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keep calm & holiday on: 3 yoga poses for stress relief

One of the many reasons that yoga has become increasingly popular in recent years is that the ancient practice offers excellent ways to reduce stress in our busy modern lives. While many people take pride in how few hours they sleep at night and how much time they spend at work, living at such a frenetic pace wreaks havoc on both mental and physical health and can lead to stress-related ailments like chronic headaches, back pain, ulcers, and even heart attacks. Add holiday stressors like the arrival of extended family, school breaks and finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, and the role of yoga becomes even more critical in mitigating the tension.

The Western medical community frequently recommends yoga for stress, as the simple practice of mindful stretching and breathing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce strain and exhaustion instantaneously. Especially over the holidays but also any time you’re unable to get enough sleep or minimize your job stress, and yoga class just won’t fit in your schedule, here are three poses you can practice anywhere to help bring your stress levels down and re-center your body and mind.

Child’s Pose • Balasana

Even the most advanced yoga practitioners recognize the power of balasana or child’s pose to help quiet the mind and ease stress. By placing the forehead to the floor, or — energetically speaking – connecting the third eye/ajna chakra to the earth, child’s pose provides a grounded and calming experience. It soothes the nervous system and aids the lymphatic system, not to mention it’s a calming and restorative stretch for the muscles of the back body.

If practicing on the floor is not appropriate in your office, you can do a variation in your chair. Place your feet firmly on the ground a little more than hip width apart and bend forward from the hips, allowing your entire body to relax. Drop your head as completely as you can and relax your neck. Cross your arms over your head or let your hands fall to the floor. Hold this pose as long as you like and remember to breathe deeply as you let your stress slip away.

Standing Forward Bend • Uttanasana

Many yoga practitioners are most familiar with uttanasana as an active transition between poses, such as in sun salutations, but it has many calming benefits when held for even a short period of time. A standing forward bend can reduce stress, fatigue, and even mild depression.

Enter into this pose with feet hips distance apart and with knees slightly bent for the greatest stress relieving benefits. Fold forward from the hips (not the lower back) and straighten the legs as you are able, but straight legs are not the goal. Allow the pose to gently stretch your hamstrings, hips, and lower back, moving only as deeply as you are comfortable. Hold the pose for a few minutes, reversing your blood flow and simply allowing yourself to hang with your arms in whatever variation you like. This is another great pose to practice at home or at your desk, if you’re not able to make it to class.

Legs Up the Wall • Viparita Karani

At both the physical and metaphorical level, gentle inversion practices like viparita karani that put the head beneath heart offer a soothing respite to both mind and body. This variation of shoulderstand is also often cited as a way to slow the aging process and for help with getting to sleep on a restless night.

Lie on your side with your seat near a wall, then roll onto your back and allow your legs to swing up against the wall. Let your legs rest here as your arms stretch out to your sides. Stay for a few minutes, perhaps with your eyes closed and breathing gently, to improve circulation and promote lymphatic drainage and boost immunity. Alternately, you can lay in corpse pose/savasana with your arms at your side and your legs straight against the floor. Relax your body and feel your breathing to calm your mind and reduce stress.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Hyde!