Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your Yoga Practice during the Holidays

As a teacher it is inevitable to see the numbers in the yoga studio dwindle with the onslaught of holiday rush and festivities. I get it. Your busy pace is upgraded to a frantic one and it is very hard to even consider rolling out the mat.  However, even a small amount  of mat time offers even the most stressed out yogini a chance to maintain her health and more importantly her sanity.  Studies prove again and again that nurturing your own health through a yoga practice thwarts stress and even illness. 

So, if the idea of decking another hall makes you feel like you may want to deck the next person who walks through it, you are not alone.  Stress is a common denominator throughout the holiday season.  Financial concerns, not enough time, and uncomfortable family situations are three of the woes that seem to plague many of us during this hectic period.
Women in general can make life very hard on themselves during this time.  As a yoga teacher I can see in in their physical body.  Their shoulders tense up around their ears, jaws clench, and breath is uneven.  Sometimes they carry it in other parts of their body like the abdominal area or their lower back.  This continuation of bottled up stress often becomes   a clenching mechanism and spaces are confined.  The result is a minimum of body discomfort but anxiety can also cause headaches, panic attacks, and other serious illnesses.
All of the experts tell us that an overabundance of stress manifests as a health attack on the body.  There is no debate here.  So why each year when the Christmas lists are emailed out and the mall’s next newest and impossible to afford gadget appears on your child’s Christmas list do we unwittingly allow it to creep into our bodies and prevent us from experiencing the real joy of the Christmas season? 
Yoga is more than an exercise.  It brings our body back into balance through a series of postures that aid the body’s natural detox process, boosts circulation and the movement of lymphatic fluids through the body, and regulates our nervous system through the use of breath.
So instead of thinking you don’t have time to do yoga (especially during the holidays), understand that by nurturing yourself in your practice you will benefit your health and mind giving you clarity when you need it most for the month ahead. 

Here are a few simple poses to incorporate into your home practice:

Balasana - Child's pose
In yoga the Child’s Pose is a great opportunity to let go of tension.  Child's pose is a restorative pose designed to help you regroup and bring awareness back into your breath. It is great on its own or taken during a rigorous yoga practice when you need a break to tap back into your breathing pattern.  Begin by kneeling onto the floor.  Widen your knees to the edges of your mat and take a deep inhale.  As you exhale lower your torso back between your thighs.  Consciously take 5-7 deep breaths as you release and relax your body weight back. You can release your arms to your sides or rest them on your lower back.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana - Pigeon Pose
Begin in Downward Facing Dog. Bring your right knee into your center accessing your core muscles and then thread it through so that your right heel and leg are perpendicular to the mat. Stretch your left leg back with careful attention to the line of your back leg. Your ankle behind you should look like an extension of the length of your leg, the top of your foot gently pressed into the mat.
If you are new to this pose draw the heel of the bent leg closer to the hip flexor of the opposite leg flexing your front foot to protect the joints around your knee. It is ok if your right knee angles towards the right edge of the mat.
Don’t worry if your hips are lifted in this pose. Use a blanket to prop underneath or rest your arms on a block in front of you. Make sure you are carefully considering your hips by centering them forward.
Square your shoulders forward. Puff your chest out (like a pigeon) and feel your collarbone expand. Direct your breath into any tension and be mindful to lift your chest as you breathe lengthening out of your lumbar spine. Again, Take the time to allow the hips to release and hold for a minimum (very minimum) of one minute.y
To come out of this pose, using your hands on the mat, lift yourself and carefully draw your right leg back matching up your feet at hips width distance and gently lift your hips into downward facing dog again. Often you will notice an imbalance in your hips before repeating the pigeon on the other side; another testament to the power of this pose.
Throughout this season, remember your breath.  When lines are long, kids are cranky, and things don't feel like a Irving Berlin song, take a few yogic breaths before reacting.  It may be just the few moments you needed to remember what is really important.

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