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5 Ways Yoga Can Help You Beat Holiday Stress

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Updated December 24, 2013

The holidays are supposed to offer an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, but there are a lot of things that can prevent you from relaxing. Travel, social obligations, last minute shopping, budgetary shortfalls, and difficult family dynamics are just a few potential stressors. Yoga gives us tools, like basic stretching and breathing exercises, which are great ways to regain your equilibrium so you can enjoy the season.

1. Stretch

© Barry Stone
Stress manifests in your body as tightness and clenching. Loosening up allows you to let go of some of the tension you are holding inside. For a quick fix, try a gentle stretching routine like these ten simple stretches. You don't have to do all ten poses, just find the ones that get into your problem areas, like the hips and shoulders. You can do these stretches almost anywhere, so find an empty bedroom at your relative's house or an unused corner (or yoga room!) at the airport and unwind.

2. Move It

Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana
© Barry Stone
If doing a few basic stretches doesn't leave you feeling better, you may want to try a more vigorous routine. Sometimes you need to immerse yourself more fully and get your heart rate up in order to get the clearness in your mind that you are looking for. If that's the case, a few sun salutations, followed by a series of standing poses may just be the ticket. Online yoga video offerings are a convenient option when you are traveling if you prefer following along with a teacher.

3. Breathe

If you don't have time for a yoga routine, you may be able to change your frame of mind just by taking a few minutes to focus your attention on your breath. Stress can cause you to take shallow, hurried breaths, which in turn increase the effects of your stress response. Taking deep, mindful breaths calms the body quickly. Lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary to do a few rounds of equal breathing or three-part breath. It may also help you to visualize negative feelings leaving your body with each exhale. If you feel tension getting the better of you, try to remember to stop and take a few deep breaths. Doing this can greatly affect the outcome of a stressful situation.

4. Be in the Moment

Yoga poses and breathing exercises both help you to bring your attention to the present moment. A lot of stress is caused by worrying about events that took place in the past or may possibly take place in the future. Anchoring the mind in the present helps alleviate the stress of anticipation. If you are doing yoga asanas, focus all your attention on the movements necessary to complete the pose. It's even simpler to stay in the present when you concentrate on your breath. Each inhale and exhale can only occur in one time and place. You don't even have to do a formal pranayama practice to make use of this technique, since you are always breathing. Just bring the breath into the forefront of your awareness if you feel the need to check your anxiety.

5. Meditate

Several of the techniques described above could fall under the umbrella of meditation, so you may already be meditating without knowing it. Making a concerted and sustained effort to sit quietly and clear the mind is another way to relieve stress. If you are not sure how to do it, read this meditation for guide for beginners. Yoga nidra is another popular method that helps relax the body and relieve stress.
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