Whether you're battling holiday stress, bloat or travel exhaustion, this yoga routine from my LA-based yoga teacher, Angela Jean Weber will get you back on track.
'Tis the Season for decadent sweets and toasty beverages with loved ones. It's no wonder we don't always feel our best during this time of year; between all the travel, zero alone time, and regular feasting and boozing, it can be a lot to handle. So in an effort to take the edge off the holidays (without heading straight for the cider...again), I've compiled a list of some of my favorite yoga poses and breathing techniques to help get you through the most common holiday related aches, pains and stresses.
The Tight Travel Cure
Not only can travel be stressful, it can also be pretty rough on our muscles and joints. Sitting for long hours can wreak havoc on our lower backs and make our hips feel tight. This first pose can be done right from your seat while on that tediously long flight or car ride home to see the folks.
Pigeon from your Seat: Stretches hips, glutes and lower back.
1. Cross your right ankle over your left knee keeping it flexed and your left foot on the floor.
2. Sit up tall, lifting up through the top of your head and the sides of your waist and anchor your sitting bones down into your seat.
3. Gently press your lifted right knee down toward the floor to stretch deeper into your outer right hip. If your hips are tight this may be plenty, but if you don't feel much resistance then you can lean forward to deepen the stretch into your hips and glutes. You can either rest your forearms on your lap or the tray table in front of you (if on a plane) or come to a complete forward fold letting your arms hang down and your head and neck relax towards the floor. A full forward fold will allow you to stretch into your lower back a little bit, which tends to get compressed after long hours of sitting.
4. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath and observe where you feel the stretch the most. Breathe into those places where you notice the most sensation.
5. Take long, slow inhales and exhales through your nose, using each exhale as an opportunity to relax your body a little more and release any physical or mental tension you may have been unconsciously holding onto (or consciously... since your husband is asleep on your shoulder drooling on you and your kids won't stop asking you 'are we there yet?'...the nerve). Hold the pose for about 3-5 minutes (or longer if you like), then repeat on the other side.
Battle of the Bloat:
If you over did it on holiday treats, you can combat the food hangover (or actual hangover) with this next pose and breathing exercise. An added plus to both is that
they help build internal heat which aids in detoxifying the body and keeping you toasty on those cold winter days.
Twisting Chair (Parivrtta Utkatasana): Builds heat, helps detox organs, aids in digestion, strengthens legs and glutes, lengthens spine and opens chest.
1. Stand with your feet together (or hips distance if you have low back pain or are pregnant), big toes touching and a tiny sliver of space between your ankles.
2. Bend your knees up to 90 degrees (as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair) and keep your weight back into your heels (if you look down you should be able to see all 10 toes).
3. Lift the low belly up away from the thighs and firm your outer hips in to square and stabilize the pelvis.
4. Press your palms together at prayer in front of your heart (Anjali Mudra).
5. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale twist to your right and place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Keep your knees in one line to maintain a square pelvis (twisting happens from the ribcage and up, not the lower back!) and actively press your palms together to help open the chest. Squeeze the inner thighs together and lengthen out through both sides of your waist (being mindful to not collapse into the bottom, left
6. Inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to deepen the twist, firming your navel up and in with each exhale.
7. Hold for 5-10 long, slow, deep breaths, intensifying the twist with each exhale and keeping the mind focused on the breath as the pose intensifies.
8. Release the twist on an exhale and pause in a forward fold (uttanasana) with slightly bent knees and hang out there for a couple deep breaths with your eyes closed. Breathe into your lower back and observe your thoughts, breath and any physical sensation without reacting to it, judging it or trying to change anything. Repeat Twisting Chair on other side.
Breath of Fire (Kapalbhati Pranayama): Builds heat, oxygenates brain and blood, detoxifies organs, increases energy levels, stimulates nervous system, improves digestion
Breath of Fire is particularly great at combating fatigue and building heat. The rapid rate of intense breathing quickly carries freshly oxygenated blood to the brain and is highly stimulating, so start slow to build up your stamina. Warning, do not do this if you're pregnant.
1. Either kneeling or sitting cross legged, place your hands on your knees with your arms straight.
2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and then exhale all the air out of your mouth, lightly tuck your chin to your chest and take a small breath in, and then begin a rapid succession of short and intense, very audible exhales through your nose.
3. Repeatedly snap your navel back in towards your spine strongly and swiftly, and notice how the inhales come naturally when you just focus on
4. Maintain a straight spine and straight arms as you breathe. Feel the heat building internally and notice how you feel without reacting to it or trying to change anything.
5. On your very last breath hold your inhale at the top of your lungs for a couple seconds, then exhale all the breath completely out the mouth. Take a few rounds of natural breath to recalibrate the nervous system and observe the affects both physically and mentally.
6. If you're new to Breath of Fire, start with 30 seconds, and if that feels ok, you can build up to 60 seconds per round. Repeat breath of fire up to 3 times being mindful to not overdue it. Notice the clarity and alertness rendered from the power of tapping into your breath that deeply.
The Family Feud:
You've been stuck for days with your parents and your entire extended family without a minute of alone time and you're going a bit stir crazy. Not
to worry! When you have a minute to yourself after the kids go to sleep and the house has quieted down, you can pamper yourself with these next 2 poses and this breathing technique. They will leave you feeling replenished, renewed and ready to take on the holiday fun.
Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana): Stretches hips and groins, opens chest, calms nervous system, improves
Props: Either 4 blankets or towels folded in thirds, or a bolster/bed pillow and 2 blankets/towels folded in thirds.
This is one of my favorite poses to do after a long day as it helps to gently open the hips and release the shoulders while providing a comfortable
place to focus on my breath and get out of my head.
1. Lay your bolster or 2 blankets (on top of one another) lengthwise on your yoga mat. Rest another blanket horizontally on the end of your bolster/pillow/stacked blankets that's furthest from you. The horizontal blanket will be used as a pillow for your head. Roll the last blanket up like a burrito and place it to the side.
2. Bring your tailbone all the way up to the edge of the stacked blankets so that is touching them.
3. Bring the souls of your feet together and wrap the rolled up blanket around your ankles in a half circle which will support your hips.
4. Lay back and rest your head on the horizontal blanket. You may need to adjust the position of the blanket to better accommodate your head and neck. Make sure your tailbone is touching the edge of the blankets but is still resting on the floor. This keeps your lower back supported and prevents overarching in the lumbar spine. Keep your neck elongated so that you aren't tucking your chin to your chest or overextending the neck.
5. Relax your arms by your sides with your palms facing up to the ceiling.
6. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Hold for 3-5 minutes (or longer if you have the time) while performing the Extended Exhale Breath exercise.
Extended Exhale Breath: Calms nervous system, elevates awareness,
1. Focus your attention on your breath and begin to consciously count the rhythm of your inhales and exhales, doubling the length of each exhale. For example, if you inhale for 5 slow counts, see if you can exhale for 10 slow counts.
2. Pause for a second at the top of each inhale and for a second at the bottom of each exhale and simply observe how it feels to be completely full of air and also completely empty of air.
3. Observe your thoughts and feelings as you breathe, without reacting or trying to change anything...just simply sit with whatever you're experiencing. The more you practice Extended Exhale Breathing, the better you'll be at letting go of whatever's been bothering you, which is particularly useful during this time of year. As you stretch more deeply into the pose and continue to elongate your breaths, the further you'll drift away from whatever was ailing you.
4. Do this for a few minutes; the longer the better, but any amount helps.
No matter what happens this holiday season, remember to take it all in stride and cherish every moment, even the crazy ones. Nothing is permanent, so try to not sweat the small stuff. And when the crazy is just a little TOO nuts to handle, your yoga is always there to help carry you through. So stress not, merry On, and have the most beautiful holiday ever! You deserve it.
For more tips from Angela, follow her on Instagram here!