The holiday season can be many things to many people. Some of us might look forward to it all year while others mutter grumpily about "Run, Run, Rudolph" playing in the grocery store before Thanksgiving. (That might be me...) Whatever your feelings, I think we can all agree that this time of year can be incredibly stressful. The frenzied shopping, holiday crowds, travel, and preparations piled on top of already busy lives can do a number on our sense of well-being (not to mention our sanity).
In this month's blog post, I would like to offer practices to counter-balance all of that hurry. In a time where it feels like you have no time, it is especially important to make time and stay committed to your own self-care. My hope for this post is to offer practical tips you can bring in to your life, now, and throughout the year.
I know it might sound obvious but the breath is truly one of the most powerful tools we have. One of the things that happens when we get stressed and engage the sympathetic nervous system (our "fight or flight response) is that the breath gets short and quick. You can create that feeling right now. Start to take rapid, shallow breaths and notice how long it takes before you start to feel anxious. Probably not long, right? Now, take a few deep breaths. What happened? Did you start to feel calmer? Breathing deeply literally "switches gears" from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (often called the "rest and digest" mode).
Remembering to breath fully in a moment of anxiety or stress can help us to de-escalate our physical experience as well as give us a chance to think clearly. Building a habit of taking deeper, fuller breaths gives us a calmer baseline we can live in. Not too mention, the deeper and more complete our breaths, the more physical health we can create on a cellular level.
Another reason breathing practices can be so powerful is, since we (ideally) breathing all the time anyway, we can practice anytime, anywhere. Sure, you could rock the #stopdropandyoga hashtag in line at JC Penney but, for most of us, we might not feel comfortable Downward Dog-ing in public. Breathing deeply though? That, can be done anywhere with no obvious sign, except for the sense of calm you'd radiate!
Real World Practice
Commit to a Ten Breath Practice- It can be more challenging than usual to stick to a your yoga schedule or meditation routine. An alternative is to commit to a Ten Breath Practice. Pick a time of day (keep it as consistent as possible) and take ten full breaths. That's it. No extra equiptment, special clothing, or particular setting required. You can keep the breath relaxed or practice a particular pranayama (check out my Breath Breakdown playlist for guidance).
Restore the Body
As powerful as the breath can be, it's important to address the physical wear and tear that holiday (or any) stress can create. Between the travel, standing in lines, or even just sitting in front of the Amazon website, the body can accumulate an increased number of aches, pains, and fatigue. One of the most comprehensive ways to deal with this, in my humble opinion, is the practice of restorative yoga. In short, a restorative yoga pose uses props to completely support the body. This enables the practitioner to relax in the pose for an extended period of time, allowing a deeper physical release. In addition, the time spent in stillness gives the nervous system a chance to relax and return the body to homeostasis (the "neutral" mode we are designed to spend more of our time in). All this comes together to create an experience that leaves the body with less pain, less tension, and more vitality.
This kind of constructive rest also gives us an opportunity to practice self-care. Especially in this season of giving, it can be more challenging than usual to prioritize our self care. However, as I've mentioned often, it doesn't serve anyone to run ourselves on (or beyond) empty. Taking even a few minutes in a restorative pose will not only help your physical health, it will also help your mental and emotional health. The action of taking care of ourselves is not just important, it's vital.
Real World Practice
Obviously, I would still love to see your gorgeous face in my yoga class, but, I know this can be a challenging time of year to fit it in. Like I mentioned above, practicing a restorative yoga pose or two can give you a chance to maintain balance from the comfort of your own home. While there are lots of great restorative poses (including this gentle heart opener), I think good ol' Legs Up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani) is perfect for this time of year. It's an inversion, which means it's a calming pose. It gives the legs a chance to release from lots of driving or standing and helps the circulation (especially helpful if it's cold where you live). I would like to share two different versions with you that you can choose from depending on your preference. Special thanks and a shout out to my beautiful student, Chrissy, for modeling!
Prop It Up!
If you want to take your Legs Up the Wall practice to the next level, props is where it's at!
I recommend spending a little more time in this version, anywhere from 2-10 minutes. Here are a few options you can pick and choose from, or, practice together.
Finally, Give Yourself (and Others) a Break
Holiday expectations can be difficult to manage. For some people, it's a difficult or painful time of year, rather than a festive one. It's easy to get short-tempered, irritable, or judgemental to oneself or others. So, give yourself and those around you a break. As that famous quote says, you don't know what battles the people around you are facing in their lives, so, be kind.
I hope that you have enjoyed this month's post! I hope you experiment with the tools I have offered and, if you have, please let me know how you find them. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and close out 2016 with a bang! Be safe, have fun, and I'll see y'all next year!