As we talked about on Tuesday, the next week or two are the prime time to have a few go-to yoga moves on hand for a quick de-stress, whether it’s something you do first thing in the morning in preparation for the day ahead, or if it’s just to have in the back of your mind to whip out at the airport when your flight gets delayed. (Sure, people may be staring at you, but really they’re just jealous of how calm and relaxed you look — I promise.) Because we carry so much tension in our shoulders (notice them creeping up toward your ears even as you sit here reading this? That’s tension.), these moves are targeted at pulling them down and back and keeping the chest open. The open-heart idea is also a wonderful one to bring into the holidays — or just in life.
If your yoga practice is just sitting and breathing, or resting in child’s pose and breathing, or lying on your back and breathing… it’s perfect. Start my finding a quiet, comfortable space and finding a natural, comfortable position, and just breathe. Focus on your breath. Let it be fascinating to you. I find it really helpful to count — breathing in for five slow counts, and then out for 5 slow counts. Think about filling up the lungs completely. Think about expanding the lungs from all sides — so not just puffing up the chest, but breathing into your side and your back. Your ribcage wraps around the body, so think about breathing into the entire thing. Try to engage your ujjayi breath — in through the nose and out through the nose, dragging the breath across your throat and creating an ocean-like sound, breathing deep and well.
As you breathe, keep your eyes relaxed or closed, and notice where you hold tension. Drop your shoulders away from your ears. Relax behind your eyes and between your eyebrows — these are big ones for me. Take your tongue away from the roof of your mouth; relax your jaw. Let thoughts flow in and out of your mind without paying much attention to them.
Once you have your breathing down, you can start to move around a little. Rub the palms together. Shake out your wrists. Bring your fingertips to your shoulders and make big circles backwards with your elbows. Circle your neck slowly one way, and then the other. Sit with your feet flat and about hips-width apart and rock them from side to side like windshield wipers. Twist through the spine, looking behind you. Lie on your back and make circles in and out with your knees. Get your body all warmed up in whatever way feels best to you.
If you feel so inclined, start to flow! I love to do five Sun As and five Sun Bs as a go-to flow; it gets my muscles opened up, stretched, and working, and not having to think about the moves too much allows me to focus on my breathing. To add some heart opening, I like to clasp my hands behind my back and punch my knuckles toward the ground in tadasana (mountain pose) at the top of my vinyasa, and then again in Warrior I. (In the photo, I’m doing another variation, where I clasp my hands and then bend my elbows, putting both hands to one side of the waist to get even more into my shoulders.) If you add this, drive your shoulder blades together and picture them sliding down your back. Broaden across the chest, open your heart to the sky, and gaze up. For every forward fold you do, keep the chest broad and open, and — you guessed it — lead with your HEART. Hinge at the waist and glide forward, rather than letting everything collapse down.
At the end of it all is rest. There’s a great shirt I’ve been seeing around that says “I Just Came for the Savasana”, which sounds lazy but is actually wonderful. Savasana is vital to your practice, especially if you’re here to re-center, re-focus, and recharge. Take at least 3 minutes (5 is better, or 10, or 20!) to lie down with your palms up, let let your feet naturally turn out, and just rest. Feel totally supported by the ground. Let your ujjayi breath go and focus on nothing. Relish stillness, in a time when there’s precious few minutes to be still.
Hopefully some of this will be useful as you embark on your holidays, whatever they may consist of. Enjoy, and namaste!