‘Tis the Season: Festive Yoga
A Seasonal Practice to Create Calm
Now that it’s December and it feels natural to be lighting candles and perhaps seeking a bit of calm in the manic build-up to Christmas, I thought it might be good to take a look at restorative yoga and even suggest how useful it might be to practise it at home. Particularly at this time of year.
Yoga for calm
Restorative yoga is really helpful in our frenetic world as it encourages our bodies to surrender and relax. Restorative postures, which are often supported by blocks, blankets and bolsters, are designed to maximise comfort and allow practitioners to fully let go, which is why they are typically held for longer – at least five and up to 20 minutes at a time. They are also arranged with the head below or at the same level as the heart which helps quieten the body and the brain.
To many frazzled Western yogis, minimising effort in such a way can feel counterintuitive, but there are real benefits to what may seem like doing very little.
Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic
Aside from relaxing the body and mind, restorative yoga can boost immunity and improve the body’s capacity for healing. It slows the heart and lowers blood pressure. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system and works to balance out the highly-charged sympathetic nervous system which is activated when in a “fight or flight” state.
Most of us don’t see the Christmas season as a threat, but our bodies haven’t developed that cognitive knowledge yet. Any stressful situation provokes that physical response to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t know about you but I certainly find the build-up to Christmas stressful.
Props not necessary
If you’ve ever attended a restorative yoga class, you’ll know that a myriad of props are employed to help you completely relax in such a way. This should not put you off trying this at home. As you’re reading this blog I’ll assume you have a yoga mat (although you don’t actually need one for this), but what if you don’t have a bolster? No matter. All we need here is a blanket. And if you don’t have one of those please treat yourself; it is winter after all. Keeping props to a minimum keeps fuss to a minimum. Move slowly. Enjoy.
Restorative Yoga Sequence
- Savasana. The ultimate restorative yoga pose. Try this with a folded up blanket over your belly, which will help you relax into the ground and keep your focus on your breathing. Alternatively you can roll up your blanket and place it underneath your knees.
- Legs up the wall. Take your blanket and place it on the floor by the wall. Sitting sideways onto the wall with your bottom on the blanket swing your legs up. Your back and shoulders will be a couple of inches lower than your bottom on the floor behind where the blanket is. Let your feet relax. You can have your legs together here or let your legs fall out wide to create a v-shape.
- Fallen tree pose. Roll your blanket up and put it by your right hand side. Lying on the floor, bend your right knee up and let if fall out towards the floor, resting on the blanket. Repeat on the other side.
- Child’s pose. Rest over your rolled up blanket for comfort.
During these postures observe your breath in order to help you relax but avoid controlling it, which can in turn create tension. Unlike in some yoga styles breathing is not an activity we need to accomplish here. It is simply a process we allow to happen.
Give yourself as much time as possible in each pose – try for at least five minutes. And if ten minutes is all you have, just do your favourite pose. Even that will recharge your batteries and helps your parasympathetic nervous system kick in. When that is dominant, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers and your body is put into a state of calm and healing – which is really what we all need during the season of Joy.
And then if you want to resort to a mince pie and some sherry, that is entirely your prerogative.
With this re-boot you’ll find yourself super efficient and whipping through that to-do list in no time. December is here – you can’t escape it so you may as well embrace it. Happy Christmas everyone!