Let’s face it; when you need a little you-time during the holidays, you never have time for it. But holiday stress relief is a real necessity when things feel overwhelming and out of control. And that’s where yoga comes in.
Why Yoga Is Ideal For Holiday Stress Relief
Yoga is ideally suited to help your body and mind reverse the fight or flight stress response. Luckily you don’t need to go to yoga class to get your zen on. When time is short, take just 10 minutes to totally change the way you feel and get yourself a little holiday stress relief.
6 Yoga Practices To Help You Decompress From The Holidays
1. Yoga chest expander warm-up – 1/2 minute
Literally squeeze tension out of your upper back and shoulders!
Whether you are driving through holiday traffic, sitting with an end of year work deadline or racing around from store to store, tension tends to get stored in our upper back, shoulders and neck. This pose works to release all three areas.
- Stand tall with your feet comfortably about 6 inches apart (or further) and pointing straight ahead.
- Take a deep relaxing breath.
- Interlock your fingers behind you.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Extend your arms and lift them upwards if you are able to do so comfortably.
- Inhale through your nose and blow out through your mouth like you are blowing out birthday candles and all of your stress!
Variations: If your hands don’t easily reach behind you, place your hands on your waist and draw your elbows back towards each other as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Breathing: Deep breathing is one of the best ways to change the stress response fast! So, don’t hold your breath while you practice! In this warm-up pose, the more deep breathing the better. Once in the pose, go all out with big exhaling breaths.
Cautions: It’s ok to feel the stretch all the way up to the shoulder joint. But you don’t want to feel anything in the joint itself. If you are not sure, back off a bit. If you tend toward loose joints, be careful to not lock your elbows. Give your elbows a slight bend if needed. If you feel light headed, you are likely inhaling more than you are exhaling. Stop, and when you try again, make your exhalations long and strong.
Benefits: Besides physically releasing muscular tension, this practice stretches your chest and strengthens your upper back. It is a type of “open” power pose with many benefits; stress hormones are reduced, the immune system is strengthened, and energy hormones are increased.
2. Yoga warrior II pose – 1 minute
This is another “open” power pose that helps to reduce stress in surprising ways. These positions literally change the hormones that are released in your body. This was discovered by scientists as Harvard. If you’re looking for quick holiday stress relief in a minute or less, this should be your go-to practice!
- Stand with your feet 4 – 5 feet apart.
- Turn your left foot out at a 90 degree angle and your right foot in at a 45 degree angle.
- Point your toes in the same direction as your knees.
- Bend your left knee (continue to keep your knee pointing in the same direction as your toes) as far as is comfortable without going beyond a 90 degree angle.
- Stretch your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor with your palms down.
- Turn your head to the left.
- Stand tall like a mighty Warrior of Peace! Imagine the wind blowing through your hair! Smile!
- To come out of the pose, straighten your leg and turn to face the front of your mat with your toes now pointing straight ahead.
- Relax your arms.
- Repeat on the other side.
Variations: If you’re concerned about your balance, stand close to a wall. You can also do this posture sitting in a chair.
Breathing: In this pose keep your breath steady and deep. Don’t hold your breath, especially when coming in and out of the pose.
Cautions: If your knees bother you, there may be an alignment issue. Try not to bend your knees as deeply. If you can’t keep the pressure off your knees, see a qualified yoga teacher or yoga therapist to help you out. If you feel any back discomfort, you might be swaying your back. Try bringing your pubic bone forward.
Benefits: This pose helps to strengthen your legs, hips and arms. You should also be getting a stretch in your hips. This is another type of “open” power pose which has many benefits; with the reduction of stress hormones, an immune system boost, and an increase in energy.
3. Yoga crescent moon pose – 1 minute
Everyone likes a good stretch. The crescent moon can help release tension and lift your energy levels to refresh your brain and body.
- Stand with your feet about 4 to 6 inches apart.
- Take a deep breath as you focus on your alignment.
- Interlock your thumbs, and bring your arms over your head, with your elbows slightly bent.
- As you lengthen your spine, shift your hips to the right and stretch your body to the left.
- Look up with your eyes without lifting your chin.
- Breathe deeply.
- Press your feet firmly into the ground.
- Imagine that you are drawing energy up your spine and into your brain.
- Lift back up to center and bring your arms down.
- Take a deep breath.
- Repeat on the other side.
Variations: If your shoulders aren’t happy going up and over, try taking one arm up and over. Place your other hand on your waist.
Breathing: Keep it slow and steady. As you hold the pose longer you may need to deepen your breath.
Cautions: You want to feel this on the side of your body and not in your back. If you feel it in your back, you are likely leaning too far forward or back. Don’t force your shoulders to go farther than what it comfortable for them.
Benefits: This both stretches and strengthens your core. Tension is released around your upper back and shoulders. The legs are energized. By continually breathing deeply the stress relief benefits will be augmented. Your holiday stress relief will be well underway!
4. Yoga supine spinal twist – 2 minutes
Now it’s time to lie down on the floor! (Hurray!)
- Start by lying on your back.
- Take a couple of relaxing breaths.
- Take your arms out to the side in a T position.
- Bend your right knee up towards your chest as you inhale.
- Draw your knee across your body and toward the floor as you allow your body to gently move into the twist.
- Turn your head to the right.
- Adjust your arm as needed. You may want to lower it, and bring it closer to your body.
- Breathe deeply.
- To come out of this pose, engage your core as you press your belly toward your back and your back toward the floor.
- Bring your leg back down.
- Take a couple of deep breaths.
- Repeat on the other side.
Variations: If you want to relax deeper into the twist, place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your leg.
Breathing: As you inhale, lengthen your spine. As you exhale, relax into the pose.
Cautions: Only do what feels good. Avoid sensations that are sharp, tingling or numbing. Adjust your position as needed to be safe and comfortable.
Benefits: This gets the kinks out of your spine and out of your mind! This is good for all of the muscles of your back. Relaxing in the pose and working with the breath as described is great for holiday stress relief!
5. Yoga legs up the wall pose – 4 minutes
This is one of the single best yoga poses for holiday stress relief. The good news is that if you are like most people this will become a favorite pose!
- Find a wall or door that you are certain no one will open while you are in the pose!
- Sit sideways against the wall and then use your abdominal muscles and your arms to carefully bring your legs up on to the wall.
- You don’t need to have your buttocks against the wall. In fact if you have tight hamstrings, be sure to inch back from the wall far enough that you don’t feel too tight a stretch.
- Allow your ams to rest comfortably beside you.
- Check that your shoulders and hips are aligned and that your head is centered.
- Take some deep breaths and relax.
- You may want to only stay in this pose for about 30 seconds at first. Work your way up to 4 minutes.
- When you are ready to come out of the pose, take some deep breaths.
- Bend your knees.
- Roll to your side and rest for a moment.
- Use your arms to slowly come up to a sitting position.
Variations: Instead of a wall you can place your legs up on a couch, a chair or some pillows. Find what works best for you. If you stay in the pose for less than 4 minutes, then spend the rest of your time lying comfortably on your back.
Cautions: Do not do this pose if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma or recent eye surgery. Be sure your neck is comfortable. Use a pillow or towel rolled up and placed under your neck as needed.
Benefits: Relaxes your entire spine. Helps to gently release tension from your hamstrings. Allows the blood to flow out of tired or swollen feet. Brings blood flow to the trunk of your body and your brain. Strengthens circulation. This pose is very calming and soothing. If you only have time to do one pose, do this one.
6. Yoga meditation – 1 1/2 minutes
Meditation is well documented for relieving stress. Whether it’s relieving holiday stress or some other type of stress, it works! If you think you can’t meditate, think again and try this simple yoga meditation. It only takes 90 seconds, so I know you can do it!
- Sit on the floor or in a chair.
- Place your palms face up in your lap wherever they are comfortable.
- Take a few deep relaxing breaths.
- Observe the movement of your body as you breathe.
- Watch your breath as it enters your nostrils.
- Watch your breath as it exits your mouth.
- When your mind wanders — (and it will!) don’t stress. Bringing the mind back to your breath is the practice of meditation. The more you practice the less it wanders.
- Smile and open your eyes when you are ready.
Variations: Be comfortable! This is key. So, go ahead and sit in a chair. Use props like pillows and blankets to get yourself in a comfortable position.
Cautions: Again be comfortable. Don’t force sitting in a position that will hurt your knees, back or anything else. Remember the idea is that we are reducing stress, not creating more!
Benefits: Meditation helps to reverse the stress response. It enhances higher thinking and focus. Mediation helps us to feel more connected to others and the environment around us. The feel good hormone, dopamine is released.
Or, check out this guide to the spiritual aspects of yoga with Mindvalley teacher, Yogi Cameron:
What brings you holiday stress relief?
Tell us more about your tactics in the comments below!