Yoga for Holiday Stress: A Sequence for the Road
The holidays—joyful times with family, treasured traditions, and nostalgic experiences by the boatload. And oh yes, family tensions, that holiday song you can’t bear to hear one more time, and food at a richness and quantity that leaves you with indigestion and weight gain. It might be the time when we can benefit from yoga practice the most.
Yet with the extra commitments of gift shopping, holiday parties, religious services and the like, we can easily find ourselves short on time to make it to yoga class. We often travel during the holidays, so if we manage to set aside 20 minutes for a quick asana practice on our own, we may find ourselves with limited space for practice in guest rooms or hotel rooms. It can also be difficult to find room for yoga props in tight suitcases.
With a little adjustment to account for these limitations of time, space, and props, a little yoga practice may do a world of good, and feel especially needed in this hectic time of year. The following asana practice can be done in 15 to 20 minutes, in a relatively small space. Prop alternative recommendations are offered. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) can replace full Vinyasa flows. (You can practice from full Chaturanga Dandasana or with your knees, chest, and chin on the floor, so a plush carpet or rug can replace a mat. Breathe, flow, and enjoy!
A Quick Holiday Yoga Practice
Start with a Cat/Cow Flow and three Sun Salutations to warm up. Hold each of the following poses for 5 to 10 breaths.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
This pose doesn’t need all that much space because of its relatively short stance (as compared to the Warrior Poses and some balance poses). Beginners to more experienced practitioners alike can uncover new discoveries each time they practice it
1. Stand on a non-skid mat with your feet approximately a leg length apart.
2. Turn your right leg outward 90 degrees and your left leg inward about 30 degrees, allowing your left hip to rotate along with the leg.
3. Extend your arms outward at shoulder level.
4. Extend your torso to the right, keeping both sides of your trunk long. Place your right hand on your leg or on a block at whatever level allows your torso to remain open and your breathing to be easy and unrestricted.
5. Stacked books, oversized pillows, and even some suitcases could be useful block alternatives. If none of those are available, using the back of the hand on the inside of the front shin adds a connection of the upper and lower body that can feel very stabilizing.
6. For a little extra abdominal strength work, reach your arms along-side your head. For a little extra shoulder opening, take a half bind by reaching the top arm backward, turning the thumb down, and bending the elbow to place the back of the hand on the opposite low-back area or the opposite hip.
7. Breathe here, feeling expansive and energetic yet also grounded and stable, a blend of prana and apana energy.
Standing Single-Leg Balance (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
If you can find steadiness and ease in this balancing pose, perhaps you can find a bit more of those qualities when rushing around on holiday errands or not enjoying the social dynamics of a holiday party. Bonus: it takes up very little space, especially the bent-knee version!
1. From Triangle Pose, transition into a lunge with your arms by your sides. Let your back heel come off the ground, turn your hips to squarely face the ground, and swing the top arm forward, down, and back to be alongside the same-side hip, while the other arm comes to mirror it on the other side of your body).
2. Once stable here, bring your back knee toward your chest as you raise your torso to vertical until that knee is even with the same-side hip. The same-side ankle is right below that knee, with the flying foot flexed to help the leg stay raised in this 90-degree angle shape.
3. Raise your arms to the sky and hug them slightly inwards to create a number “11″, around your head, or take your hands in Anjali Mudra (“hands in prayer position,” palms together and fingers facing upward).
4. To find steadiness, fix your drishti (gaze) on something that’s not moving. For a little extra core activation, and if you have the room, straighten the raised knee to extend your flying foot. Try not to lean back! If you’d like prop support for that extended leg, but don’t have a strap, try a belt or towel/long cloth.
5. Are you applying effort where it won’t serve you in this yoga pose, in your face, your teeth, or your jaw? Can you exhale some of that effort? Can you do the same during other times when you may feel overwhelmed this season?
6. Practice these poses on the other side.
Hero’s Pose (Virasana)
This yoga pose is seemingly simple, yet there’s always more to discover-(it can be particularly wonderful for the lower back and legs, as it stretches the iliopsoas and quadriceps). It can also be practiced in a very small space.
1. From the prior balance pose, step into Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and lower through Utkatasana (Fierce Pose) and Malasana (Squatting Pose). Lower to your knees and untuck your toes, so that you are resting on your shins.
2. Palpate (or rub) your frontal hipbones. If you feel them dipping backward, that means your pelvis is tilting backward—not good for your lumbar spine and sacroiliac joint. In that case, sit on one or two blocks, placed in between your inner calves and ankles. Some types of pillows or a folded throw blanket can also work if you don’t have blocks. Feel your calves and heels hugging into the blocks (or other makeshift props).
3. Feel a balance of grounding and flowing, yet calm energy here, with your pelvis rooted, but your torso tall and strong like a tree growing out of its roots. Feel your shoulders and shoulder blades melt downwards. Feel how these actions increase your breathing space. Feel your breath filling up that space, and see if that can both calm and energize you.
Legs-Up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani) – Bed Variation
1. From Hero’s Pose, shift yourself over to one side of the bed in your hotel or guest room, or next to the closest wall (traditional Legs-Up-the-Wall, actually resting your legs against a wall, works just fine as well here!).
2. Place one hip tightly flush against the side of the bed (or wall). Then roll to lie onto your back, so your legs and feet extend upwards toward the sky. You may place a bolster (or pillow) under your pelvis, as in traditional Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose), to increase the inversion if you like.
3. If you sense that you could use some energizing, and feel up to practicing a mild backbend, place a pillow under your head and another right below your shoulder blades for Supported Matsyasana (Supported Fish Pose), with your legs still up the wall.
4. Extend your arms up vertically from the shoulders and allow your wrists to dangle. Circle your wrists a few times in each direction. Then scrunch and release your fingers a few times. With all the cooking/baking, gift-wrapping, and the like this time of year, your hands and wrists could use the care!
5. Focus on deep breathing, with every exhalation releasing muscular tension that’s not serving you.
6. Take a few minutes of Savasana with your legs up the wall, or slide back on your back and take traditional Corpse Pose. Find a small lift at the edges of your mouth, knowing that you beat the challenges of busy, cramped holiday life in order to practice-something you may need more than ever in this time of year!
Would you like to read a Yoga Pose Primer-Restorative Pose article? Cool Down: 7 Steps to a Deeply Restorative Twist from Charlotte Bell.
Or learn more about Restorative Yoga? Nourish & Rejuvenate: The Art of Practicing & Teaching Restorative Yoga – Study this comprehensive course with Judith Hanson Lasater and YogaUOnline.
Kathryn Boland is an RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans – all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!