It’s the holistic anthem: “have you tried yoga?”
Every three minutes, people with chronic mental disorders, stressful jobs, busy families, and physical constraints are advised by yogis that stretching it out can change their entire outlook — spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally.
That statistic isn’t real, but it sounds likely, doesn’t it?
Now, yoga cannot solve everything.
But the insistent cries of yoga-believers aren’t unfounded.
In fact, around this time of year, stress skyrockets. This is because the brain is reacting to an imminent threat: more responsibilities, more spending, more events, and a monumental pressure to impress.
This overloads the prefrontal cortex to such a degree that according to a 2015 study, only 10% of people reported feeling no additional stress during the holidays.
So if there’s a free, accessible, and harmless way to potentially lighten your mental load, it would be worth a shot, right?
Certainly better than trying holiday stand-bys: overdrinking, overeating, and oversocializing.
Let’s explore some of the more calming yoga exercises you can do to send a message to your brain that everything is going to be alright.
Standing Forward Fold
The reason this pose is known for its stress and fatigue relief is that blood flows straight to the brain.
Simply stand with your feet hip-width apart, crease your body at the hip, and let your arms dangle with your knees bent. It’ll relieve the tension from your shoulders, which is one of the most common areas of the body to knot and warp when you’re feeling worried.
Not only that, but it can help to relieve insomnia by stretching the body from heel to head. By creating space between the vertebrae of the spine, which dictates the nervous system’s behavior, circulation is improved and the nervous system can relax.
It’s a delicate pause when one is most needed.
Although it looks trickier, it just takes a little bit of concentration and balance (two things we should be extra focused on for ourselves around the holidays.)
Start in mountain pose, which should sort of feel like just standing straight and tall, engaging your quads, and leaving your arms at your sides with your palms facing outwards.
Then bend the knees, and bring your right foot across your left thigh.
Move your arms out in front of your body and pull your left arm under your right arm. With bent elbows, raise your arms up straight so they’re in front of your face, and wrap your arms around each other with palms pressed together.
Lift your elbows high so that your shoulder blades are pressing into your back.
Hold for a minute if you can, and if you can’t, hold for as long as you can.
The beauty of this pose is that it requires you to slow down, breathe, and think. It stretches the shoulders and upper back while also engaging most of the body, which gets the blood flowing everywhere.
This is perfect for the person who’s so wiped by the holidays, they really just need a good lie-down (but won’t allow themselves to have one.)
Start in hero pose, sitting upright on the floor with your legs bent at the knees, pointing behind you, and the arches of your feet facing upwards lying next to your things. Let your hands fall to the floor, palms up, next to your ankles.
Walk your hands back towards the floor space behind you and bend your elbows so that you’re resting on your forearms. (Note: this should not cause pain in your lower back or knees.)
Keeping your knees together, release your back all the way to the floor and bring your arms behind your head, stretched and reaching for the space behind you.
Designed to release tension in the hips, it also makes the spine more flexible and reduces stress by creating an open space in places where tension is often carried in the body.
Hold for up to one minute, or longer if it’s comfortable.
So again, yoga isn’t the answer for all the ills that ail the Western world and the monetization of these six winter weeks.
But within yoga, you’ll find myriad poses and exercises that scientifically and physically cause reactions in your body that can soothe, mend, and calm…
Which we can all agree is a holiday necessity.