The holidays are looming. They pepper you with pumpkin spice promises and candy cane kisses. They romance you—showering you with glitter, garlands, and…also anxiety.
Yes, folks, none of us are immune. Family and financial issues, traveling, and breaks in our normal routines can send us spiraling. Luckily for us, at any moment we can open the best gift of all. While some of us have already opened it, we may have forgotten to keep playing with it. What is this magical present? It’s yoga, of course. It’s our year-round gift to ourselves that, when taken out of its pretty box, can make all the stressors a bit more tolerable. And maybe if we keep using it, we become a bit more tolerable too.
Do this. Take out your to-do list. Marvel at how long and seemingly unfinishable it is. Now, above task number one, write this word: yoga. Simple, right? I know, not so simple—you actually have to do what it says...practice yoga. If that sounds daunting and getting to a yoga class is out of the question, here’s some good news—you can stay home! Even ten minutes on your mat can provide relief from holiday pressure.
Here’s an eight- to ten-minute yoga sequence that you can do just once or multiple times during the day. It might just help you to feel more open, grounded, and able to handle the holiday stress. So even if you burn the pecan pie, you won’t burn out because of it.
For all poses, take three to five breath cycles—or more if that feels right. Have a blanket and some blocks handy if needed.
Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. As you inhale, slowly lift your head, chest, and tailbone toward the sky (without compressing your lower back). As you exhale, round your spine, draping your head and tailbone toward the floor, allowing your chest to become concave.
Rabbit pose variation
Sit back on your heels. Place the crown of your head on the floor roughly eight inches in front of your knees with your palms (or just your fingertips) on the floor about six inches away from the sides of your head, elbows lifted. Keeping your head on the floor, begin to lower and lift your hips. The higher your hips, the more you can round through your spine, lengthening the back of your neck and rolling from your hairline toward the crown or back of your head. Each time you lower your hips, more of your forehead will come to the floor.
Then, with your hips over your knees, try circling—as if you are tracing a halo above your head. Do a few circles in each direction. Make sure to keep a good amount of weight in your hands and off your neck.
Lie down on your belly with your elbows under your shoulders, forearms parallel to each other and palms facing down, with the tops of your feet on the floor. While pressing your pubic bone down, gently lift your lower belly away from the floor. Bring your heart forward and slightly up as you draw your shoulder blades gently down and in.
Downward facing dog
From sphinx pose, press back to all fours, placing your hands roughly shoulder distance or slightly wider apart. Then tuck your toes, lift your knees, and draw your hips up and back, coming into an inverted V position. Your feet can be hip distance apart or wider. Lengthen through your spine and hamstrings. Don’t worry about straightening your knees all the way or getting your heels to the floor.
From downward dog, step your right foot forward between your hands (placing blocks under your hands is a nice way to provide more clearance for the leg to come through). Stack your right knee over your right heel, and keep your left leg long. Slowly lift your torso up. Reach your arms up alongside your ears or choose another position for them that feels good. After three to five breaths, come back to downward dog and switch sides, returning to downward dog once more when you’re finished.
Reclined spinal twist
Lie on your back and hug your left knee toward your chest, keeping your right leg extended on the floor. Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee and cross it over your midline, allowing your outer right leg to absorb slightly more of your weight. The left knee can hover in the air or rest on a block or the floor if that feels comfortable. Extend your left arm out to the left at shoulder height, palm facing up. You can keep your head neutral or turn it to the left.
After three to five breaths, come back to center and hug both knees toward your chest. Stay there for another three to five breaths and then switch sides.
Dynamic knees to chest pose
Lying on your back and hugging your knees toward your chest, place your hands on your knees and alternate slowly pushing your knees away from you on an inhale and slowly drawing them in toward your chest on an exhale.
Happy baby pose
Separate your knees so that they’re on either side of your chest, keeping approximately a 90-degree bend in them. Grasp your outer shins, ankles, or feet. You can hold here or rock slowly from side to side.
Legs up a chair (or wall)
Place a folded blanket a few inches from a chair or wall and roll your backside onto it as you rest your lower legs and feet on the chair or extend your legs up the wall. (If using a wall for this one, your thighs do not need to touch the wall and your knees can bend slightly).
Good for you! You remembered to put yourself on the “nice” rather than “naughty” list by moving your body, focusing on your breath, and taking some much-needed time to calm your nervous system.
Go ahead and leave your yoga space set up. That way, the next time a well-meaning friend or relative says, “You look tired,” you can blow off some steam on your mat rather than letting it shoot out your ears.
Photography: Andrea Killam