As a yoga instructor, I repeat the words "breathe", "inhale" and "exhale" hundreds of times a week. Even with this constant reminder, I catch myself holding my breath in moments of stress, sending my central nervous system into a state of high alert. If you notice your breath has become strained, take this as a signal to slow down and find a few moments to regroup. The beauty of yoga is that by manipulating our bodies, we are able to help calm our minds, allowing us to find a sense of control when our lives feel unbalanced. A few simple poses can help you find calm during what can be a stressful and emotional season.
Begin by sitting in sukhasana - seated with legs crossed. Bring one hand to your heart and the other to your stomach. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your belly and feel your heart begin to slow as your inhales and exhales deepen. Try to find balance in your breath, allowing each inhale and exhale to be sustained for the count of three seconds. By forcing your breath to become smooth and relaxed, messages are sent to your brain to calm down, allowing you to return to your holiday festivities with a new perspective.
Inversions are also amazing tools to soothe the central nervous system. An inversion can be an easy forward fold, bending at the waist and releasing any tension in your neck and face. This simple change of blood flow calms the mind and reduces anxiety and stress. I often tell my students, if you can do only one pose today, find five minutes for viparita karani - laying on your back with both legs extended up the wall. This gentle inversion has numerous health benefits and requires stillness without effort or straining.
To sustain your energy through the holidays, try three traditional Surya Namaskar - Sun Salutations. This short flow of yoga poses connects one breath with each movement. They are designed to warm our bodies, increase our heart rate and clear any clutter from our minds. This allows you to return to your long holiday list with rejuvenated energy and a sense of composure.
Yoga is not designed to remove stress from our lives but is instead a tool for us to use during stressful times. Although yoga cannot change what happens in our daily lives, it can help us change how we respond to demanding situations. Enter this holiday season knowing that there may be moments when you feel overwhelmed but feel confident and secure knowing that a few simple poses can help you find and spread peace to others.