Holiday’s Have You Stressed?
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, the winter holiday season can prove quite stressful. Gift shopping, social obligations, and irregular eating patterns can take their toll on our bodies. On top of all this, those of us living in my neck of the woods often face plummeting temperatures and hostile precipitation. Not surprisingly, many of us find our bodies feeling stiffer and sorer than usual. In fact, some days it takes a real effort for me not to spend all day hunched over, clutching my arms. Heart openers offer a sensible solution to all that arm-crossing and face huddling. But yoga also tells us that we “hold stress and negative emotions in our pelvis” (Yoga Journal “Hip Enough?”). Maybe it’s time we all added hip openers to our holiday traditions. Here’s one way to do it:
A few weeks ago I integrated a hip opening series into my yoga classes. The classes ranged from gentle 55-min hatha to a vigorous 75-min vinyasa class. Regardless of the format, each class received a healthy dose of yin yoga-based hip openers, which left many sighing with relief. As an added bonus, you will notice that some of these also include options to add a subtle heart-opening component, effectively extending the stretch from the quadriceps, up through the hip flexors and pelvis, and into the torso.
My hatha class began with breath-work and slow spinal movement, often referred to as cat-cow. Click here for a description and explanation of the benefits. From there we moved slowly towards Downward-Facing Dog and a wide-legged forward bend that includes a wonderful shoulder stretch: Prasarita Padottanasana C. My vinyasa class began with several long flow sequences based on sun salutations, moved on to held standing asanas, and then settled into seated and reclining asanas. The following asanas served as a transition between standing and seated work for the vinyasa class and the main focus for the hatha class. You can try the entire sequence, or test out one or two of the asanas. As with all yoga practices, the duration of any pose should be determined by your body. You should also feel free to modify and use props as needed.
Shown above is a version of Dragon Pose, sometimes referred to as “Baby Dragon.” This is a pose I often integrate into opening vinyasas, reaching the arms overhead with palms touching and lifting and opening the chest (sometimes called Crescent Moon). Click on the photo for variations. In designing this sequence, I used Dragon to prepare our bodies for Pigeon (shown below). More flexible students were invited to take both elbows to the floor (called “Dragon Flying Low” on the link). We held this for 5-8 breaths on one side and then moved into Pigeon on the same side.
For Pigeon Pose, “Flexies” were invited to fold forward (click on the image for instructions) or move into One-Leg King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). Please note: any version of pigeon can be extremely difficult or painful for many people, but it becomes much more user-friendly if a folded blanket or a rolled mat is placed under the forward (front) butt-cheek and thigh. We held this pose a bit longer–8-10 breaths–to allow those wanting to fold forward an opportunity to sit with this a bit before going deeper. After moving through Dragon and Pigeon on the first side, we rested in Child’s Pose for about 5 breaths. We then repeated Dragon and Pigeon on the second side, and then rested in Child’s Pose once again.
In order to ease the spine into the held extension that comes with Half Frog (Ardha Bhekasana), I had us pause in Sphinx Pose, a yin alternative to Cobra (click on the image for a detailed discussion of Sphinx and Seal, which involves a much deeper compression of the lumbar vertebrae and is therefore not suitable for everyone). I invited my participants to add a little extra padding (either under the pubic bone and thighs or the elbows and abdomen). We did not hold this for very long, since Half Frog also involves spinal extension and resting considerable body weight on one forearm or hand.
For Half Frog, imagine you are shifting gears on a car with manual transmission. We started in neutral: grasping the right foot with the right hand. First gear: those who could easily reach their foot then gently moved the right foot towards the right buttock. After 3-5 breaths, we went back into neutral. Then, for those with the flexibility, 2nd gear: the foot moved towards the outside of the hip and the heal aims for the floor. Note: the hand position in this pose can be very uncomfortable for the wrist, shoulder, and foot. I offered the option of simply placing the palm on the top of the foot. Click on the image or the source link for detailed directions.
Saving the (almost) best for (almost) last: Cat Pulling Its Tail. Can I tell you how much I love this pose? Honestly, every time I do this pose I wonder why I don’t do it every morning before I crawl out from under the covers and every evening before I crawl under them. It’s just that good.
So if you have been reading this post thinking it confirms that yoga is not for you, give me 3 minutes more. Click on the image or the source link, find a warm and cozy spot on the floor, and maybe try this pose–especially the reclining version shown in the image–if you can. Relax. Try lingering a bit in your exhalations so that they last a second or two longer than your inhalations. Hold each side for 30-60 seconds. Then roll onto your back. Let your feet and legs flop open. Let your arms rest by your sides. Close your eyes.
The weather might still be frightful, but (hopefully) your body will feel delightful!
PS: my Indiegogo “Birthday for Giving Campaign” is still running–click on the snowflake for details!