The cheer and excitement of the holiday season ushers in big meals, a plethora of parties and social gatherings and gifts that include extravagant foods and spirits; in short, it is a season of indulgence. The holidays can also bring on a greater amount of stress from wrapping up both presents and the end of the year at work, dealing with family drama, busy schedules and finding the perfect gift for the most difficult person on the list. Combining stress with indulgent eating and drinking can cause discord in our digestive system.
Yoga helps us manage and reduce stress in addition to creating balance in the body which can help our digestive functions stay in harmony. It can be hard to carve out time for class during the rush and bustle of the holiday season so I’ve highlighted a few simple poses you can do anytime to reduce stress and the repercussions it can have on our digestive system. These poses can be done individually or all together for a short, calming sequence sure to leave you in the holiday spirit.
Sukhasana or Easy Seat
Sit in a cross-legged position, preferably on a folded blanket or pillow to elevate the hips and help you straighten your spine. Do your best to sit up tall, close your eyes, inhale to expand and lift the chest and exhale to relax the shoulders and face. Try to focus on taking slightly deeper, relaxed breaths. You can do this for as little as 3-5 breaths or a longer meditation.
Taking this time, however brief, to relax and focus on the breath can help you feel more focused and less anxious. My favorite thing about this is how easy it is to apply to your life off the mat. At work, on the subway, wherever, take a seat, sit tall with both feet on the floor and hands in your lap, close your eyes and take a few moments to breathe.
Wind Relieving Pose
Lie on your back, bring both knees up to your chest. Place one hand on each knee or shin and guide the knees towards the armpits. Relax the shoulders away from the ears and try to ground your shoulder blades to the mat. Hold this pose for 4-6 breaths.
The benefits of this pose are right in the name. When muscles surrounding the hips are tight, they pull on the pelvis causing it to tilt and become misaligned. This tilting can compress the intestines and foul up our digestive process. This pose helps to open up the hips. Additionally, if you need some space from family time, tell them you’re going to go practice wind relieving pose for a while and they are likely to leave you alone for a bit.
Still lying on the back with the knees in the chest, open your arms out into a ‘T’ shape and let your legs fall over to the right. Both knees are bent and scoot up towards your right elbow while the legs relax down into the floor. Hold for 8-10 breaths and then come back to center and change sides.
Twists stretch the core and back muscles which can help make you feel less full. And while there’s no science behind this, twists feel a bit like wringing out the body so they can make a big difference if you’re feeling the effects of one too many cocktails.
IT Band Stretch
Standing at the top of your mat, cross your right ankle over the left and fold forward. Rest your hands on yoga blocks or a stack of books if your hands do not easily reach the floor. You’ll feel the stretch along the left thigh or outer hip. Hold for 5 breaths, stand and switch sides.
Same concept of opening the hips to keep the pelvis in alignment and the intestines free to do their thing. This opens the Iliotibial band – a thick band of fascia – that starts at the outer hip and runs down over the pelvis and thighs attaching behind the knee. This large band can greatly misalign the pelvis so keeping it loose can help to keep your digestive system in order.
Starting on hands and knees, on the exhale round the upper back, bring your chin towards your chest and pull your navel into your spine, engaging the core, for cat pose. Arms stay straight. On the inhale, let your belly sink down towards the mat, pull the chest forward and look forward and slightly up for cow pose. Repeat as many times as you like.
Finding gentle action and movement in the core can help stimulate digestion and make you feel less full or bloated after a heavy meal.
One final piece of advice is to enjoy the season! Don’t stress over the indulgent eating but relish it and try to maintain balance by throwing in a salad or green juice when you need a healthy boost. Remember, stress is worse for your digestion than cookies!
Yo Yoga! currently offers a variety of traditional open and basic yoga classes as well as specialty sessions such as stretch & restore, power yoga, candle lit yin/restorative yoga and integrated yoga. The outside deck is glistening with twinkle lights and hosts classes and workshops. The inside studio has the bare minimum decor. Founder Rebecca Weible wanted clients to turn their practice into whatever they wanted it to be without distraction. Her teaching style focuses heavily on alignment and even breathing without losing the element of fun and humor.