10 Ways Yoga Practice Can Lessen Your Holiday Stress
There is no better time to take your yoga practice “off the mat and into your life” than over the holidays! Whether you are a new student of yoga asana (movement) or a seasoned yogi, here’s a handy guide for using all the tools at your disposal–including breath, movement, and mindfulness–to limit stress and maximize happiness in the coming months:
1. Stay healthy.
Chronic health issues often flare up over the holidays, so don’t forget to use your yoga practice as preventive medicine. Keep persistent symptoms at bay with a daily dose of yoga. Drain your lymphatic system and increase blood circulation through postures and movement.
Try combating infections and colds by opening up your chest with a gentle fish, bridge, or bow pose. Don’t skimp on your yoga just because you are busy! Everyone has time for a quick round of sun salutations in the morning, a few standing forward bends at lunch, or some breathing techniques before bed–no mat or props needed. Remember the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Were they talking about yoga?
2. Be worry-free
“I’m so stressed out. My mind is racing. Everything seems overwhelming. I just can’t stop thinking!” Are anxious feelings wearing down your holiday spirit? Politely excuse yourself from the party; turn off the computer – just take a break. Find a quiet, peaceful spot for some yogic mantra or meditation. You can quickly detach from worrisome thoughts by focusing on the individual sounds of the mantra or by simply following the breath – in and out.
Sometimes a longer exhalation or pausing at the end of your out-breath can calm a speedy mind. If time permits, do some asanas – child’s pose to really let go, balancing poses (like tree pose) to connect to earth and sky, or toe squat to stretch your feet and take the focus out of your mind and into your body. A restorative yoga session can be an hour well spent; your worries will literally melt into the mat and leave you feeling clear and refreshed.
3. Increase your concentration.
As if your life isn’t hectic enough, add in holidays with extended family, shopping, school recitals, the annual office party; the list goes on! All these distractions can wreak havoc on our memory, concentration, and problem-solving. In order to stay productive, incorporate asanas that increase mental focus–like warrior I, II, III, dancer’s pose, eagle pose, or shoulder stand–into your practice. Activate your tired brain with a series of breathing exercises. You can do them anywhere, anytime, seated or standing.
Really crunched for time? Take a few moments sitting in a comfortable seat (eyes closed or with an unfocused gaze), or stand in mountain pose with your hands in anjali mudra (palms together in front of your chest). The simple act of remaining still with palms pressed together can help bring you back to your center.
4. Keep your body toned and fit.
Maybe you’ve done one yoga class, maybe one thousand. No matter your strength, flexibility, muscle tone, core stabilization, balance, cardio health, enhanced athletic performance–the benefits of yoga become apparent with that very first stretch or twist. You might have a consistent practice when November rolls around. Suddenly there’s no time to cook dinner, let alone squeeze in an entire yoga series.
What to do? Do something rather than nothing! Try adding a few minutes of yoga before or after a workout, run or walk. Strike a few powerful poses before the kids get up in the morning, or discretely activate your core with tummy toning exercises while sitting on the couch. During the holiday season, concentrate on the target areas most important to you, and the rest can wait. If you need shoulders flexibility, keep up your downward dogs; if your spine is an issue, don’t skimp on back-bends, forward bends, and twists; if tricep strength is what you’re after, practice chaturangas as often as you can during your yoga flow.
5. Keep your weight stable
Everyone knows a good yoga series burns calories, builds muscle, and provides your body with a systematic, holistic workout. More importantly, yoga practice helps you make friends with your body. This is no small statement. When you know your body, you eat more consciously, recognizing the difference between a food craving and actual hunger. You make more sensible food choices, and intuitively eat less because you know when you are actually full.
Over the holidays, even our most thoughtful meal planning can be disrupted, it’s hard to say no to grandma’s pumpkin pie, or your cousin might be eyeing your dinner plate to see if you’ve eaten all his homemade mashed potatoes. Try keeping your “yogi mind” at family dinners. Stay centered, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to breathe deeply when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. You can also practice cardio yoga styles during the holidays– power vinyasa, warm or hot flow, sculpt with weights–to get maximum aerobic benefits in the shortest amount of time.
6. Lift your mood and maintain a positive outlook.
Yoga practice is a great way to boost sagging spirits and tame your depression. Yoga raises your heart rate and gets the blood flowing throughout the body.
If you are feeling blue, try stretching your arms overhead and spreading your toes wide in a simple raised arm mountain pose. Backbend in bridge or cobra, opening your chest, rib-cage, and heart. Any inversion that gets your head lower than your heart–supported headstand, legs-up-the-wall pose, shoulder stand, or handstand–can have a positive effect on mood. If the holidays have really got you down, remember to take care of yourself.
Relax and rejuvenate in your favorite restorative pose; don’t skimp on any blankets or props needed for extra comfort. For mental stimulation, use a breathing exercise like bellow’s breath to stir your prana – it’s better than a cup of coffee! Let your yoga practice serve as a physical reminder that your mood won’t stay low forever. Change happens all by itself if you stay on your mat, breath, and follow the sequence of poses.
7. Sleep more
Work is stressful and your parents are coming for an extended holiday stay. You’re worried and anxious so it’s hard to fall asleep. You toss and turn all night, and now you’re cranky and irritated at breakfast. The sleep deprivation cycle begins and with it all the troubling symptoms; insomnia, exhaustion, overstimulated nervous system, chronic stress, sensory overload, muscle tightening, tension headaches, and more.
How can yoga help? Get in a rigorous session during the day, so your body is tired by nightfall, or try a gentle yoga series before bed. Deep exhalations allow your nervous system to relax and your breathing to slow down. Use poses that relieve physical tension such as spinal twists (seated or supine), plow, or a gentle forward fold (let your head hang). Turn out the lights, turn off the day. Climb into bed and let it all go with a final savasana.
8. Improve your vitality and energy
What happens when you follow a sequence of yoga movements choreographed to the rhythm of your breath? Your blood flow increases, more oxygen gets delivered to your cells and tissues, red blood cell and hemoglobin counts rise. You feel rejuvenated. What about when you’re tired? A series of sun salutations can warm and stimulate both the body and the mind. Chair and eagle are also energizing poses you can do anytime; hold them longer to generate more heat and internal energy.
Be sure to make an extra effort to keep your yoga practice going over the holidays; you’ll be rewarded with more vibrancy and stamina to enjoy the whole winter season. Did you overindulge in turkey, stuffing or green bean casserole at Thanksgiving dinner? You’re not alone. Intestinal symptoms like indigestion, acid reflux, bloating and constipation can sap your energy. Wind removing pose (wide leg, legs together, or one leg at a time to target different segments of your colon), twisting poses (to massage your abdomen), reclining bound angle pose (for all your abdominal organs), or some gentle cat-cow movements can offer instant relief for intestinal distress.
9. Maintain your mind-body connection
First, you cut your thumb chopping walnuts for the holiday cookies. Then you trip in your new high heels, twisting your ankle, and minutes later you spill wine on the carpet. Why are we so clumsy and accident-prone during the holiday season? Blame it on the stress- feeling overwhelmed can make you move too fast, lose your mind-body connection, and react with a fight-or-flight response to ordinary situations.
After bandaging your thumb, soaking your ankle, and cleaning the wine stain, cut the cycle of mindlessness- come back to your yoga! Try breathing exercises, balancing poses, or seated meditation. The mindfulness coupled with the physical embodiment your yoga brings can help you recover faster, protect you from further injury, improve your coordination and reaction time, and help you balance better (especially in those heels).
10. Be centered, present, and in the moment
Your commitment to yoga practice is the most precious gift you can give to yourself. Don’t hesitate to use all of your yoga tools– breath, movement, and mindfulness– to keep your holiday season stress-free. Enjoy. Appreciate. Celebrate. Mourn. Rejoice. Connect. Forgive. Extend. Radiate. When you are centered, present, and in the moment, you can give and receive, love and be loved, touch and be touched back. Happy Holidays and Happy Yoga.
What is Tantra Yoga?
If the word Tantra conjures up scenes of sexuality, you’re not alone. The introduction of Tantric practices in the West has inadvertently become identified with a practice that’s laced with nudity, sexuality, and occasionally, promiscuity.
The truth is, Tantra may enhance your sex life, but only by deepening your connection to your energy and your body first. Although Tantric practices are founded on the principle of intimacy, intimacy is not purely physical. It’s the act of connecting so deeply that you feel as if you are getting a glimpse into your and perhaps another’s soul.
I’ve heard it described as “into me I see” based on the premise that we must gain an awareness of our true selves before we can forge the path of union with others.
What’s the point of Tantra Yoga?
The purpose of Tantra Yoga, is to further emotional wellbeing, aiding spiritual and physical health.
The exploration of the subtle energies within the body and their connection to the universe provide the opportunity to understand the purpose of life and the principles of union in new dimensions.
Rod Stryker, a prominent teacher of Tantra Yoga, describes the intention of Tantra Yoga, “(it) shows us what is blocking us from thriving and offers techniques that will help us attain spiritual and material prosperity.” Hence the goals of the Tantric practices are to enable us to prosper, to thrive and to merge the spiritual world and the material world into one.
What is Tantra Yoga?
The word Tantra means, “to weave or expand.” The root of the word yoga is “yuj” which means, “union.” Similar to some of the other 8 Forms of Yoga, Tantra Yoga blends elements of Raja, Bhakti, Karma, Kundalini, and Hatha practices. What distinguishes it from others is that it also weaves dynamics of other mystical practices as well such as: astrology, Ayurveda, crystals, and gemology to name a few. In utilizing these aspects, the Tantric practice aims to expand beyond perceived limitations of yogic philosophy and the asanas.
The comprehensive approach of Tantra Yoga incorporates conscious breathing practices, pranayama, and meditation, and may be practiced individually or in partnership with another. In both practices, the relationship between the micro (self) and the macro (others) is enhanced.
Vinyasa, as a moving meditation through postures, or asanas, also may be practiced partnering, as a blending of energies or as a sole practitioner. The aim is the same: to gain awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, the places where we resist union with ourselves and others, and cultivate the ability to consciously respond rather than unconsciously react to both our fears and desires. When that occurs, we reach a state of eternal bliss.
Five Tantra Yoga Practices
1. Peace Pose with Pranayam, Conscious Breathing
Begin in a cross-legged seated position, Sukhasana, or peace pose. Gaze down; if knees are higher than hip creases, sit on a yoga block or rolled up yoga mat to elevate the spine.
For solo practice, place hands in gyan mudra (also referred to as jnana mudra in some practices) with the tip of the index finger touching the tip of the thumb, extending out the other three fingers with the palms facing up and resting on knees or thighs. Gyan mudra, a yogic shape for the hands, is considered the prime mudra with many health and grounding benefits.
If practicing with a partner, sit back to back in peace pose, sukhasana. You’ll want to align your spines: start by scooting your seats as close to one another as possible. Option to use prithvi mudra, tips of the ring fingers touching the tips of the thumbs, remaining three fingers outstretched but relaxed. This mudra creates a circuitry igniting the heart meridian, or line of energy that extends from the ring fingers, extends up through the arms and confluences at heart center in both the front and backside of the chest.
Take five full breaths, focusing on smoothing out the length of the inhale to match the same length on the exhale.
2. Sun Salutations, Surya Namaskar
Start in mountain pose (tadasana/urdhva hastasana), standing at the top of your yoga mat. As an individual practice, you may like to practice facing a full-length mirror. In a partner practice, you could either practice facing one another or side by side. Bring palms to meet at heart center in anjali mudra (prayer gesture) or place one hand on your heart, and one on your partner’s heart. Take five deep breaths.
Extend arms overhead, mountain pose, then bow forward, keeping your heart open and gaze forward, and release your head into a forward fold (uttanasana). Bring hands to shins or thighs and lengthen through your spine for a halfway lift (ardha uttanasana). Repeat three times.
3. Modified Side Plank/ Partner Modified Side Plank Pose
Start in table pose, wrists aligned under shoulders, hands spread wide, and hips stacked over knees. For partner modified plank pose, you can lightly touch the crown of the head with one another while in table. Then extend your right shins behind you, toes curled under as you root right hand into the mat and open your chests towards one another.
For an individual practice, bring your left hand to rest over your heart as you stack your left shoulder over right so your heart is wide open. Your hips are also stacked creating a beautiful opening for what are considered our more vulnerable energetic centers: hips and hearts. In partner practice, connect left palms overhead. Enjoy five breaths. Return to table and then switch sides.
4. Partner Peace Pose, Entwined Sukhasana
Come into a loose, cross-legged position (typically the larger person in sukhasana first). Your partner then sits on your thighs and crosses their ankles behind your back. Touch your third eye centers (space between the eyebrows) as you both lengthen through your spines. You may choose to close your eyes or gaze lightly into each other’s eyes as you inhale and exhale through the nose. Take five breaths, allowing a natural synchronicity of breath, with your palms resting on the backside of your partner’s heart. Surrender to the intimate experience of both your and your partner’s heartbeat.
5. Child’s Pose (Balasana), Partner Child’s Pose
Bring your knees wide to the edges of your mat, fold forward resting your forehead on the mat, arms extended overhead but resting on the mat. (If knees are sensitive, you can place the folded edges of a blanket behind your knees before folding forward or rest your seat and perhaps forehead on yoga blocks.) If shoulders allow, bring your palms to touch in prayer, symbolic of union with all aspects of yourself.
For partner child’s pose, assume the same shape described above, with heads pointed towards one another. With arms outstretched, you can place your left palm down, and your palm up to connect with your partner’s palms. It’s said that our hands are an extension of our hearts. Envision your inhale emerging from your left palm, breathing in the essence of your partner, and exhaling through your right palm, sharing your essence with your partner.
For a more advanced practice, presuming both partners have healthy knees and spines, you may like to have one partner (typically the larger partner) stay in child’s pose, and the other, sit facing the opposite direction, on the low back of the partner in child’s pose. Slowly, keeping weight in your feet, begin to lower down, using the support of hands on the mat alongside the bottom partner’s hips. Eventually, lower your spine to align with the partner in child’s pose, and relax arms alongside, or extend your arms overhead, sliding palms underneath your partner’s palms.
Stay in close communication with your partner in child’s pose to ensure that each of the actions feels safe and available in their body.
Expand Your Capacity For Intimacy
If you’re practicing Tantra Yoga on your own or with a partner, you’re expanding your capacity for intimacy and union. With practice, we’re able to get up close and intimate with the beliefs and behaviors that hold us back from the intimacy we desire. In addition, Tantric techniques are provided to evolve beyond these barriers so that each and every one of us may thrive and prosper.