10 Stress Relieving Yoga Poses to Get You Through the Holidays

Finding calm during the holidays is about as easy as finding a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday. However, a regular yoga practice of two to three times per week can teach you to respond to stressful situations with greater ease. These 10 poses are particularly effective at relieving stress and can help to get you through the holiday season and beyond. Namaste. (Ref. 1)

Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
When you are stressed you might breathe erratically: taking short inhales and holding your breath instead of taking long, smooth inhales and exhales. (Ref. 2) Ujjayi Pranayama, or Victorious Breath, calms the mind, slows the breath and supports the parasympathetic nervous system. Best of all, you can use Ujjayi anytime to manage various challenges, both while practicing yoga poses and while facing life’s stressors -- even standing in a long line at the mall.

To practice Ujjayi, inhale through your nose to a count of about five. By the same count, slowly exhale out your nose with your lips closed while directing your breath across the back of your throat. You should hear a soft oceanic sound.

Child's Pose (Balasana)
After a long day of holiday baking or shopping, Child’s Pose will provide a welcome sense of calm for your body and brain by alleviating fatigue and stretching your hips and back. Kneel on the floor, spread your knees hip-width apart or wider, and touch your big toes together behind you. Exhale as you bend forward and rest your forehead on the floor while encouraging your hips to sink back toward your heels. Place your arms at your sides with your palms facing up, or lengthen the stretch through your torso by reaching your arms forward and turning your palms downward. If it feels good, gently rock your head side to side, massaging the center of your forehead (third eye center), to the earth.

Cow Pose (Bitilasana)
Cow Pose massages the spine, kidneys and adrenal glands while creating emotional balance. Come to an all-fours “tabletop” position on the floor with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and hips directly over your knees. Inhale and lower your belly while lifting your chest and sitting bones upward and drawing your shoulders down and away from your ears. On your exhale, return to a neutral tabletop position or pair the pose with Cat Pose, described in the next section. Repeat 10 to 20 times. (Ref. 3)

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)
Like Cow Pose, Cat Pose steadies your emotions by warming and massaging the spine and belly organs and stimulating the digestive tract and spinal fluid. It also alleviates tension headache symptoms by drawing the head below the spinal cord.

From an all-fours position, exhale and press through your palms while pulling your belly button toward your spine. Create a dome shape with your back, and tuck your chin toward your chest. Return to all fours on your inhale breath, or pair the pose with Cow Pose, described in the previous section. Repeat 10 to 20 times. (Ref. 3)

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
By bringing your head below your heart in Downward-Facing Dog, you increase blood flow to your brain, thereby calming the nervous system. The pose also fully stretches and elongates your spine, back and shoulders.

From all fours, exhale and tuck your toes under. Press into your palms as you lift your hips to create an inverted “V” shape with your body. Press your chest toward your thighs, and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Slightly bend your knees if your hamstrings are tight. Gradually work toward straightening your legs and drawing your heels closer to the floor.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Standing Forward Bend increases blood flow to the brain, alleviating stress, insomnia, fatigue and mild depression. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, exhale and bend at your hip joints until your hands touch the floor or your ankles. Bend your forearms and grasp opposite elbows if your hamstrings are tight. Allow your head to relax and dangle from the root of your neck, which is between your shoulder blades. Increase the stress relief by maintaining a slight bend in your knees throughout the pose.

Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Balancing poses such as Eagle pose ward off stress, clear the mind and improve concentration because you need to focus solely on the pose -- not your holiday shopping list -- in order to stay balanced. Eagle Pose is especially effective at relieving tension in the shoulders, back and hips as well as detoxifying the body through the action of squeezing your arms and legs together.

From standing, bend your knees and raise your arms above your head on an inhale. Exhale and wrap your right arm under your left, crossing at your elbows, and bring your palms to touch. Your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor, with elbows stacked above your knees and aligned with your shoulders. If you have tight shoulders or feel pain through your upper back, simply cross your arms over your chest in an “X” and touch opposite shoulders.

Sit your hips down and back, keeping your knees stacked over your ankles. Ground down through your left foot, and lift your right leg up and over your left leg. Use your right foot as a kickstand on the floor for greater balance, and work toward lifting your toes off the floor and eventually wrapping your right foot around the back of your left leg. Slowly unravel from the pose and repeat the steps on your opposite side.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Through a gentle stretching of the back and legs, Bridge Pose reduces anxiety, fatigue, backaches, headaches and insomnia and may even provide relief for high blood pressure. (Ref. 4) Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms at your sides and feet on the floor. Walk your feet back until you can touch your heels with your hands. Inhale and lift your hips, keeping your chin tucked into your chest. Increase the stretch through your chest and shoulders by shimmying your shoulder blades toward one another and interlacing your hands underneath your hips.

For a gentler variation of the pose, place a yoga block under your sacrum and keep your arms at your sides. This passive version of Bridge Pose provides the same benefits but with minimal effort required to maintain the pose. For either variation, release from Bridge by exhaling as you lower your back down slowly and bringing the soles of your feet to touch, opening your knees wide to the sides. Once you've opened your knees wide, do not take another backbend. Opening your knees releases your lower back, so let your body settle into this pose to allow it to absorb the benefits of the backbend.

Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Not only does Legs-Up-The-Wall pose calm the nervous system, but it also can slow the aging process, relieve headaches, renew blood and detoxify your system by increasing lymph drainage back to the heart. (Ref. 4)

From a supine position, draw your knees into your chest and extend your legs toward the ceiling. Relax your arms at your sides. For a more passive variation, practice this pose with your legs supported on a wall and a folded blanket under your sacrum. Close your eyes and linger in the pose for as long as you like, and emerge from it energized and ready to tackle your holiday to-do list.

Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Often practiced as the final resting pose in a yoga sequence, Corpse Pose triggers your body’s “relaxation response,” whereby your breathing slows, your blood pressure lowers, your nervous system relaxes, and your mind and body find a state of calm. (Ref. 4) Lie on your back, close your eyes, and relax your arms at your sides with your palms turned upward. Open your legs wider than hip-width apart, and let your feet fall to the sides. Allow yourself to rest in the pose for at least two minutes before you rush back to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.