by Mariam Gates
Are you feeling it yet? How the beginning of the holiday season can quickly turn yours and your families’ life into a tailspin? This time of year can often feel more like a never-ending list of ‘to dos.’ A pressure cooker exploding with tension for things to be perfect, rather than a time to savor and enjoy.
So in the midst of our frantically juggling Pinterest-worthy table toppers and traveling over the river through the woods, and across the country with multiple plane delays to Grandma’s house, navigating old family tensions and resentments, making a mad dash for Black Friday deals, or just managing the overall hustle and bustle, it can be a challenge to find the comfort and joy. How do we make this a time that feels relaxing and meaningful, not full of anxiety and stress?
Well, not surprisingly, yoga may have some answers. The simple practice of bringing our attention to our breath, and feeling a full inhale and a full exhale has incredible restorative powers. Slow and intentional breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and creates a much-needed sense of calm.
Slowing down physically allows us to relax mentally and emotionally, and get clear about how we want to celebrate this time of year together. Maybe we want to have a game night in our pjs, or take a walk in the woods. Maybe we’d like to read a beloved book. Maybe we’d actually enjoy going to the mall with our sister or daughter. It doesn’t matter what it is—what matters is that we slow down enough to choose it and enjoy it—together.
Here are 5 simple practices to take us out of a go-go-go and into a go with the flow approach to enjoying this holiday season:
1. Breathing. There are several simple breaths that can actually support the body. Under stress, our bodies literally go into a contracted/tense state and our brain functioning relies on the survival instincts of our cerebral cortex.
Take a Deep Breath (a Really Deep Breath!). Taking a deep breath is the fastest way to slow the heartbeat and decrease our blood when we are experiencing both physical and emotional stress. Slowing down our breathing increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, which actually stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, creating a sense of calm.
2. Half Moon. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and bend to one side, then the other side. This pose opens the lateral line of connective tissue (side body), which facilitates ease in breathing. Improving breathing calms the entire system.
3. Bird Pose (also called ‘Airplane’). Focus on one point. Lift your foot behind you and let your arms extend behind you, palms down. Balance and breathe. Then switch feet. A distracted mind is tiring and creates stress. Balancing poses require concentration, which calms and focuses the mind.
4. Tree Pose. Focus on one point. Become tall in your spine. Rest your foot on your ankle or above your knee and balance. Bring your hands palm to palm in front of your chest or reach them to the sky. Balance and breathe. Then switch feet. Keeping the body still and focusing on one point in this balancing pose eases stress. This pose also improves one’s posture, creating a sense of peace and confidence.
5. Cloud Journey Visualization. A surefire way to release stress on every level is to use the Cloud Journey Visualization exercise. Lie on your back with your hands by your sides. Take a deep breath in . . . and let a long breath out. Imagine you are lying on a white, puffy cloud. Feel yourself sink into its softness as the cloud lifts you up, up, up into the air. You are floating. Feel how good it is to be there. Breathe in. Breathe out. When you are ready, your cloud slowly brings you down, down, down. It settles you gently back on the earth. As your cloud pulls away, it takes with it anything that is troubling you. You are left feeling calm, peace, and happiness inside. Take another deep breath in…and let a long breath out.
Mariam Gates holds a master’s in education from Harvard University and has more than 20 years’ experience working with children. Her renowned Kid Power Yoga™ program combines her love of yoga with teaching to help children access their inner gifts. She is the author of Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story (Sounds True, April 2015), and the forthcoming, Good Morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake Up Story (Sounds True, March 2016). She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband, yoga teacher and author, Rolf Gates, and their two children. http://www.