The holiday season can quickly go from fab to drab when you have endless parties to attend, platters of desserts to eat, and no time for self-care. Nobody has yet invented an algorithm for how much yoga you need to do to keep sane through the holidays but we'd say this: the more the better. With so much seasonal stimulation everywhere you turn, your body can become a reservoir for tension and lethargy. We chose three easy, yoga-inspired exercises to cut through the din of the holidays and give you a moment to travel inward through movement. These poses will open up your hips, allow you to focus as you strengthen your shoulders and abs, and they will fire up your core and glutes.
Chair Pose with Figure Four
This is a great pose for many reasons; it combats the lethargy of long dinners and lengthy car trips while also dynamically opening your hips, strengthening your glutes, and turning on your core and brain as you have to balance on one leg. This is the pose that keeps on giving because you can work on different things at different times; for example, leaning back in this pose and aligning your shin and ankle is a very different experience than letting the knee come forward of your ankle. In addition, arching and rounding the back before coming to a slight arch feels great.
First, come into a classic "chair pose"; lift your left leg, crossing your ankle over the opposite knee. Take your left hand and place it on your inner thigh, as close to your hip as you can. Raise the opposite arm to the ceiling. Apply pressure to your inner leg and not only stretch the thigh but also press the thigh down so that you can feel the outer rotator and the hip attachments stretching. Squat deeply and bend generously with the opposite (standing-leg) knee. Hold for 5-10 breaths and switch sides.
Down Dog on the Wall
While this pose may appear difficult or acrobatic, it is actually accessible to almost everyone. A classic inversion (where your head is below your heart) is beneficial for every system in the body: it stimulates and calms the nervous system, it rejuvenates the circulatory and digestive systems, and it fortifies the muscles and bones. This deeply beneficial pose should be done daily to create strength and to reset your overtaxed nervous system. Think of it as a healthy alternative to an afternoon shot of espresso!
Use a wall or locked door so that nobody accidentally knocks you over while opening the door. Face away from the wall and lower to the floor in quadruped position (hands and knees), aligning your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Lift your knees off the floor and straighten the legs, bringing your hips high and your head low into Down Dog. Back up if you need to until your heels press against the wall. Step one foot up onto the wall and press into the wall to straighten your leg. Keep your arms straight and press into the floor as you lift the other foot onto the wall. Relax your neck, looking back at the wall and pull your low belly up to the ceiling to prevent sagging in the low back. The goal is to stack the hips over the shoulders and keep the front ribs lifting up into the back body. Focus on your breath and aim to hold this position for 5-10 breath cycles.
Forearm Plank with Twists
Another core-strengthening pose, forearm plank will heat you up from the inside out, burning away nervous and stagnant energy caused by the party-heavy holidays. Forearm plank recruits from and ignites the shoulders, the front and back of the torso, and the glutes and legs - it's a lot of bang for your buck! Whether you feel physically fatigued or lethargic, use forearm plank as an opportunity for growth: let this pose energize and ground you.
Start off in quadruped (on your hands and knees) and lower your forearms to floor, interlacing your fingers. Lift your knees off of the floor and extend the legs so that you form a straight plank-like line with your body. Keep your neck long and pull your navel in toward your spine. Firm your glutes and quadriceps (the thigh muscles above your knees) and steady your breath, exhaling out of your mouth if needed. Separate your feet about 6-10 inches apart and slowly and purposefully begin to twist through your ribcage (think about turning your navel 2-5 inches to left, back through center and then 2-5 inches to right). Repeat the twists 10 times, inhaling before you turn and exhaling as you turn.
Jump start this month with some extra zest with these three simple but grounding moves - keeping things short and simple will help you stay on track when holiday overload seems imminent. Happy Holidays!
Drawing from her background as a physical therapist, Lara Heimann has combined her love of anatomy, creative movement and functional training to help people move better and do better. Lara owns YogaStream studio in Princeton, NJ and directs its YA-certified teacher training school. You can find her on Rachel Brathen's streaming site, oneOeight.
A special thank you to Lara for filming the poses, to Olivia for directing the shoot, and to the furry yogi for making an appearance! And a huge thank you to my NYC home base, Sacred Sounds Yoga, for always offering up its studio space!