It's the most wonderful time of the year — but it’s also one of the most stressful.
Gallup’s annual Global Emotions report found that Americans are some of the most stressed out people in the world — with over 55 percent reporting feeling stressed when polled. And there’s no doubt that that stress is only compounded when we have gift shopping, wrapping, holiday parties and travel to our in-laws stuffed into an already overloaded calendar.
We may not be able to unload any of those obligations off our plates, but there are things we can do to reduce holiday stress and try to tap into the joy of the season. One of those things is physical exercise, and for stress reduction, yoga inspired moves can be particularly helpful. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is good evidence that yoga can help reduce stress, lower high blood pressure and slow a racing heart rate.
The following moves will help you find a little piece of calm this holiday season. Perform the routine in the morning to center yourself or in the evening to unwind. Or, perform each of these moves separately throughout the day whenever you feel the stress creeping up.
Sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart; This is to help you connect with your body. Close your eyes and begin breathing. Breathe in through your nose and fill your stomach, then feel the air rise up into your chest and press into your hand. Slowly breathe out through your nose as you release your chest and then your belly. Repeat this for five slow, deep breaths, focusing on the rise and fall of your body.
Slow breathing like this is a habit you may want to hold onto after the holidays as well, as numerous studies have found that the simple act of slower, more controlled breathing is a highly effective way to combat stress.
On your hands and knees, with your knees directly underneath your hips, slowly press back so that your glutes rest over your heels, and your head is down. Relax your head down onto the ground, and relax your arms. Relax here for five deep breaths. This relaxing move is great for releasing tension from your neck and back (where we tend to hold it when we're stressed) and also calms your nervous system, helping you de-stress.
Come onto your hands and knees and make sure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists. Pull your navel in towards your spine as you walk your feet back into a plank position. Reach through the crown of your head towards the front of the room and reach through the heels towards the back of the room. Feel the opposing pull through your body, and literally press the floor away from your hands. Feel strong here! Pull your navel in towards your spine, and think about a corset hugging your side waist and midsection tightly to the center of your body. Feel light, strong and confident here as you take five deep breaths.
Tight hips abound over the holidays! Whether you’re spending more time walking while shopping or sitting while gathered around the fireplace watching a movie, it’s important to stretch the hip flexors to keep the low back free from pain. To do this, start on your hands and knees. Then, use your left hand (if you need to) to bring your left foot forward so that the knee is over the ankle. Place both hands on the inside of the foot and walk the right knee back far enough to feel a stretch in the front of the right hip. Hold here and take five deep breaths.
While standing, walk your feet wider than your shoulders. Turn your right toes to the front of the mat, and turn your left toes on an angle towards the front right corner of the mat. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle so that the knee is directly over the ankle. Keep the left leg straight and press down through the outer edge of the left foot. Engage the left quad. Reach the arms out to the side at shoulder-width height, pull your navel in towards the spine, keep externally rotating the right quad, and turn to look over the right fingertips. Hold here for five slow deep breaths, and then switch to the left side.
Wide Leg Forward Fold with Hand Clasp
Standing with your feet wider than your hips, clasp your hands behind your back. Take a deep breath in and then exhale as you hinge forward at your waist and fold the crown of your head towards the floor. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and press the palms of the hands together. Allow your chin to dangle down towards your chest. Press down through the feet and keep the quads engaged. Hold here for five deep breaths.
Forward folds are relaxing because they send fresh, highly oxygenated blood rushing to your brain, giving you an almost instant sense of calm.
To perform tree pose, balance on your left foot. Place your palms together at the center of your chest. Turn your right foot out and place your right heel onto your left ankle. This is step one. To move on, you can bring the right foot to the left calf and balance here. Or you can grab onto your right foot with your right hand and place it to the left inner thigh. Press the left inner thigh into the right foot, and press the right foot into the left inner thigh. Slowly breathe here for five breaths.
Tree pose is an excellent balancing pose to calm your nervous system. Even if you are wobbly in this pose, the point is that you’re forced to stay focused. You can translate this concept into day-to-day life as well: When things around you are chaotic, you can find your center and find calm.
More ways to find stress-relief
- Tired and stressed? These tweaks to your diet can help
- How to manage stress so that it doesn't hurt your health
- 7 tips to deal with debt stress
- 'Headline stress disorder': How to cope with the anxiety caused by the 24/7 news cycle