5 yoga poses for holiday stress relief

Yoga for holiday stress: Downward Facing Dog
Downward Dog

Downward Dog, to me, is truly a cure-all pose. For the purposes of stress relief, we look to the inversion aspect of this posture as a way to calm and soothe the brain, the eyes and the nervous system. 

From a hands and knees position with the knees under the hips and the hands under the shoulders, walk the hands another hands length out in front of you, spread the fingers well and claw at the floor with the hands, as you begin to lift the knees and send the buttocks high into the air. Press the energy and weight back into your legs and start to fully extend the legs (if this is not possible because of calf or hamstring tightness keep the knees bent). Lift the buttock bones HIGH into the air and release the weight of the head through the arms. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Stay for up to one minute, then slowly lower the knees and rest down for a few breaths.

Yoga for stress: Crescent Lunge
Crescent Lunge

I included this pose for a few reasons: the back bend and chest opener is an amazing ‘feel good’ heart opening pose. Backbends/heart openers are natural anti-depressants. Also, the opening of the front of the back leg (quads, hip flexor, psoas) has a major effect on helping us to relax. The iliopsoas muscle is the muscle associated with the fight or flight response, so stretching and releasing this muscle settles us. 

From Downward Facing Dog, step the right foot forward in between your hands and set your back knee down on the floor. (If the kneecap is sensitive, use a bit of padding such as a yoga blanket). Draw muscular energy by pulling your back leg isometrically forward and ‘sucking’ your front leg isometrically back, but still allow the hips to release towards the ground, deepening the opening through the front of the back leg thigh. From the stability of your legs, take your hands off the ground and begin to extend the arms up alongside the ears, allowing the reach of the arms to lift and lengthen not just the front body but the back body and the side seams of the body as well. Hold for at least eight breaths, and then place the hands alongside the front foot and press back to downward facing dog, switching sides.

Yoga fo stress relief: Belly Shoulder Opener
Belly Shoulder Opener

This one is not a full pose, per se, but feels amazing nonetheless. Resting the forehead on the ground soothes the brain and stimulates the Ajna Chakra (the third eye chakra, which is the seat of intuition and higher self). That, combined with the hands clasped behind the back pulling the chest open and engaging the muscles of the back body, is an amazing heart opener and stress buster. It also counters what the body is doing throughout the day (hunched over a computer, driving the car, carrying children, etc). 

Lie on your belly with your legs straight and together, tops of feet pressing into the floor. Rest your forehead on the ground. Clasp your hands behind your back and make a fist. Without lifting your head, lengthen your side waist by SLIGHTLY shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears and then setting the shoulders onto the back. Pull your hands back towards your feet and open the heart. Breathe and enjoy!

Calm down: yoga for holiday stress relief
Locust Variation

This one is a continuation of the last pose. It opens the chest and heart even more as it strengthens the muscles of the back. I also feel as if it wrings out the kinks of the back body, contributing to the release of stress. 

From the previous pose, press the feet and legs down more actively and on an inhalation lift the head and chest up, reaching the clasped hands down towards the feet. Hold 5-8 breaths and on an exhalation lower down. You might also inhale lift, exhale lower and repeat that several times.

Calm Down: Yoga for Holiday Stress Relief- Child's Pose
Child's Pose

Child’s Pose is a soothing, restorative, inward turning, calming pose with the slight variation of holding a block between the hands and bending the arms to continue to open the upper back and heart region. The deep folding of the legs is like a massage and a detoxification for the calves and hamstrings, as well as the internal organs.  

From a tabletop position, place your feet together, big toes touching, and your knees almost as wide as the width of your mat. Sit back on your heels and then begin to fold forward, maintaining as much contact of your buttocks to your heels as possible. Hold a block at its widest width between your hands. Spread your fingers well and press the heels of your hands into the block as you fan the fingers away from the block. Crawl the elbows further forward along the floor, all the while maintaining contact of the buttock bones to the heels (if there is a knee injury that prohibits this, place a pillow or folded blanket between the calves and hamstrings). Rest the forehead on the floor, again stimulating the third eye chakra. Breathe deeply and smoothly through the nose.

Yoga for holiday stress: Downward Facing Dog
Yoga for stress: Crescent Lunge
Yoga fo stress relief: Belly Shoulder Opener
Calm down: yoga for holiday stress relief
Calm Down: Yoga for Holiday Stress Relief- Child's Pose
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