Start in Bound Angle, also known as Cobbler’s Pose. Place one block or pillow under each knee, as needed. Straighten your back, exhale, and lower your back to the floor, using your hands to support your back as you lower. You may wish to use a pillow or bolster under your back for added support.
Plow is a great pose for slowing your breathing and reducing stress. As you breathe in Plow, you will be lengthening your back and reducing tension. Plow is also a great pose to lower your blood pressure.
“Because Plow compresses your throat, it is believed to stimulate your thyroid gland, increasing metabolism, along with strengthening your abs while stretching your glutes, lower back, and hamstrings,” explains Beth Shaw, the founder of YogaFit Training Systems, and the author of YOGALEAN.
How To Do Plow
Starting in Corpse Pose, exhale and bend at your hips, raising your legs into the air. Use your abdominal muscles to pull your legs up and over your head. Try to slowly lower your toes to the floor behind your head. If your toes don’t reach, place a pillow or chair behind your head. To get out of Plow, you can carefully swing your legs back forward, or you can (carefully!) roll onto one side.
3. Child’s Pose
“Drinking is always an option to detach,” explains Becca Pati, “Another, more nurturing option, is a really chill child’s pose. I know I know…how obvious and uncreative, but you’ve spent enough time decorating your tree and house, to worry about popping into a complex restorative posture. A child’s pose is perfect.”
How to do Child’s Pose
“Settle onto your shins with toes pointed away, press into your outstretched arms/hands and settle your bum back first towards your heels,” Becca explains. “Then curl over your thighs; gently pressing your body along the length of your legs as you rest your head on the floor, a block or a stack of books. Let the space between your eyes – your intuitive third eye – rest on the hard surface. If you’ve been clenching your jaw, release it and roll your forehead back and forth a few times letting go of the wrinkles, lines and tightness that comes from tension. Once you’re in the pose for a few deep breaths, drop deeper and release anything extra.”
4. Mermaid Pose
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Miami based yoga teacher Dashama recommends Mermaid. “When I feel stressed, I love to be by the ocean or out in nature. That in and of itself can relieve a great deal of stress,” explains Dashama. “And this pose, commonly known as Mermaid Pose, is wonderful because it opens your hips, shoulders and spine, as well as creating freedom in the area of the heart.”
How To Do Mermaid Pose
“Start in pigeon if this is a new pose for you and as your hips open up, try to hook your back foot into your elbow crease while keeping the heart lifted and breath steady. Repeat on both sides and remember to breath. Placing hands/ fingers in mudra will keep the dhristi focused and your mind clear, which can help relieve stress as well, as we know that most stress originates in the mind. You can practice along with me from home in my online yoga membership community at: 30DayYogaChallenge.com.”
5. Standing Forward Fold
“Standing forward fold is one of my favorite yoga poses to relax and relieve stress,” says Dempsey Marks, a fitness trainer, yoga instructor and founder of DempseyFit.com. “It calms the brain and stretches the back and hamstrings. This variation of the pose is particularly soothing because it relieves tension in the neck, which tightens due to stress. Standing forward fold is known to improve symptoms of anxiety, headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.”
How to do Standing Forward Fold
“Begin standing with your feet hip distance apart,” Dempsey explains. “Inhale, lift your arms up. Exhale, fold forward and hinge at your hips. Interlace your hands behind your head and drop your chin towards your chest. Gently stretch and lengthen the back of your neck. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees. Shift your weight towards the balls of your feet. Hold for 10-15 breaths.”
6. Seated Forward Bends
“There is nothing like a few forward bends in paschimotanasana to bring back energy into the mind to combat stress.” says Yogi Cameron, yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Therapist, Author, and TV host.
Like Standing Forward Fold, Seated Forward Fold reduce tension in the neck and reduce anxiety.
How To Do Seated Forward Fold
Sit on the floor with your feet out straight in front of you. Sit up nice and tall, lengthening your spine. Engage your core by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Push your heels down towards the floor, engage your thighs. You may want to put your hand under your thighs and pull your thighs outward.
Place your hands on the floor besides your hips. Inhale, and slowly fold at your hip creases towards your feet, reaching your arms long in front of you. If you can touch your feet, grasp the tops of your toes or the sides of your feet. If you can’t, don’t worry. Remember to breathe, lengthening as you inhale, and sinking deeper into the pose as you exhale.
Try each of these poses and find the one that makes you feel the most relaxed. Which one was it? Let me know in the comments.