Sara Graham completed her teacher training at 889 Yoga in Toronto and teaches restorative yoga. For those that are just getting into yoga and/or meditation, you will find useful resources on her website.
Well, here we are, folks… the season for over-spending, over-pleasing and overeating.
But before you go all apple pie on everyone, remember that yoga and relaxation are far more effective ways to ease your pain.
And you don’t need to be on a mat in a quiet studio either. Author, yoga teacher, and Harvard-trained M.D. Sara Gottfried, for example, pops her headphones on while grocery shopping and listens to a soothing soundtrack.
For a few yoga moves specifically designed to keep you calm throughout the holidays and beyond, we consulted Christine Russell, co-founder and teacher at top Toronto studio 889 Yoga.
Try these poses and breathing techniques, and there’s likely no hot button you won’t be able to handle.
1. Heart Chakra Pose
This pose is great for opening the upper back and shoulders, and bringing awareness to the heart. Bringing your head towards the ground, as if you are bowing to your inner-self, brings forth a feeling of gratitude. Come onto all fours so that your hips are over your knees. Walk your hands out in front of you until your arms are straight, then lower your heart and forehead to the ground. Pull your low belly in toward your spine while drawing your hips away from your hands, creating gentle traction in your spine.
2. Three-Legged Downward Dog
This is Christine’s favourite variation on downward dog. First, exhale and move into down dog. Second, pedal both feet, then try a free-flow movement through your hips and spine. Take an inhale and exhale in neutral down dog. Release your jaw and neck if those areas are tight. Inhale and lift one leg towards the sky. Exhale and lower it down beside your standing foot. Inhale and raise the other leg to the sky. Exhale and release it beside your standing foot. Repeat.
3. Legs Up the Wall
This calming inversion is a great way to de-stress from the day. Lying on your back, allow your legs to be supported by the wall so that your body is inverted. This pose helps the blood pressure to drop, helping you move through challenges with grace and ease.
4. Bound Ankle
Start in a seated position and bring the soles of the feet together, with the toes pointing forward, and the knees sticking out. Grab the feet with both hands, take an inhale to lengthen the spine out, and then exhale let the chest dip down. This pose will dissolve tension out of the inner thighs and hips, which is the perfect counteraction to all the sitting we do during our holiday travels.
5. Seated Forward Bend
In a seated position, extend both legs straight out in front. Inhale, reaching both arms up overhead, and then exhale while folding over and grabbing your legs or feet. On each inhale focus on lengthening and on each exhale focus on deepening. This pose allows us to retreat within – giving ourselves the much-needed opportunity to replenish energy.
6. Goddess Pose with Eagle Arms
Christine adds this one to her practice to boost energy and bring space to her mind. It’s a powerful pose designed for women to unleash their inner femininity. Men – you can do it too – it’s great for stiff shoulders and upper back.
Begin by standing tall in tadasana (Mountain Pose) and grounding your legs. Open your stance wide with knees over ankles, hips open, knees bent as close to 90 degrees as you can. Feet are open – 45 degrees (ish). Play around with this base position. Experiment with closing your eyes. I
If you want to take it further, you can add the eagle arms. To do so, open both arms wide, and swing your right arm under your left. Cross and stack your elbows. Wrap your right hand around your left, and see if you can place your right fingers onto your left palm. If you are seeking more sensation, lift both elbows. Feel your upper back and shoulders open. Breathe deeply here and focus on opening. Switch sides of your arms, while keeping your legs bent deeply. If you don’t feel the fire in your thighs, you’re basically superhuman. Feel your inner power… it’s there for you to tap into any time you need it.
7. Lion’s Breath
If you are stuck in holiday traffic, or dealing with a difficult family member, find somewhere private. This breathing exercise works wonders. After taking a huge inhale through your nose, stick your tongue out of your mouth as far as you can, and exhale the breath forcibly with sound. Envision the stress exiting your body.
And to wrap it up: a Gratitude Meditation
If you are at your desk, or stuck in a line at a shop, close your eyes and think about all the things that you are grateful for. Think about the great people in your life, the food in your fridge, the breath flowing in out of your lungs, the blood nourishing your organs. Anything that keeps the “attitude of gratitude” going. Practice gratitude regularly and you might be surprised at how your mind suddenly puts a positive perspective on situations that were previously tantrum triggers.
Cover image from: istock.com/shuravaya