It’s getting to be that hectic, stressed-out time of year where we have a hundred things to do, but feel like we’ll never get everything done. Hopefully you don’t find yourself standing in a mile-long line this year, but if you do find yourself standing around and waiting, know that you can turn to yoga to make the wait bearable. Here are five ideas for "yoga breaks" that you can take almost anywhere.
1. Eye Exercises
Alternate looking up and then down. Then look from side to side, making sure not to move your head, only your eyes. Then alternate diagonals, looking up to the left and down to the right for one set, and then up to the right and down to the left. Keeping your head motionless, do each of these eye movements as far as you comfortably can. Repeat each set 10 to 20 times. Take a moment in between each variation to close your eyes and take a deep inhale and exhale.
A lot of eye ailments are caused by the malfunctioning of the ocular (eye) muscles. Practicing these exercises may help strengthen those muscles and can facilitate the optimal functioning of your eyes. They're also discreet; no one will even realize you’re doing them in line!
2. Side Stretch (Ardha Chandrasana I)
Standing with your feet together, lift and stretch your toes up and back down. Get grounded, feeling the four corners of your feet pressing down. Interlace your fingers, and extend your arms to the sky (palms facing up). Engage your core muscles to help with balance. On an exhale bend to one side, keeping both feet grounded. Side bend as far as you comfortably can. Come back to center on an inhale, then exhale to the other side. You can alternate sides a few times, or hold each side as long as you like, breathing mindfully throughout the stretch.
This pose is a fabulous way to stretch the spine, rib cage, and arms. And it feels really good after a day of carrying shopping bags and driving around in busy holiday traffic!
3. Standing Backbend
This stretch also starts in mountain pose. Place your hands on your lower back. With your feet together or slightly apart and evenly grounded, engage your core to support your low back. On an inhale, lift your chest and tilt your head back to follow, keeping the back of your neck long. You can stay here for a few breaths, being conscious of when you need to come out of the pose. You can repeat it a few times.
This pose is a great way to stretch the muscles of the chest. And it's invigorating! If you're feeling tired, it can be an excellent pick-me-up. This extension is also a great way to counter our habits of hunching and, when practiced regularly, can help you to create better posture over time.
4. Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
Okay, this one is fairly conspicuous and might even lead someone to ask, “Are you practicing yoga in line?” Of course this means you can share the joys of the practice with them, and maybe we’ll all start doing yoga while we wait. What a wonderful world that would be!
Externally rotate your right leg and place your right foot on the inside of your left leg—anywhere on the leg is fine, but do avoid putting pressure on the knee joint. Place your hands together in front of your heart. Gaze a few feet in front of you on the floor to help with balance. After you’ve held this for a few breaths, switch sides.
Tree pose can be a great go-to when you feel stress knocking on your door. That's because this is a balancing pose, and in order to balance, you must turn your attention inward, to your body, and to the present moment, taking the focus off your current situation.
5. Counting Breath
Stand in a way that is relaxing, with your arms by your sides. Take a few centering breaths in and out through your nose. If you don’t feel comfortable closing your eyes, find a soft gaze on the floor far enough out that you don’t drop your head. Inhale for a count of three and exhale for a count of six. (The idea is to make your exhale double the length of your inhale, so you can actually use whatever counts are most comfortable for you—perhaps inhaling for two and exhaling for four, or inhaling for four and exhaling for eight. Find a pattern that works for you.) Notice the cool air in your nostrils on the inhale, and the warmth of the exhale. Try to keep your attention focused on the counting.
This exercise is relaxing for two reasons: counting will help you focus your mind away from its usual chatter, and lengthening the exhale relaxes the body.
Don’t get caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle. Use yoga to find peace, and have a happy holiday season!