by Debra Salonen
December couldn’t come at a worst time. You’ve had eleven months to cross off all those things on your To-Do List and where are you? Don’t lie. If you’re anything like me, there are more un-scratched off items than there are scratched-off items. And, now, we have a mere 31 days to do it all, fix it all, buy it all and celebrate it all. Oh, and gather up all the receipts for the whole end of the year tax thing while dropping great gobs at cash or credit card charges to make your loved ones’ holiday wishes come true.
Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa or National Bicarbonate of Soda Day (it's Dec. 30th, in case you're wondering) you’re probably feeling a teensy-weensy bit of stress. Stress is a nasty side effect of life, and it can cause all kinds of problems—like sleep issues--which can cause other problems—like lowered immunity—which can result in colds or the flu, which, of course, is the unwanted gift you never planned to give your family members.
So, this year, I’m adding something new to the top of my Daily To-Do List: yoga.
I already do yoga twice a week with an instructor (my son), but this does not make me a pro. I am and always will be a student of yoga. At its most basic level, Yoga is: movement and breath. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done yoga before—you know how to move and you know how to breathe. You can do these six simple poses and even ten minutes a day will help your body deal with the stress of December.
#1 – Forward Fold
Reach your arms overhead while inhaling deeply. Slowly exhale and fall forward. Only extend a deeply as feels comfortable. If your fingers reach your knees, so be it. Your calves? Fine. The floor? Go for it. Keep your knees slightly bent. Inhale as you draw yourself back to standing. Slow and steady. Fill your lungs from the bottom up. Repeat.
#2: Downward Dog
Bridge is without a doubt my least favorite pose. But I do it because it is hard for me and I refuse to let it win. ;-) If you have neck issues, I suggest using a bolster or rolled up blanket for support. Warm up to the pose by laying on your back, drawing your knees up and slowly lifting your butt as if you were peeling your backside off the floor, one vertebrae at a time. Breathe in slowly and let your back down just as slowly with your exhale. Rest between repetitions as you need. Hold by clasping your hands together, drawing your shoulder blades toward each other to keep the pressure on your neck to a minimum. When you’ve done several repetitions, reward yourself by releasing your effort and drawing your knees to your chest, rolling back and forth to massage your lumbar area.
#4: A simple twist
Relax those super-tight shoulder muscles using this simple stretch. But remember: always listen to your body. If something hurts or you’re feeling an uncomfortable twinge, stop, go back, slow down. Yoga is about accepting where you are in your practice and moving forward at your own pace. The starting position for this pose is called “Child’s Pose.” It’s my Go-To favorite when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Start by kneeling then slowly fall forward with an exhale, letting your forehead rest on your mat with your arms lying palm up beside your body. After a few slow, deep breaths in this resting pose, extend your arms out straight, lift up enough to stretch your right arm under the left, keeping your weight on your shoulder, not your head. Repeat on the other side, remembering to breathe deeply while holding the pose.
#5: Chair at the wall
#6: Legs Up The Wall
And finally, the best stress reliever of all: Legs Up The Wall. This one is a great way to end your daily, ten-minute routine. Although it will be tempting to use these last few minutes to plan, plot, or visualize your day ahead, I suggest you give your brain a break. Make the most of this inversion by focusing completely on your breath. Picture the air as it makes its way into your lungs, bringing fresh, rich oxygen to fuel the blood cells, motivate the brain cells, stimulate the synapses. Oxygen truly is our food for thought, so this is your chance to take in as much as you want without worrying about the calories.
Now, because I’m a writer—and we all know that means I’m not rich, I’m going to add a serious disclaimer that this blog is intended for recreational use only, and you should consult a doctor if you have health issues that might make trying any or all of these poses a health risk.
December is here, people. Breathe.
And have a wonderful holiday season.
PS: The opening photo is courtesy of my photographer friend, Jackie Maxwell, who took this shot in my backyard. I'll pick one winner from those who post a reply to this blog to receive one of her fabulous calendars. She has four choices. You can check them out here.